With Lessons Learned from Maria, Direct Relief, Facebook Refine Crisis Response Tools in Puerto Rico

Facebook team joins Direct Relief in Puerto Rico to learn how technology shaped Hurricane Maria response.


Direct Relief's Bryn Blanks and Ivonne Rodriguez navigate Facebook's Crisis Response tools with Utuado community leader, Miguel Morales. (Andrew Maccalla/Direct Relief)

Facebook is one of the first places people turn after an emergency to let their loved ones know they are safe and to gain insight into how communities were impacted.

Direct Relief witnessed these activities first-hand after Hurricane Maria. With limited energy and phone signal, individuals were connecting with loved ones and offering support.

Organizations and first responders also rely on the platform to communicate operational statuses, identify available services, or convey emerging needs.

On July 16, Facebook’s Crisis Response team joined Direct Relief in Puerto Rico to meet with local community leaders and learn about the role technology played during and after Hurricane Maria, and gauge how the platform could further connect people and services in times of crisis.

On Monday, July 16, staff from Facebook joined Direct Relief to visit neighborhoods in Utuado, Puerto Rico, where residents have been without consistent power and water for months. The Facebook team, which is focused on building tools to connect people in crisis, met with community leaders to learn how technology was used to shape Hurricane Maria response efforts. (Bryn Blanks/Direct Relief)
Facebook’s Crisis Response team gathers outside a brand new solar-powered laundry room in Barrio Vivi Arriba, Utuado, Puerto Rico. Solar panels power the new laundromat, which was funded by Direct Relief and coordinated by Por Los Nuestros. On July 16, Facebook learned more about the weeks and months following Hurricane Maria from communities directly impacted by the storm. (Bryn Blanks/Direct Relief)

Last year, Facebook created Crisis Response where people can connect and support each other in crises. In Crisis Response, people can quickly and easily let their loved ones know they’re safe, give or get help like goods and services from organizations and people in the affected area, fundraise or donate, and get the latest information about a crisis from a variety of sources.

Direct Relief, one of the first organizations to use Facebook’s Crisis Response tool, posted on the page in March 2018 to raise awareness of a campaign to combat influenza in Puerto Rico. The post included information about the campaign and was shared in conjunction with updates and live videos to reach people across the island. The post reached approximately 110,000 individuals, and the campaign immunized more than 9,400 people across 55 different sites in Puerto Rico.

The field visits were followed by a Disaster Response workshop hosted by Facebook on July 17. The event took place in San Juan, where local policymakers, nonprofits, and community leaders gathered to discuss the benefits and challenges of social media before, during, and after a crisis.

Direct Relief's Ivonne Rodriguez discusses how technology shaped the Hurricane Maria response during Facebook's Disaster Response Workshop in San Juan on Tuesday, July 17. (Bryn Blanks/Direct Relief)
Direct Relief’s Ivonne Rodriguez discusses how Direct Relief used Facebook to connect people and resources during Facebook’s Disaster Response Workshop in San Juan on July 17. (Bryn Blanks/Direct Relief)

Facebook’s Crisis Response tools, which make it easier for people to come together and help one another during a crisis, have reached a broader audience than ever before.

Recent efforts to introduce the tools to first responders have opened the door to new opportunities for collaboration and communication during public health emergencies, and Direct Relief will continue exploring how these tools can further inform its efforts to deliver critically-needed assistance for people and communities in crisis.

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