inReach® in the Field: American Red Cross Operations in Puerto Rico

On Sept. 20, Hurricane Maria made landfall in Puerto Rico at sunrise. The storm brought near-record levels of wind, rain and flooding, which destroyed buildings and critical infrastructure. In the days and weeks that followed, many Puerto Ricans were left without power, access to clean water or communications services. As of the end of November, portions of the island still lacked essential resources.

The American Red Cross was on the ground in Puerto Rico before Hurricane Maria hit. Following the storm, the Red Cross activated more than 800 Red Cross disaster workers to help provide aid to the residents of Puerto Rico. The American Red Cross has since distributed more than 5 million meals, provided health services to more than 25,600 people in need and helped connect more than 12,200 families who were separated.


Utilizing inReach to Assist with Aid Operations

One challenge a relief organization faces when providing aid in the aftermath of a natural disaster is the lack of or unpredictability of communications services. As such, the Red Cross deployed 100 inReach devices in the field to help support their efforts in Puerto Rico.

As they traveled across the island to gather information and deliver relief supplies, Red Cross teams used inReach devices to send and receive messages, track their travels and set waypoints. In addition, teams were trained how to use the SOS feature, in case of an emergency.

As an example, in the remote mountain area of Utuado, Red Cross teams used inReach to mark the locations of homes with residents who have health concerns as well as homes that received relief supplies such as water filtration systems. This allowed Red Cross health service teams to easily locate the homes for a return visit.

In mid-October — a month after the hurricane hit the island — a local resident came to the Red Cross headquarters in San Juan to request assistance for a nursing home in the city of Ponce. Operated by the religious order Hermanitas de los Ancianos Desamparados, the nursing home had more than 140 bedridden patients and was without power and communications capabilities. The sisters were understandably concerned that if a patient suffered a medical emergency, they would not be able to reach anyone.

The American Red Cross dispatched a field team to travel to Ponce — about a 90-minute drive from San Juan — to deliver relief supplies, which included an inReach device. The team trained one of the nuns at the nursing home and the daughter of a patient how to use the inReach device to message for help when needed.

“We are proud to be able to utilize technology in the field like inReach to ensure the safety of our team members as they deliver much needed relief,” said Lee Vanessa Feliciano, regional CEO of the American Red Cross in Puerto Rico. “The American Red Cross will continue to travel to communities to provide hope and help to those most affected by the hurricane.”


Desiree Ramos Reiner, chief external affairs officer at the American Red Cross, contributed information for this article.


To learn about how inReach devices have been used by a number of individuals on the ground in the Caribbean to help those in need, read our recent blog post.