Building a Team of Volunteers to Respond to Earthquakes in Puerto Rico

Posted on January 31, 2020
jose sanchez

On 7 January 2020, a 6.4 magnitude earthquake struck the southwest region of Puerto Rico, causing the collapse of hundreds of buildings throughout the region, including many residences and the Agripina Seda School in the town of Guanica. 

pr earthquakeThe following day, I created a volunteer initiative with my colleague Eddie Guerra of Arup to travel to Puerto Rico and inspect residences there free of charge. Eddie and I felt compelled to help as structural engineers born and raised in Puerto Rico. Through a post on social media, we made a call to find other engineers to join our inspection efforts and to encourage earthquake victims to request an inspection.

After a large response from people on the island requesting inspections, we created a website ( for victims to log their requests. We have already received 8,500 requests from across the island, with 40% identified as high priority because they come from the areas most heavily impacted by the earthquake. You can see all requests on the website map here

pr earthquakeOn 13 January, Eddie and I started inspections in Puerto Rico with a team of 20 volunteer engineers. We tagged buildings per the Applied Technology Council’s ATC-20 procedures for post-earthquake safety evaluations of buildings. ATC-20 had never been used before in Puerto Rico, and our team was among the first responders to inspect and tag buildings per this system. The team visited three towns in the area most affected by the earthquake, including San Sebastian, Yauco, and Guanica.

At each of the towns, we met with the local mayor prior to conducting inspections to get authorization from city officials and coordinate our efforts. Between 13 and 16 January, the team inspected and tagged over 300 homes and several schools. We quickly got the attention of the local news for our efforts, including an interview I gave with the Noticentro news station in Puerto Rico. 

Currently, the volunteer inspection efforts continue in Puerto Rico with local engineers and new engineers continue to join the efforts.

Categories: Community, Experience