CBSN

Puerto Rico governor creates "9/20 Committee" to improve protocols on counting disaster deaths

Last Updated Nov 2, 2018 5:40 PM EDT

Puerto Rico Gov. Ricardo Rosselló issued an executive order Friday creating a committee to establish protocols about reporting deaths related to natural disasters. The group is called the 9/20 Committee, an apparent reference to Sept. 20, the day Hurricane Maria hit the island last year.

The committee's creation comes two months after an independent analysis determined Maria was responsible for an estimated 2,975 deaths in Puerto Rico from September 2017 through February 2018. That analysis was conducted by researchers at George Washington University's Milken Institute School of Public Health. 

The new committee "will establish protocols" to implement recommendations made in a report on the death toll findings. 

It is co-chaired by Carlos Mercader, the executive director of the Puerto Rico government's Federal Affairs Administration, and Dr. Irwin Redlener, director of the National Disaster and Preparedness Response Center at Columbia University. 

"It is our intention that this Committee serve as a model for the whole of the United States so that we can more adequately assess mortality but more importantly, avoid the loss of life during and after both natural and man-made disasters," Mercader said in a release.

Rosselló accepted the findings of the GWU study and later raised the official death toll from the storm to 2,975 from 64, the initial figure.

The report on the findings made various recommendations on issues including mortality surveillance and communication during natural disasters. They included establishing clear leadership of the Puerto Rico Department of Health when it comes to mortality surveillance, and improving efficiency regarding the flow of information to decision makers.

"This Committee will play a key role in the future of our island, as it will establish the appropriate protocols and guidelines so that we are better prepared in the face of a disaster such as Hurricane Maria," Rosselló said.

The 19-person committee includes scholars from universities like Columbia and George Washington, as well as health officials from government agencies and health care groups. The committee members are:

1. Carlos Mercader – Executive Director, Puerto Rico Federal Affairs Administration

2. Dr. Irwin Redlener – Director and Clinical Professor, Columbia University National Center for Disaster Preparedness Director and Clinical Professor

3. Jeffrey Schlegelmilch – Deputy Director, National Center for Disaster Preparedness Columbia University

4. Dr. Carlos Santos Burgoa – Director, George Washington University's Global Health Policy and Professor

5. Eric Greenberg – Chief of Staff, Columbia University National Center for Disaster Preparedness

6. Dr. Rafael Rodriguez – Secretary and Neurosurgeon, Puerto Rico Department of Health

7. Hector Pesquera – Director and former FBI agent, Puerto Rico Department of Public Safety

8. Carlos Acevedo – Director, Puerto Rico Emergency Management Agency

9. Dr. Carmen Deseda – State Epidemiologist, Government of Puerto Rico

10. Dr. Luz Silva – Interim Director, Puerto Rico Forensics Science Bureau

11. Wanda Llovet – Director, Puerto Rico Demographic Registry

12. Jaime Plá – President, Puerto Rico Hospital Association

13. Dr. Victor Ramos – President, Puerto Rico Medical Surgeons Association

14. Dr. Dharma Vázquez – Dean, University of Puerto Rico School of Public Health

15. Eduardo Cardona – President, Funeral Homes Association of Puerto Rico

16. John Mutter – Seismologist and author of "The Disaster Profiteers"

17. Nicolette A. Louissaint, PhD – Executive Director, Healthcare Ready

18. Rossy Santiago – Director, Office of Communications, Office of the Governor of Puerto Rico

19. Pedro Cerame – Communications Director, Puerto Rico Federal Affairs Administration