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Puerto Rico: What is the role of the federal government after a disaster?

October 6, 2017

Puerto Rico: What is the role of the federal government after a disaster?


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For the sake of time, we recommend stopping the video at 2m:25s.


  1. Hurricane Maria struck the U.S. territory of Puerto Rico on Sept. 20, resulting in an emergency situation for the three and half million American citizens on the island.
  2. As more U.S. troops and materials arrive in Puerto Rico, relief workers are struggling to distribute much-needed supplies.
  3. President Donald Trump praised the federal aid response on Sunday, a day after he was criticized for tweeting about the mayor of the capital, San Juan: “Such poor leadership ability by the Mayor of San Juan, and others in Puerto Rico, who are not able to get their workers to help.”
  4. As of Sunday, more than half of Puerto Ricans are still without drinking water and schools may not open for weeks. Lt. Gen. Jeffrey S. Buchanan, the Department of Defense’s primary military liaison with FEMA (Federal Emergency Management Agency) toured the damage in Puerto Rico for the first time Saturday and said it it’s the worst he’s ever seen.
  5. FEMA director Brock Long said signs of routine life are returning but there’s a long way to go restoring infrastructure and fixing roads.

Discussion questions

  1. Essential question:  What is the government’s role in helping citizens after an extreme weather event?
  2. What is a territory? Do you think most people who live in the continental United States are aware that Puerto Ricans are U.S. citizens and that the island of Puerto Rico is part of the U.S.? If you answered ‘no’ or aren’t sure, why do you think that is?
  3. Why is military involvement often necessary following extreme weather events?
  4. What does it mean when you hear of major events becoming ‘politicized’?
  5. Media literacy question: Interview choices for a news story are a key part of media literacy. Why do you think the reporter chose to interview Lt. General Jeffrey S. Buchanan? Who else might the reporter interview in future pieces?

PBS NewsHour Classroom

PBS NewsHour Classroom helps teachers and students identify the who, what, where and why-it-matters of the major national and international news stories.


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