In the past month, over 2,000 earthquakes have rocked Puerto Rico.
The largest was a magnitude 6.4 temblor, which damaged hundreds of home on January 7. Since then, Puerto Rico’s residents, including TSA employees, have lived in fear over the constant aftershocks rattling the Caribbean island.
At least three TSA officers were forced to evacuate their homes because of significant structural damage. San Juan’s Luis Muñoz Marín International Airport (SJU) lost power for a two-day period, impacting screening operations. Despite the electrical outage, SJU’s passenger volume surged as people fled Puerto Rico out of fear of additional earthquakes.
TSA quickly offered relief by sending 25 officers, who are part of the National Deployment Force (NDF), to San Juan and five officers to Ponce.
Chicago O’Hare International Airport Assistant Federal Security Director Robert Spinden helped coordinate the deployment effort and said the help was significant. “TSA SJU was nearing the end of the already busy winter season when the earthquakes occurred,” he said. “Despite the fear of living through numerous earthquakes, officers focused on the task at hand, carrying out the very important TSA mission by sacrificing breaks, lunches and regular days off to get passengers to their destinations safely.”
Spinden said the support also allowed officers at Ponce’s Mercedita International Airport (PSE) to take additional days off so they could tend to their families’ needs.
“It was an amazing opportunity to help our TSA family,” said Meghan Mcmoore from Houston, who was deployed to San Juan. “Our SJU family has been through a lot, but they came in with big smiles ready to get the job done. What an inspiring team.”
It was an opportunity for Richmond, Virginia’s Bob Seashols to help close friend and co-worker Lead TSA Officer Johanna Rodriguez who is from Puerto Rico and has most of her family there. “As soon as I learned I was being sent, I called [Johanna] and asked if there was anything I could take to her family,” said Seashols. “They were without power for days and running low on cash, so Johanna gave me an envelope with money as well as the phone numbers to her mom and sister. It was fantastic to help them all. I got big hugs from both of them.”
Spinden said the earthquakes caused some minor damage to PSE, but inspections showed the airport was safe to operate. He said the major challenge is the uncertainty. “Unlike a hurricane, which has a somewhat predictable timetable, earthquakes can occur at any time without warning,” said Spinden.
“We were really grateful for the days the National Deployment Force was here to help,” said PSE Lead TSA Officer Jose “Coqui” Martinez. “We developed a bond with each of them and are very thankful for their support.”
SJU Supervisory Officer Esteban Sanchez added, “Their willingness to accept this deployment despite the frequent natural occurrences on our island is an act of selflessness, commitment and teamwork. Their presence here was a sigh of relief for all.”
Haewon Chung, also a supervisory officer, traveled over 3,300 miles from Los Angeles to Puerto Rico to help and was impressed that all of the PSE officers reported for duty, despite their circumstances, and worked diligently. “Many officers live outside the area and commute a long distance,” said Chung. “They formed a buddy system to check on each other. Some officers’ homes were damaged. One stayed at the hotel with us. It was a humbling experience.”
NDF Officer Robert Heath was surprised how well the officers in Puerto Rico held up under the damage of their property and living under the constant stress of another large earthquake. “They performed excellent work under the situation,” Heath said. “It was a pleasure to have worked at PSE.”
Supervisory Officer Doritza Rosas, who was also deployed, described Puerto Rico as one of her favorite deployments. “We came to support them, and they made us feel part of their team every day. Deployments like this are the reason I joined NDF to help airports in time of need.”
“TSA leadership remains committed to our people by providing as much support as needed,” said Spinden.
Deployed Officer Silvana DeAngelis voiced the thoughts of many across TSA by saying, “I would like to express my best wishes to the amazing people of Puerto Rico and a soon and prosperous recovery.”