The Alvarez family had gathered all the recommended survival items. They had water, food, a portable radio, batteries, a flashlight, candles and a first-aid kit.
But nothing prepares you for a 175 mph hurricane tearing through your neighborhood. No drill can approximate the psychological effect of seeing trees falling, roofs being ripped from houses, and water coming through windows and under doors.
When Hurricane Maria hit Puerto Rico on Sept. 20, 2017, the Alvarez family learned that their most essential survival tool wasn’t anything on their shelves. It was the lessons they learned in Scouting.
Marian M. Alvarez-Collins says the family has been preparing for a moment like this for four years as members of the BSA’s Troop 85 of the Puerto Rico Council.
Their story serves as a reminder of an additional benefit of Scouting: preparing families to react the right way in an emergency.
‘We are prepared’
Marian’s son, Angelgabriel, is a First Class Scout in Troop 85. His mom is an adult volunteer in the troop and a proud Scout mom.
“Let me tell you something, when those bursts of wind started at 5 a.m., I thought everything was going to fly away, including us,” she says. “I shook and kind of pushed my son to the designated safe area of our house.”
Alvarez-Collins says her eyes “almost popped out of their sockets” out of fright.
But her son looked her in the eye and said what he had learned as a Scout: “Remember, remember, in case of emergency, keep calm, don’t worry, we are prepared.”
“And, believe me, those words calmed us down,” Alvarez-Collins says.
For Alvarez-Collins, seeing her son take charge like that took her back to Cub Scouting. Suddenly, she saw Angelgabriel as a Webelos Scout again, learning to use his neckerchief as a sling or to stop bleeding.
“Every time in the next 24 hours, when we heard the wind howling, the trees screaming, the roofs flying away, the rain coming down harder, we would look to each other and say, ‘in case of emergency, keep calm, we are prepared,'” she says.
The next day, the wind became silent and the rain stopped. The community gathered to share experiences and to thank God that they were alive.
“We lost a lot of material things,” Alvarez-Collins says. “There was no electricity, no water. But everyone was OK in our neighborhood.”
Back to work
As soon as it was safe to do so, the families of Troop 85 got to work rebuilding their community.
“Now it was time to use other skills that we have learned to clean the surrounding area,” Alvarez-Collins says. “To help our neighbors. To reconstruct our Puerto Rico, little by little.”
Looking back almost a year later, Alvarez-Collins says she’s “very thankful and happy for having taken the decision to enroll my son and myself in such a great organization.”
“Young people are taught the skills to be prepared for different and extreme situations in life,” she says. “We are very thankful to all those leaders that give their time voluntarily to help build a better future. Muchas gracias.”