When Hurricanes Irma and Maria hit Puerto Rico and the Caribbean last September, Liberty franchises rallied to help stabilize their people as soon as possible.

Liberty Puerto Rico, a division of Liberty Latin America, reached out to its employees within the first 24 hours, says president Naji Khoury, but it took two weeks to account for everyone. At least 50 employees had lost their homes, and more had severe property damage or other acute needs, such as medicines requiring refrigeration.

The cable operator provided food, water, and non-perishable items, helped finance generators and distributed cash to its workers because ATM machines were down. Liberty Puerto Rico also set up ATM machines around the island, complete with armed guards. It also brought gas to its warehouse to distribute to workers and volunteers so its vehicles could bring relief to remote parts of the island.

“Before we helped anybody else in the community, we spent a lot of effort and time in helping our employees first,” Khoury says. Liberty Puerto Rico kept everyone on the payroll, and those not involved in rebuilding the network, such as call center workers, were recruited to volunteer for the company’s Helping Hands charity. Family members pitched in too.

Liberty Puerto Rico set up WiFi hot spots so people in the community could contact their loved ones and fill out assistance forms with FEMA. And later it took to the road with WiFi tours, fortified with police escorts, doctors, psychologists, chefs, barbers and entertainers, and set them up in the middle of 35 remote towns. Local governments and telecom boards identified the areas of greatest need, and the tours were promoted by mayors, radio and newspapers where available, but mostly through word of mouth. The relief work remains ongoing, and recently Helping Hands volunteers replanted trees to combat deforestation.

During the hurricanes, Liberty Latin America’s Cable & Wireless executives based in Florida kept ongoing dialogues with its systems in the Caribbean via satellite phones, says Ruchi Kaushal, general counsel for C&W and director of the Cable & Wireless Foundation. “The relief response was instantaneous,” she says, despite the logistical challenges of downed trees and power lines in the roads. The company used its fleet of vehicles to deliver aid, as well as boats and a jet that went from island to island.

Some of C&W’s territories impacted by Irma and Maria last year include Anguilla, the British Virgin Islands, Dominica, Saint Kitts and Nevis, and Turks and Caicos.

Like Liberty Puerto Rico, C&W started with basics like water and generators. Despite experiencing personal loss and hardship, team members rallied together and opened up stores to issue mobile credit to enable customers to connect with families and friends locally and abroad. C&W also provided free WiFi along with charging banks for phones and tablets.  Prepaid customers were issued $10 free local credit for 48 hours. When employees relayed the importance of clean clothes, headquarters sent washing machines.

The Cable & Wireless Foundation donated $100,000 to Shelter Box to help distribute emergency shelter relief, such as tents. And it is working with the Rotary Club and a budget of $1.6 million to identify long-term rebuilding needs. To date, the foundation has focused on helping local schools, such as fixing their roofs and donating equipment to computer labs.

– Monica Hogan

Fast Facts

  • Early this year, Liberty Global spun off Liberty Latin America, which includes Liberty Puerto Rico and Cable & Wireless, among other properties.
  • Following Hurricane Maria, Liberty Global committed $1 million to Liberty Puerto Rico and Cable & Wireless for their hurricane relief efforts.
  • The Cable & Wireless Foundation was launched in 2017 following Hurricane Maria.
  • Helping Hands is an established charity arm of Liberty Puerto Rico.

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