Rosana Guernica was born and raised in Puerto Rico, but found herself thousands of miles away in Pittsburgh as her home faced its greatest disaster in modern history. “I was horrified by the impact Hurricane Maria had on my home,” recounts Ms. Guernica. “And then even more appalled by the man-made catastrophe that ensued shortly after.”
Access to the island was almost entirely cut off, and she was forced to watch from afar as friends and family members of friends remained stranded from basic resources. Her feelings of helplessness would change overnight, though. Ms. Guernica learned that cargo flights from American Airlines were traveling to the island and that, thanks to her uncle’s employment at the Airline, she could start shipping basic supplies to residents in Puerto Rico. But it was during these efforts that the real horror of the situation became apparent.
The chain of events that followed took Ms. Guernica on an unthinkable journey. She and her team of fellow students and volunteers began chartering their own private planes to carry supplies into the island, and then returned to the mainland with acutely sick individuals who were facing death without immediate access to health care.
Now a master’s student in Heinz College at Carnegie Mellon University, Ms. Guernica is taking what she learned during this harrowing experience and continuing to advocate to protect society’s most vulnerable. Her new non-profit, 296Plus, aims to deliver humanitarian aid to those facing the failures of critical systems. “We are working on building an emergency communications system,” said 296Plus founder, Ms. Guernica. “We looked up what happened with distribution, and how at some point it didn’t even matter that you brought aid to the island, if you didn’t figure out your own distribution network, it was just going to sit there.” 296Plus will use technology solutions to build infrastructure, beginning in her home of Puerto Rico.