MIDS Capstone Project Spring 2021

Project BlueTarp


Puerto Rico was devastated by Hurricane Maria in 2017 and over $635M of Housing Assistance aid has been provided by FEMA in response. Project BlueTarp uses supervised ML to evaluate the extent to which the island received an equitable allocation of aid, through a comparison with Florida and Texas, also impacted by hurricanes that year. The intent behind this research is to inform policy decisions that advocate for an effective and equitable recovery process.


Hurricanes Irma, Harvey, and Maria severely impacted Florida, Texas, and Puerto Rico in 2017. In the wake of these disasters, many turned to the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) for support through the Individuals and Households Program (IHP), which “provides financial assistance and direct services to eligible individuals and households who have uninsured or underinsured necessary expenses and serious needs” (Federal Emergency Management Agency, 2020, p. 5). One major category of IHP assistance is Housing Assistance, which includes rental assistance, repair assistance, and replacement assistance.

As explicitly stated by FEMA, IHP is not meant to substitute for insurance and is intended to meet basic needs while supplementing disaster recovery efforts. Yet in the wake of major disasters such as these hurricanes, millions of people were in dire need of assistance and the allocation of resources happened in a rather opaque process. The question then turns towards whether or not there was a fair and uniformly applied allocation across jurisdictions in the United States.

This research is particularly interested in Puerto Rico because Hurricane Maria devastated the island and was the deadliest of the three storms with nearly 3,000 lives lost. It is the third costliest tropical cyclone to impact the United States, causing an estimated $90B in total damages, and the recovery continues to be an ongoing struggle for Puerto Rico to this day. Following the storm, the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers (USACE) installed nearly 60,000 blue tarps on homes across the island through the Operation Blue Roof Program. The program's goal was to help protect property and allow residents to stay in their homes until permanent repairs could be made. Several years later these blue tarps continue to be a symbol of the island’s slow recovery.

Last updated:

April 15, 2021