When Hurricane Maria hit Puerto Rico on September 20, 2017, the Caribbean island was devastated. Businesses, homes and municipal structures were damaged. Thousands of people were without power, water, food, shelter or an efficient way to communicate with each other and the outside world. While there have been improvements, much work remains.

Coca-Cola felt Hurricane Maria’s punch, experiencing damage to facilities and delayed operations. But more importantly, hundreds of employees and their communities were majorly impacted. The Coca-Cola system in Puerto Rico, including the local concentrate plant and bottling partners, was quick to respond to help employees address impacts, work with others to assist with needed community supplies and services, and continue to supply customers with product.

In the aftermath, remarkable examples of human and business resilience were on full display.

“I am inspired by the way our Puerto Rico team exemplifies the values of passion and collaboration, and the lengths the team has gone to in supporting each other and the business. Just a few days after the hurricane hit, and despite the personal impact to their lives and families, employees were cleaning up debris from the streets and sharing their electricity and supplies with neighbors,” said Darlene Nicosia, Vice President, Commercial Products Supply (CPS), the concentrate and beverage base arm of Coca-Cola.

CPS’ second largest concentrate plant is in Cidra, Puerto Rico. It employs around 400 people and supplies concentrate and beverage bases to bottlers that package, distribute and merchandise Coca-Cola products in the Bahamas, Canada, Puerto Rico, Trinidad & Tobago and the United States. It also provides ingredients to CPS locations in eight other countries.

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The CPS Cidra plant suffered widespread damage to the warehouse and shipping areas, offices and information systems. Repairing the water treatment system was prioritized to help deliver water to those in need. Once the system was operational – two weeks post-hurricane – beyond providing water to employees, the company began supplying approximately 20,000 gallons (70,000 liters) of potable water per day to the city of Cidra for their distribution to community residents through the FEMA relief center.

As part of Coca-Cola’s approach to business continuity — ensuring that all global operations work together in the event of a disaster or outage — many CPS plants around the world and other parts of the business, such as Flavor Supply, Innovation and Coca-Cola North America, joined efforts to guarantee certainty of 

Coca-Cola product supply to customers all around the world while Puerto Rico facility repairs continued.

“While I don’t think any of us could or should say we’re fully prepared for future climate-related changes and events, I feel confident Coca-Cola will remain resilient when confronted with challenges because of our global network of collaboration and the preparedness measures we are taking to plan for what could happen,” explained Andy Buckingham, Vice President of Franchise Leadership and PR General Manager,

Coca-Cola North America. “The more resilient we are as a company, the more helpful we can be to our employees, customers and the communities where we operate.”

Coca-Cola places high importance on plants undergoing formal risk assessments and creating Business Continuity Plans to help mitigate impacts should an event occur. For example, Coca-Cola Puerto Rico Bottlers (CCPRB) had invested for years in vertically integrating its supply chain, including self-manufacturing aluminum cans, plastic preforms (small plastic tubes that are heated and blown into bottle shapes) and closures (caps) with sufficient capacity to store aluminum sheets and bulk resin, thereby minimizing dependence on the U.S. mainland for supplies. The ability to produce CO2 and packaging, as well as having the capacity to store large amounts of High Fructose Corn Sweetener allowed CCPRB’s bottling plants in Cayey and Cidra to start producing within days following the hurricane, despite significant exterior damages to the buildings.

After the storm, the CPS Cidra plant and the local bottler activated detailed Business Continuity Plans to accommodate this risk event, such as receiving concentrate from other CPS locations around the world. In partnership with local military, FEMA and others, local bottling partner CCPRB initiated a program referred to as “Caravana Coca-Cola.” Through the program, a caravan of Coca-Cola trucks distributed emergency food packets and beverages to more than 10,000 households. The bottler and the local Coca-Cola North America office issued a special edition Coca-Cola can (#FuerzaPR or #StrengthPR), and were able to produce a variety of beverages daily, including water, due to the installation of 13 generators between both plants. In addition, The Coca-Cola Company donated 34,000 bottles of water in support of New York Governor Cuomo’s Hurricane Maria relief mission to Puerto Rico.

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Employees throughout the Coca-Cola system also had kept their eye on the storm and contributed to recovery efforts by colleagues. Due to the generous support from employees, The Coca-Cola Company, The Coca-Cola Foundation and bottling partners, in 2017, The Coca-Cola Employee Disaster Relief Fund provided more than $1 million to almost 800 system associates in the United States and Caribbean.

In Puerto Rico, Coca-Cola continues to initiate opportunities to rebuild the local community and economy while building resiliency to face climate-related events. Work is underway to create or rebuild 40 small businesses through a grant and microloan process. The new popup model for retail establishments features durable materials to protect against storm and flood damage and uses sustainable solar power to reduce reliance on the electrical power grid. And, as the CCPRB bottling plant in Cayey continues rebuilding its infrastructure, it is considering installing solar and wind power generation to create independence from the badly damaged Puerto Rico grid that will enable even faster recovery after future weather events.

“Coca-Cola may be a global company, but we operate on a local scale. We live and work in these communities too. Preparing for climate-initiated events and being equipped to respond to them is a priority,” said Buckingham.