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As the Caribbean Hotel and Tourism Association's Caribbean Travel Marketplace kicks off this week in San Juan, Puerto Rico, some attendees might be surprised to learn -- looking around the Puerto Rico Convention Center's (PRCC) pristine halls and expansive meeting spaces -- that it had been the main headquarters for the area's Hurricane Maria response efforts just a few weeks earlier. Following the devastation of Hurricane Maria last fall, the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) as well as local Puerto Rican government officials needed somewhere to set up a central command center from which they could oversee supply distribution, manage operations, and store supplies. Considering the widespread damage to so much of the island and the limited number of facilities with the space and structural soundness to handle such a large-scale operation, the FEMA team soon focused on one venue: the PRCC. One of the things that attracted FEMA to the convention center was that it was relatively unscathed by the hurricane, the 600,000-square-foot facility's generators were fully functional and offered the amount of space needed for such an effort. "FEMA sent a lot of inspectors come in and they converted this to a federal building, basically," says Jorge Perez, general manager of the Puerto Rico Convention Center. "We transformed into a world-class response center for one of the largest natural disasters in the history of Puerto Rico." Due to the state of emergency on the island, with a majority of citizens without water and power, the PRCC had postponed all planned conferences and events for the coming weeks. So FEMA signed a lease agreement to use the facilities for three months, moving in on September 24. The organization took over about 75 percent of the building -- about half for storage and supplies, the other half for military operations. That military presence was an unusual sight for the convention center's staff, with a three-star general and his uniformed team becoming a constant presence onsite. "Our loading dock looked like a military base," says Perez.

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