Power System Construction and Maintenance Advisor Will Schnyer deployed to Guam when Typhoon Mangkhut struck the island of Guam and the Commonwealth of the Northern Mariana Islands, mere months after being trained as an Emergency Support Function #12 responder.
The Department of Energy’s ESF- 12s deploy in support of infrastructure assessment, repair and restoration in the wake of disaster, and Schnyer was quickly called upon to put his training into action.
First time’s a charm
The Federal Emergency Management Agency was monitoring a disturbance that started as a tropical depression and turned into Typhoon Mangkhut.
After assessing the situation, FEMA called the DOE for ESF-12 response on the island of Guam. Their goal was to have responders on-site before adverse weather impacted the island.
“In my case, I was asked on Sept. 6 or 7 if I could be a responder for the typhoon and get over there by Sunday, Sept. 9,” Schnyer said.
With WAPA’s support, Schnyer accepted his first assignment as an ESF-12 responder and geared up for a two-week deployment. Typhoon Mangkhut struck Guam and the Northern Mariana Islands Sept. 10 as a Category 2 storm with 105 mph winds.
Experience is key
Schnyer has been in the utility business for roughly 40 years as a lineman, foreman, field manager, safety manager and division director. Over the years, he’s participated in those roles as a responder for the crafts and has performed restoration efforts during hurricanes, tornadoes, ice storms, earthquakes and fires.
“My previous experience helped me to already have an understanding of some of the things I was supposed to do, but since it was my first time as an ESF-12 responder, there were some things that I had to learn,” he explained. “A lot of what I learned in the weeklong class in June referred back to the ESF-12 response manual that outlined some of my duties and functions.”
Guam is a U.S. territory in the middle of the Pacific Ocean. Similar to the U.S. Virgin Islands and Puerto Rico, Guam is a commonwealth territory and its citizens are American. Most buildings on the islands are built with concrete floors and ceilings and are engineered to ensure they can sustain typhoon winds.
“We just had to ride the storm out in a safe place, so that’s what we did,” Schnyer recalled. “It passed after 6-8 hours with strong, constant winds that continued to circulate and then moved down to the west.”
All ESF responders reported to the emergency operations center on Guam Sept. 11.
“That’s when we started our work,” said Schnyer. “Trees were down, branches down, poles down, lights out, flooded streets due to the amount of rain. It left a little bit of havoc. There were broken windows. Trees had fallen on cars and in the middle of streets.”
Schnyer was deployed with Judy Schoenberg, an employee from Bonneville Power Administration. “We submitted daily reports to FEMA operations and DOE as to the current operating conditions and restoration conditions of the local grids,” said Schoenberg. “We worked with Guam Power Authority for the island of Guam and the Commonwealth of the Northern Mariana Islands for the islands of Saipan, Rota and Tinian.”
This may have been Schnyer’s first deployment as an ESF-12, but he already had notable experience with disaster relief efforts. In 2017, WAPA sent employees to assist St. Thomas in the U.S. Virgin Islands after the devastation of Hurricane Irma. Schnyer was the incident commander for this effort.
“During the two and a half months I was on St. Thomas, I was encouraged by one of them to put my name in the hat and participate in future events as an ESF-12 responder,” Schnyer explained.
Schnyer decided this was the right fit for him and signed up for ESF-12 training, putting recent lessons into practice. “Everything in life, if it’s new to you, there’s a learning curve,” he said. “I had some fantastic support from the ESF-12 staff that I would text, email and sometimes call to ask them things I wasn’t sure of, or what I was supposed to do.”
“I enjoyed working with Will,” said Schoenberg. “I have years of experience as a BPA field engineer as compared to Will having years of lineman experience. Our knowledge bases were very complementary to each other.”
With his positive attitude and extensive understanding of disaster relief, Schnyer adds to the long list of WAPA employees who have made a difference.
“It was pretty seamless,” concluded Schnyer. “It was a very good experience.”
Note: Leah Wilson is a secretary who works under the MIRACORP contract.