FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE: Jan. 26, 2018
CONTACT: Lisa Meiman, firstname.lastname@example.org, 720.962.7411
LAKEWOOD, Colorado – Western Area Power Administration convened staff involved in power restoration efforts in both the U.S. Virgin Islands and Puerto Rico to explore how the federal organization could better prepare to respond to the next storm season.
During the daylong lessons-learned and recognition event in Lakewood, Thursday, linemen, mechanics, engineers, safety and support staff shared their perspectives on what worked well, what didn't and what was missing during deployments to USVI and Puerto Rico.
"After seeing how much we can improve the lives of citizens affected by catastrophic devastation, I have a renewed sense of pride for WAPA's expertise, leadership, resourcefulness and craftsmanship," said Administrator and CEO Mark A. Gabriel.
Joining the session were USVI Lt. Gov. Osbert Potter and USVI Water and Power Authority's Director of Transmission and Distribution Niel Vanterpool, as well as representatives from the Department of Energy and the American Public Power Association.
"Right after the hurricane, we drove around the island in a military vehicle, and every pole and every line was on the ground. We could only wonder when power would ever come back," said Potter. "If not for your help, we don't know where we would have been in restoring power. Thank you for your outstanding job to bring some semblance of normalcy to our citizens."
At the event, employees were divided into groups to discuss key takeaways and lessons learned in four areas: technical, logistics, communication and miscellaneous.
Much of the information collected still needs to be analyzed and responded to, but initial impressions include:
- Common work practices across WAPA meant seamless work between groups that rarely, if ever, work together on jobs.
- Island deployments are supremely difficult in obtaining needed supplies, and equipment was not always available when it was needed.
- WAPA's and crews' commitment to safety ensured there were no injuries during the entire deployment.
- Communication between crews on island was hampered because radio towers were down, and two-way handheld radios were limited to one mile.
- Crews would have preferred overlap with their counterparts to share information on nuances of working on the island's infrastructure.
- Deployed personnel were generally satisfied with the timing of pay and reimbursements
More than 50 people were recognized with DOE and WAPA awards for their efforts abroad and stateside in restoring power to the islands.
"We were so delighted to see another WAPA arrive to help us," said Vanterpool, whose utility's acronym is also WAPA. "They came in high spirits, came to work and came to help out. They were well equipped to get the job done. Words cannot express how appreciative we are you came to help us."
According to APPA's Engineering Services Security Manager Sam Rozenberg, public power mutual aid crews are still working to restore power to the final customers on USVI. More than 95 percent of USVI whose facilities are able to receive power now have electricity. WAPA has three engineers on Puerto Rico to support the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers with power restoration efforts there.
"WAPA is now known throughout the country as dedicated experts in energy maintenance and restoration," said Gabriel. "There is no if, only when we receive the next call for help. Thanks to our efforts at this event, our storm response will continue to improve for the next disaster, whether in our own territory or in support of others."