The U.S. Army Corps of Engineers’ Jacksonville District is nearing completion on its Hurricane Irma temporary power mission. Just 11 days following Irma’s impact, the team assigned to provide emergency power to the state’s critical public facilities has met the challenge.
According to the Florida’s Emergency Management Division, more than half of the state was without power the evening of September 11, just hours after Irma tore through the state. Today, less than one percent remain without power.
The Corps’ piece of that mission over the past several days, at the request of FEMA and the state of Florida, was to assist where emergency needs were going unmet at shelters, hospitals, emergency operation centers, waste water and water treatment facilities, and even a prison.
The team, made up of roughly 300 members from across the country and drawing from the 249th Prime Power Army Engineer Battalion, U.S. Army Corps of Engineers civilian teams from Savanah, GA and Walla Walla, WA, and from the private sector, worked diligently throughout the state and especially in the hardest hit areas like Collier, Lee and Monroe Counties, to provide emergency power.
“We’ve been able to get communities back on their feet in a relatively short period of time,” said Tim Keyser, the team lead assigned to Jacksonville District’s Temporary Power mission. “We were tasked by the state in one day with 43 installations in Collier County alone. That included assessing the power needs in each situation to determine what was needed and then installing temporary power where it was appropriate.”
Keyser said that of those 43 assigned missions in Collier County, 20 received generators while the remaining locations had commercial power restored during the process.
But loss of power is more than just being unable to turn on a light. One of the big issues, especially with public facilities, is the loss of clean water. Generally speaking, water is pumped into water towers and those towers feed water via gravity to homes and other facilities. Without power, the pumps cannot pump water into those towers, leaving a severely limited water source.
The reverse is true for sewage. Gravity will take it downhill, but lift stations help push it to treatment facilities. If a treatment facility is at the same elevation or higher than the source where the sewage came from, and there is no power to operate the lift system, then those systems cannot move the sewage where it needs to go.
“Without power, none of that stuff works,” said Keyser. “The result is that you have no clean water and you can’t use your facilities, or if you do use them, the sewage backs up and exits the sewage system into the streets and fields.”
As of Sept. 21, the Corps has installed 42 generators and completed 122 assessments for the state and FEMA. The installation mission in Collier County was completed in just two days and only a small handful of installs in other areas remain and are expected to be complete with the next couple of days.
Keyser said the temporary power mission doesn’t necessarily end there though. The team will continue to maintain the generators being used until regular power can be restored, and the when that happens, the team will have to remove them.
“We have a very diverse team that has come together and exhausted all their efforts and resources to get this mission done quickly in order to get power back to these critical facilities,” Keyser said. “Everyone put in extremely long days and worked under difficult conditions because they wanted to do their part for the citizens of Florida.”