Puerto Rico power grid reenergizes with DLA-provided materials

By Jason Kaneshiro DLA Troop Support Public Affairs

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An electrical worker labors on a utility pole, perched high on a bluff, to restore power to 51 clients in Orocovis, Puerto Rico. The workers were contracted by the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers through a mission assignment from the Federal Emergency Management Agency as a result of Hurricane Maria.
An electrical worker labors on a utility pole, perched high on a bluff, to restore power to 51 clients in Orocovis, Puerto Rico. The workers were contracted by the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers through a mission assignment from the Federal Emergency Management Agency as a result of Hurricane Maria.
An electrical worker labors on a utility pole, perched high on a bluff, to restore power to 51 clients in Orocovis, Puerto Rico. The workers were contracted by the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers through a mission assignment from the Federal Emergency Management Agency as a result of Hurricane Maria.
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An electrical worker labors on a utility pole, perched high on a bluff, to restore power to 51 clients in Orocovis, Puerto Rico. The workers were contracted by the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers through a mission assignment from the Federal Emergency Management Agency as a result of Hurricane Maria.
Photo By: U.S. Army Corps of Engineers
VIRIN: 180701-D-YE683-010
 The power grid in Puerto Rico was destroyed when Hurricane Maria struck in September last year, leaving most residents of the American territory without power. The combined efforts of multiple agencies have resulted in the near full restoration of electric power to the island.

The U.S. Army Corps of Engineers led the reconstruction mission, and the Defense Logistics Agency played a key role providing materials for the rebuilding.

As of May 3, the power grid had been more than 98 percent restored, according to USACE.

“The Construction and Equipment supply chain has provided the majority of the material to the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers for this mission,” said Air Force Lt. Col. Sue McMullen, chief executive agent for barrier material with C&E. This supply line is one of five managed by DLA Troop Support, headquartered in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania.

McMullen was part of a rotation of personnel that served as a DLA liaison to the power-grid mission in Puerto Rico. A DLA rapid deployment team first arrived in Puerto Rico just after the disaster in early October to streamline communication between DLA and the agencies they were supporting.

The presence of a DLA liaison made communication and coordination between USACE and DLA easier, said Army Capt. John Berg, Task Force Power Restoration material manager. 

Federal Emergency Management Agency contractors unload utility poles from the barge Atlanta Bridge at Port of San Juan, Puerto Rico.
Federal Emergency Management Agency contractors unload utility poles from the barge Atlanta Bridge at Port of San Juan, Puerto Rico.
Federal Emergency Management Agency contractors unload utility poles from the barge Atlanta Bridge at Port of San Juan, Puerto Rico.
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Federal Emergency Management Agency contractors unload utility poles from the barge Atlanta Bridge at Port of San Juan, Puerto Rico.
Photo By: Dave Palmer
VIRIN: 180701-D-YE683-011
 “The DLA team, both stateside and their liaison officer, was always available and ready to do all they could to provide the island with the critical materials we requested as quickly as possible,” Berg said.

As of late April, more than 33 million items have been delivered in support of the power grid restoration mission, including power poles, transformers and conductors. The task force and the Puerto Rico Electric Power Authority worked together to ensure the items met the technical specifications for the island’s grid.

When Rhonda Mustafaa, interim officer in charge of Task Force Power Restoration Bill of Materials, arrived in Puerto Rico in January, only 62 percent of the island had electrical service.

As of May this year, the task force had restored power to nearly 1.5 million people, or over 98 percent of the power grid.” 

The task force has performed well considering the magnitude of destruction to the island and power grid, Mustafaa said.

The U.S. Army Corps of Engineers uses helicopters to place poles and electrical power lines in the mountain community of San German, Puerto Rico, in February.
The U.S. Army Corps of Engineers uses helicopters to place poles and electrical power lines in the mountain community of San German, Puerto Rico, in February.
The U.S. Army Corps of Engineers uses helicopters to place poles and electrical power lines in the mountain community of San German, Puerto Rico, in February.
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The U.S. Army Corps of Engineers uses helicopters to place poles and electrical power lines in the mountain community of San German, Puerto Rico, in February.
Photo By: Maj. Michael Meyer
VIRIN: 180701-D-YE683-012
 Complicating their task was the depletion of emergency supplies caused by wildfires in the American West, followed by Hurricanes Irma, Harvey and then Maria. The series of disasters used up many items needed to restore power grids, such as poles, transformers, insulators and wire. This situation was unprecedented and greatly contributed to long production lead times and subsequent deliveries to the island, Mustafaa said.

“The vast majority of the material had to be manufactured from scratch, only after the requirements were clearly identified and technical specifications were defined,” Mustafaa said.

Puerto Rico’s location was another hurdle, limiting the modes of transportation available for shipping critical materials.

“The primary limiting factor to our progress has always been the delivery of materials,” Mustafaa said. “Although this has improved significantly, it was a key contributing factor to our ability to expedite materials and distribute accordingly.” 

Despite the challenges, Berg said he hoped that people would be aware of what the task force ultimately accomplished in restoring a destroyed power grid.

The working relationships among the agencies in the task force have only become more effective as they continue to overcome difficult terrain and challenging logistics, Berg said.

“I want people to remember how differing agencies came together to support their fellow Americans that were disrupted by these catastrophic storms,” Berg said. “We continue to work with the same purpose and vigor today as we did on Day One, and will continue to finish strong.”

Working with USACE has been a rewarding experience, said John Finchen, the DLA liaison to the task force.

U.S. Army Corps of Engineers contractors work to restore the electrical grid in the Villa Alegria neighborhood of Caguas, Puerto Rico.
U.S. Army Corps of Engineers contractors work to restore the electrical grid in the Villa Alegria neighborhood of Caguas, Puerto Rico.
U.S. Army Corps of Engineers contractors work to restore the electrical grid in the Villa Alegria neighborhood of Caguas, Puerto Rico.
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U.S. Army Corps of Engineers contractors work to restore the electrical grid in the Villa Alegria neighborhood of Caguas, Puerto Rico.
Photo By: Dave Palmer
VIRIN: 180701-D-YE683-013
 “The interactions in the office were that of a true team,” Finchen said. “It was an amazing experience to see the actions and opinions of all the people around the table come together.”

The task force included members from the U.S. Army Reserve and National Guard, USACE, DLA, the Department of Energy, private industry and local authorities.

Finchen said that the mission is proof that DLA remains ready to support the warfighter and other government agencies in response to disasters and humanitarian efforts.

“Over time here on the team I have had the opportunity to see the percentages of energized homes increase daily,” Finchen said. “I’ll remember all of the people that worked behind the scenes to make this mission a success.”