The power grid in Puerto Rico was destroyed when Hurricane Maria struck in September, and the people there have largely been without power since. 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 restoration mission and the Defense Logistics Agency played a key supporting role providing materials required for the rebuilding efforts.
As of May 3, the power grid had been 98.16 percent restored, according to the Puerto Rico Electric Power Authority, which is USACE’s partner in the grid restoration efforts.
“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.
McMullen, chief executive agent for barrier materiel with C&E, 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 in response to 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.
“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, 33,363,508 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 that the items met the technical specifications for the island’s grid.
When Rhonda Mustfaa, 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.
“Now, we have restored power to approximately 1,445,943 pre-storm clients, which equates to 98.16% grid restoration,” Mustafaa said.
The task force has performed well considering the magnitude of destruction to the island and power grid, Mustafaa said.
An active wildfire season in the American West was followed by Hurricane’s Irma, Harvey and then Maria. The series of disasters had depleted the available inventories of many of the items needed to restore power grids, such as poles, transformers, insulators and wire.
The market conditions for electrical power grid materials at the beginning of the Puerto Rico power restoration mission were 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 in 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 that he hoped that people would be aware of what the task force was ultimately able to accomplish in restoring a destroyed power grid.
The working relationship between the agencies partnering in the task force has been positive as they continue to overcome challenges posed by difficult terrain and 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 current DLA liaison to the task force.
“The interactions in the office was 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, 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.”