Helping to Restore Power to Storm-Ravaged Puerto Rico
Just over six months ago, Puerto Rico was hit by Hurricane Maria, and the U.S. territory is still struggling to recover. The catastrophic storm affected all resources, infrastructure and services, leaving the 3.4 million residents trying to find normalcy in a devastated region.
After receiving an urgent request for mutual assistance from Puerto Rico Electric Power Authority (PREPA), SDG&E sent two of our employees to the island to support the Area Command team: Janisse Quiñones Mercado, director of planning, design, construction and vegetation management, and Monica Garcia, senior business analyst in our Accounting and Finance Group.
Helping on the Ground
For Janisse, going to Puerto Rico to help has both special personal and professional meaning. Puerto Rico is Janisse’s homeland, and most of her immediate family lives there.
“The local utility needs all the help they can get for full restoration of service. Hurricane Maria was catastrophic for the island but especially to the electric grid with approximately 80 percent of the system deemed destroyed or inoperable,” said Janisse. “Our help means a lot to the people of Puerto Rico, who are extremely resilient and resourceful but more importantly very grateful.”
While on her 45 day plus mutual assistance assignment, Janisse is serving as the Planning Section Chief for the Central Incident Management Team (IMT). Her main responsibility is to coordinate with all the stakeholders, including PREPA, the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA), the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers (USACE) and industry counterparts working on electric grid restoration for the island. She is also responsible for the development of resource movement plans, daily plans, and transition plans. Her emergency management experience through the U.S. Coast Guard coupled with her operational experience at SDG&E has helped her understand the bigger picture and organize it in a way that is actionable and accountable.
Working alongside Janisse is Monica. As the Incident Management Team Data Analyst with responsibility for all storm damage intelligence, Monica has played a pivotal role in supporting the many operational and strategic decisions that must be made to restore power.
“It’s all about making the right decisions at the right time, especially when things change daily,” Monica said.
Overcoming Challenges to Restore Power
The amount of damages in all areas of the island’s infrastructure were hard for both Janisse and Monica to grasp until they saw it first hand.
One thing they were both surprised by was the complexity of the island’s grid, especially as it relates to installed equipment, terrain and road access. It is the scenic and rugged terrain that residents love and tourists flock to the island for that are also proving to be one of the many challenges the restoration team is having to manage.
“Puerto Rico’s beautiful landscape in the mountains creates complex challenges for the crews restoring power,” said Janisse. “Among them is the need to build roads to reach the electrical equipment, clearing vegetation and weather delays such as strong winds and heavy rains. While the response from the mainland was large, the skill set needed to work in this terrain is unique and caused obstacles for the incoming crews.”
Adding to the complexity of the restoration efforts is the logistics to get materials to the island. Hurricane Maria was the third devastating hurricane late last year, leading to competing requests for similar materials. Suppliers were overwhelmed and production lines were maxed out, exacerbating the inventory shortfalls. Additionally, everything must be shipped or flown-in, which increases lead time and/or cost. Once supplies arrive, getting materials to work locations continues to prove challenging.
What is the sentiment for the future of Puerto Rico? In the same resilient spirit of her countrymen, Janisse is hopeful for the future of the electric grid restoration.