Living in the 21st century, most Americans have electricity on demand. When it isn’t working, it usually doesn’t take longer than a day to get it turned back on.
But what happens when a storm like Hurricane Laura hits? Close to 200,000 residents living in southwestern Louisiana lost power on Aug. 27. Many of them are still without it, weeks after the storm has come and gone.
Entergy, one of the state's primary power companies, reported that they would need to rebuild the transmission lines running into Lake Charles. Rebuilding these lines could take weeks, according to the company's website.
Delivering power to southwest Louisiana is one of the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers' top priorities. USACE is installing generators in several critical facilities like water pump stations, sewage lift stations, hospitals, radio towers, and corrections facilities, to name a few.
The 23-person team responsible for installing these generators ensured they were in Louisiana before Hurricane Laura even made landfall.
"We've been here since Aug. 26," Memphis District Mission Manager Ricco Chalmers said. "A typical install team is made up of four people; one electrical journeyman and one apprentice with a fuel team of two people. But our larger generators can require up to three teams to install."
Chalmers volunteered to be one of the team leaders in charge of those responsible for installing generators. Justin Crow, from the Tulsa District, also volunteered to help with recovery efforts, but he serves in a different capacity than Chalmers does.
"I was brought in from the Tulsa Temporary Power Planning and Response Team to augment the Memphis Temporary Power PRT personnel," Crow explained. "As a Logistics Specialist, I'm responsible for keeping track of all of the power mission equipment associated with a particular event, such as contractor equipment needed for the mission, as well as FEMA-provided generators."
Crow went on to say that he typically helps with the generator staging base setup, day-to-day operations of the generator staging base, and helping with the mission's closeout process.
"As a logistics specialist, I'm also responsible for knowing where my generators and equipment are at all times geographically, as well as what the status of that equipment is," he added.
Crow is also familiar with how generators go from being needed to getting installed. He said it all starts with the state requesting a generator, which then calls for assessing the location.
"The action officers handle the communication between the state and the 249th Engineer Battalion (Prime Power)," Crow said. "When the 249th assesses the location, they are looking at the facility's calculated load requirements, the voltage requirements, amperage requirements, etc."
Crow said they choose the type of generator for installation using the 249th Engineer Battalion assessment and the generators available for use.
"Typically, we provide power to facilities for no more than 30 days, but it could be longer under some circumstances," Crow continued. "We are Emergency Temporary Power, so what we typically do is fill the gap from the time after the storm, or another event, up to the time that the utility companies can restore normal power from the electrical power grid."
According to a tweet made by Entergy on Sept. 15, "Crews are making significant progress in southwest Louisiana and expect to make power available to most customers affected by Hurricane Laura by Sept. 23. They expect to restore power to the remaining customers who can safely receive it by Sept. 30."
Until Entergy can restore power to its customers, USACE temporary power teams are working hard to execute the critical power mission. So far, they have been highly successful.
"As of Sept. 15, USACE contractors have completed 84 generator installations," Memphis District Commander Col. Zachary Miller said. "We are well postured to continue Hurricane Laura recovery and any requirements from Hurricane Sally."
While conducting assessments and installing generators make up a large part of the team's job, it isn't all they do.
"We send Quality Assurance Specialists out to check on the condition of each generator every 24 hours," Crow said. "The contractor also has teams that go out and perform checks, maintenance, and refueling of the generators daily."
According to Quality Assurance Lead Royalle Woods, they check simple but crucial things like making sure the generator is in the correct location, checking the hours the generator is operating, and making sure the oil and fuel filter hours are up to date.
"They also check for things like exposed wires or anything of that nature, so the generators don't present any hazards," Woods added.
Finally, this team is responsible for de-installing the generators. De-installations occur once power is restored, or power is not necessary at that facility anymore. As of Sept. 15, the Power PRT has conducted a total of 29 de-installs.
"Once de-installed, the generator is returned to us where we then follow the Federal Emergency Management Agency guidance on the Return to Storage (RTS) process," Chalmers said. "The guidance basically says that if it ran in the field for less than 60 hours, they change the filters and fluids; if it ran over 60 hours but under 100 hours, they must do filters and fluids along with a 100 percent inspection; and finally, if the generator ran more than 100 hours, it must be load banked (simulated test) as well as 100 percent inspected before returning to storage."
Overall, many agree this team has a challenging but rewarding job. This team works 12 hours a day, seven days a week, and they do it all without complaint; actually, they're happy to do it.
"I love what I do knowing that I can help the people who have been devastated by a disaster," Chalmers said.
Crow feels similarly, saying he's happy to be part of the mission and able to help people during this difficult time.
"Even though we can't be with our families right now, I'm happy to be here helping other families during their time of need," Crow added.
The Temporary Power PRT isn't the only USACE team helping those impacted by Hurricane Laura; to read more about how USACE is contributing to recovery efforts, visit www.usace.army.mil.