This piece was originally published in the December 2017 issue of electroindustry.
The NEMA Field Representative Program’s busy hurricane season began on August 24 as Hurricane Harvey intensified in the Gulf of Mexico on its track toward the Texas coast.
As part of its standard operating procedure, NEMA and Electrical Safety Foundation International (ESFI) posted guidance documents, storm information, and other disaster recovery resources to various social media sites. We called and emailed state and local contacts, electrical professionals, and emergency management officials.
The Category 4 hurricane came onshore with a storm surge that exceeded 12 feet. During the next several days, 50 inches of rain fell on the wind- and flood-devastated communities. At the storm’s peak, approximately 300,000 customers lost electric power due to downed power lines and submerged transformers. More than 250,000 buildings and structures were damaged, with some estimates upward of $40 billion in total losses.
In Florida, Hurricane Irma, another Category 4 storm, made landfall on September 10. Communities in southwest Florida experienced 125 mph winds, 20 inches of torrential rain, and four feet of storm surge. High winds resulted in downed power lines, trees, street lighting, and traffic signals. As many as one million customers lost power, and marinas, boat lifts, and other maritime electrical infrastructure suffered extensive damage.
Electric vehicle supply equipment (EVSE) was remarkably resilient to wind and rain.
Puerto Rico and U.S. Virgin Islands
In September, Hurricane Maria roared through the Caribbean, leaving the electrical infrastructure in Puerto Rico completely destroyed. The U.S. Virgin Islands fared better, and officials predict full power restoration there by the end of the year. Most of Puerto Rico is again in the dark with the failure of a recently repaired high-voltage transmission line. The NEMA Field Representatives are leading efforts to provide technical assistance to Puerto Rico as the island rebuilds its entire electric grid. The U.S. has a unique opportunity to ensure that recovery funds deploy smart technologies that are reliable, resilient, and efficient. Puerto Rico could become the model project for larger-scale grid modernization elsewhere.
NEMA distributed new Spanish translations of its Storm Recovery Toolkit throughout Texas, Florida, and Puerto Rico. NEMA will continue working with local authorities and allied associations to support rebuilding efforts in all affected jurisdictions.
Responding by the Numbers
NEMA’s field representatives worked extensively with state and local officials. Outreach efforts included social media updates, printed materials, webinars, and a centralized website.
- NEMA’s Storm Reconstruction Toolkit served as a one-stop clearinghouse for guidance and information related to storm recovery. More than 660 individuals accessed it since August. A Storm Recovery Center also was established on the NEMA Intelligence Portal.
- NEMA’s Evaluating Water-Damaged Electrical Equipment was distributed to electrical professionals, emergency management officials, and local governments in Florida, Puerto Rico, Texas, and the United States Virgin Islands. The guidelines also were published in Spanish as Evaluación de equipos eléctricos dañado por el agua.
- Electronic copies of the guidelines were sent to more than 350 industry contacts in Texas and Louisiana; 500 hard copies were sent to the Texas Department of Licensing and Regulation and the City of Houston Building Department.
- NEMA’s publication Storm Reconstruction: Rebuild Smart—Reduce Outages, Save Lives, Protect Property was sent to the utility companies in Texas and Florida.
- NEMA collaborated its outreach messages with the National Fire Protection Association (NFPA), the International Association of Electrical Inspectors (IAEI), and the Independent Electrical Contractors (IEC), who established training programs to educate the electrical industry and other stakeholders on storm recovery and restoration topics.
- GE Industrial Solutions and the IEC hosted three NEMA-led webinars on Evaluating Water-Damaged Electrical Equipment.
- Field Reps visited 10 NEMA member facilities and EVSE networks in Texas and Florida.