In late 2017, Powered for Patients Project Director Eric Cote had the privilege of meeting with leaders from FEMA and the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers (USACE) to learn about the challenges these agencies faced in addressing the temporary emergency power needs triggered by the unprecedented 2017 hurricane season.
The official FEMA and USACE After-Action reports, still being developed, will tell a more detailed story of the 2017 federal temporary power mission which saw the highest number of federal generator deployments in the program’s history. As this full story emerges, there will be many opportunities to document lessons learned that can help better safeguard emergency power in future disasters. Powered for Patients looks forward to contributing to this important work.
In the interim, Powered for Patients is pleased to share this preliminary picture of the herculean effort launched by FEMA and USACE to meet the emergency power needs of those impacted by Hurricanes Harvey, Irma and Maria.
Numbers at a Glance Behind the 2017 Federal Generator Deployments
# of Generators deployed Texas (Hurricane Harvey) 45
Florida (Hurricane Irma) 42
U.S. Virgin Islands (Hurricanes Irma and Maria) 180
Puerto Rico (Hurricane Maria) 1456
Key Highlights of FEMA/USACE 2017 Temporary Power Mission
- The overwhelming majority of generator installations were for facilities that had no existing emergency power capabilities. Of the 1456 generators deployed in Puerto Rico, 1140 fell into this category. The additional 316 federal generator deployments were for facilities that either needed additional emergency power capacity or had emergency power that failed. (Approximately 100 generator deployments in Puerto Rico were to replace failed generators).
- Not all requests for federal temporary power assistance were routed through the proper channels. The requests outside official channels resulted in slight delays in processing requests as they had to be rerouted through the proper chain of command. (Requests for temporary federal power support must come from a state/territorial/tribal governor or the state/territorial/tribal emergency management agency).
- FEMA and USACE established 8 microgrids in Puerto Rico to feed power back into the existing electrical grid.
- Of the 180 generator installations in the U.S. Virgin Islands, approximately 30 remained in use as of late January 2018.
- Of the 1456 generators installed in Puerto Rico, 140 had been removed as of late January 2018.
- Supplying the 1723 generators deployed by the federal government in response to Hurricanes Harvey, Irma and Maria required FEMA to request support from the U.S. Defense Logistics Agency which triggered all of its existing private sector generator contracts to meet the demand. Approximately 1,100 generators were sourced through these private sector contracts with the balance coming from the FEMA fleet.
- The massive demand for diesel fuel generated by the unprecedented deployment of federal generators in Puerto Rico and the U.S. Virgin Islands was very capably met by the U.S. Defense Logistics Agency.
- Many of the generators needed in Puerto Rico and the U.S. Virgin Islands were in the smaller size range of 25kw to 75kw, seriously stretching the collective inventory of FEMA and the Defense Logistic Agency’s private contractors. Conversely, there was a surplus of large generators (750kw and above).
Addressing Critical Questions
In assessing the initial details about the federal temporary power mission triggered by the 2017 hurricane season, Powered for Patients looks forward to exploring these key questions with key stakeholders:
- Most of the 1723 federal generator deployments went to facilities that had no emergency power capabilities but were deemed critical enough to warrant federal deployments. What types of facilities were involved and why didn’t these facilities have emergency power capabilities to begin with?
- What changes should be considered to encourage broader use of emergency power for these types of facilities?
- Approximately 220 generator deployments in Puerto Rico augmented existing emergency power that was considered insufficient. Which facilities received these and how will these facilities bolster emergency power for future disasters?
- In terms of the generators that failed in Puerto Rico, what were the primary causes of failure? Addressing this question will provide valuable lessons learned for facility managers and emergency power system operators.
- For all of the federal deployments to replace failed generators, what was the timeline and communications process associated with the request for assistance and deployment of temporary power? Detailing this timeline, and the communications process leading to a federal deployment, will provide valuable insight into opportunities for process improvement and accelerated responses when emergency power is threatened.
As answers become available to these questions, we look forward to sharing them. If you have questions beyond those detailed above that you’d like Powered for Patients to follow up on, please email Project Director Eric Cote at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Powered for Patients is grateful to FEMA and USACE leaders for the valuable information they’ve shared that enabled Powered for Patients to provide this initial report. Their tireless work and that of their federal colleagues, along with the private sector contractors mobilized by the Defense Logistics Agency, is an excellent reminder that effective disaster planning and response continues to be rooted in public-private partnership.