Tornadoes. Tropical storms. Hurricanes. Floods. Mother Nature sure knows how to put us in our place. Anyone who has experienced a natural disaster firsthand can attest to the fear that takes hold as these powerful events unfold. But for some, the real challenge begins after the winds die down and the rain stops. That's when emergency repair crews spring into action and descend on the damage zone like an army of ants, fixing everything in their path. For me, this is where the true excitement lies.
Having lived in Florida most of my life, I'm no stranger to severe weather. In fact, I worked as a utility engineer at Florida Power & Light (FPL) when Hurricane Andrew smashed into South Florida in the early morning hours of Aug. 24, 1992. Sustained winds of 145 mph with gusts up to 175 mph, with a storm surge of 16½ ft, inflicted catastrophic damage to FPL's electrical system and surrounding communities. As a result of the storm, 1.4 million of FPL's 3.2 million customers were without power. At the time, Hurricane Andrew was classified as the most severe natural disaster to hit our country, causing more than $20 billion in damages.
The massive restoration effort by the utility was nothing less than extraordinary. FPL mobilized 3,300 contractors and non-FPL utility personnel to support the 2,500 FPL employees directly assigned to the restoration effort. FPL employees, contractors, and neighboring utility personnel worked side by side, day and night, to repair the transmission and distribution system and restore power to customers. What resulted was a classic example of teamwork.
This same theme is echoed throughout this month's cover story, written by Senior Managing Editor Ellen Parson, starting on page 24. After Tropical Storm Allison dumped more than 3 ft of rain on the Houston metro area June 5-9, 2001, the staff of Texas Medical Center, along with hundreds of outside contractors, engineers, and manufacturers' reps, successfully completed one of the most extensive flood recovery efforts in recent history. The flooding hit Texas Medical Center particularly hard — water filled an underground tunnel system that connects many of the campus buildings and basements housing transformers, generators, switches, and other critical electrical equipment. How did they recover from almost complete devastation? Teamwork, of course.
Emergency repair work brings out the best in everyone. Office engineers transform into field generals or scouts, surveying the damaged systems and engineering temporary systems on the fly. Manufacturers and distributors drop everything and work in concert to send out replacement parts and equipment at a dizzying pace. And union and non-union crews work side by side, rebuilding critical mechanical and electrical systems piece by piece. Although not much good can come from the destruction most natural disasters bring, it's truly amazing and rewarding to see what can happen when such diverse disciplines come together as an unstoppable emergency repair team.