Dorian Speed of Ahwatukee says spending the holidays without his wife and four sons while he’s in Puerto Rico has been difficult, but the hardship is nothing compared to what people on that hurricane-ravaged island have suffered.
The distribution supervisor is part of an eight-person crew from SRP assisting other utility companies as they help restore electricity after Hurricane Maria pummeled Puerto Rico in September.
This SRP group deployed around Dec. 8 and will stay through Jan. 8, when another team from the local utility will replace them in Puerto Rico.
Dorian said he and his wife, Carrie, believe in giving back. Both are active in the Grove Church in Chandler and feel God called him to try to help Puerto Rico get back on its feet.
“It was pretty difficult,” Dorian, 43, said. “It was pretty easy for my wife. She was like, ‘Yeah, you need to go,’ but for me I’m not away from my boys or my wife too much. It was probably harder on me. It’s a bigger picture thing. It’s a small sacrifice. The people down here are making a huge sacrifice being without power.
“SRP is providing us the opportunity to come down here. It’s a blessing to be down here and helping people out and being with the team we have. It’s a really cool experience. It’s just so rewarding to do something little by little.”
Dorian’s role in Puerto Rico is to coordinate the process of ensuring electricity lines are switched on and off safely and synchronizing the priority of which ones need to be energized first.
“It’s mainly for safety purposes,” he said. “It’s kind of a big deal. That coordination needs to come down for the crews. We drive around and people see us. They’ll see we’re from a power company, they’re real appreciative. They’ll come give you a hug. People have been really great.”
The SRP employees are staying in San Juan, the capital of Puerto Rico, but they are responsible for restoration work in the Carolina region, which is in the northeastern area of the island.
Helping bring back light to the storm-torn island is a team effort. SRP workers are tackling the issue with employees of Austin Energy, as part of Team American Public Power Association.
Several other teams landed in Puerto Rico earlier this month for an Incident Management Team training workshop. Over two days, the 10-member Incident Management Team surveyed damage in the Carolina region and developed a command center inside a Puerto Rico Electric Power Authority operations center. The U.S. Army Corps of Engineers is also in Puerto Rico helping with the restoration efforts.
Priorities are set as far as which entities need to get their power restored first, Dorian said. Hospitals and police stations are high priorities.
Dorian had been to Haiti after a hurricane hit about five years ago with his church group, but said the damage in Puerto Rico is more startling. He had previously visited Puerto Rico about 25 years ago as a professional baseball player.
“It’s a beautiful island,” Dorian said. “It’s been ravaged by the storm, to say the least. We’re flying in and we see a lot of darkness versus when you’re flying in and you see light everywhere. All the trees are completely stripped of the foliage. There’s trees everywhere.
“There’s broken concrete poles hanging over the freeway. There’s lines down everywhere.”
Driving around the island is challenging with traffic signals out, Dorian added.
He said the experience makes him appreciate how much easier things are in the United States. Working to help fix outages during storms in Arizona does not compare to the extent of the need in Puerto Rico, Dorian said.
“You definitely get a shock,” he said. “You’re like, ‘Wow, all these lines are down.’ You always have things so easily in the (United) States. You just think of the people (in Puerto Rico); they’re still upbeat and they’re still happy. It’s unbelievable. The people here are just prevailing through all of that.”
Dorian said he hopes his work is setting a good example for his sons: Braeden, 12; Kellen, 10; Devin, 8 and Taren, 6.
He uses FaceTime to communicate with his wife and sons every day. Devin is doing a presentation at school about Dorian’s work in Puerto Rico and Dorian sent him a video of local women singing and dancing to welcome the SRP workers to the building where they are stationed.
Rick Hudson, 53, an SRP engineering supervisor who lives in Chandler, also left family members behind to assist with the restoration work in Puerto Rico.
He is married and has three children who are in their 20s and a 15-year-old daughter, as well as five grandchildren. His wife, Susan, used to work with a woman who grew up in Puerto Rico and still has family members there.
“I was just thinking about it and praying about it, and she (Susan) called her former coworker,” Rick said. “That coworker mentioned that a lot of her family was still there (in Puerto Rico) without power. It was at that moment that we both said, this is one of those things where you feel like you should be doing that. I put my name in the hat.”
Like Dorian, Rick was taken aback when he arrived in San Juan to experience the power outages.
“It’s incredible,” Rick said. “When we first got there, to see how dark it was in their capital city; they had lights but not nearly as many as are available. It made driving very difficult. Most of the traffic signals do not work. They don’t have enough police to have people directing traffic. It’s pretty much kind of a free-for-all when you get to a major intersection.
“As we’ve moved into the region just outside of San Juan, the devastation is even more pronounced, but the people have been very welcoming. They’re really appreciative. It’s incredible the amount of thanks we get. It’s kind of a different culture in terms of how they deal with these situations.”
With the Incident Command structure, seven incident management teams of 10 people each were formed to help cordinate and manage about 3,5000 utility field workers deployed on the island.
“Our role is to do whatever they need from us to get the power restored here in Puerto Rico,” Bret Marchese, SRP director of distribution maintenance, said. “We are helping to create efficiencies in areas that will most benefit PREPA. I think we’ve made a lot of progress in getting information together to put the right resources in the areas where they are most needed and restore circuits as quickly and safely as possible.”
The last time SRP helped another utility bring back power due to a major natural disaster was in November 2012.
That’s when over 60 SRP workers spent two weeks working with Long Island Power Authority and other utilities to replace damaged power poles, impaired electrical equipment and overhead lines when customers in the New York region lost power during Hurricane Sandy.