By Susan Britt
Alabama Political Reporter
Most of us take it for granted that when we flip the switch on the wall, the lights will come on. Like many Alabamians, I grew up in “the country,” which we now call a rural community. If the power failed, Daddy’s chickens would most likely die, and we would go from simply being poor to being “po” because we couldn’t afford the extra “o-r.” On the farm, we learned quickly that electrical power was more than a commodity. The people of Puerto Rico have experienced this type of economic and emotional suffering that comes when the lights go out.
Our lives are literally built around the confidence that our electric service will be there without fail to power the industry and technology of modern life. But we can have this confidence only because those responsible for keeping the lights on do not take their jobs for granted. On the contrary, for those people, reliability and dependability are an obsession.
So, when Hurricane Maria ravaged Puerto Rico, it is no wonder that the authorities of this U.S. Territory turned to those with real life experience and an incredible track record. Alabama Power Company currently has 50 of its seasoned veterans of storm restoration on the island helping in the gargantuan job of restoring service to the population.
Maria was the tenth most intense Atlantic hurricane on record with winds of 125 to 135 miles per hour that pounded the island for more than 12 hours. A month after the storm, about 90 percent of the island remained without power and 60 percent had no water. Entire communities were isolated and cut off, making all humanitarian and restoration efforts arduous.
Alabama Power says the task ahead of them in Puerto Rico is not unlike what they are accustomed to, but the incredible level of devastation on the island and the difficulty in transporting the people, trucks, equipment and support infrastructure to the island adds a whole new dimension to the work. The first crews from Alabama Power arrived on the island on Dec. 8, and additional support teams arrived on Jan. 20. The crews are expected to be engaged in the effort through mid-April.
Scott Moore, senior vice president of Power Delivery for Alabama Power, credits a high level of training and boots-on-the-ground experience for the company’s proficiency in storm restoration. “We are in an area of the country where storms are almost routine. Our employees get to practice their skills, and because they are so effective, it’s not uncommon for other utilities to call and request our assistance in supporting their own restoration efforts.”
Moore says that 2017, was the most active weather year in over a decade for APC Power Delivery, with response to 17 major storms and four hurricanes. But the year was also one of the best in terms of reliability ever recorded for the company.
The Edison Electric Institute gave Alabama Power its Recovery Award for quickly restoring service to Alabama customers after Hurricane Nate and the Assistance Award for coming to the aid of other utilities following Hurricanes Harvey and Irma.
Mark Crosswhite, president of Alabama Power, toured the work last week and visited with the crews on-site. “I am personally very proud to the level of professionalism and commitment to excellence our crews bring to every emergency they face. They are a select group of highly trained individuals who constantly set the standard for our industry,” Crosswhite said.
Alabama Power’s commitment to helping the people of Puerto Rico goes beyond work being done by the crews who left their families behind to help our U.S. neighbors. The Alabama Power Service Organization collected water, flashlights, batteries and a host of other supplies and essential items. APSO worked in conjunction with other charitable organizations to sort, package and ship supplies to the people of the devastated island.
Company officials say the level of destruction Maria left in its path is uncommon, but the commitment of its linemen, technical staff and support crews to the highest level of performance is just part of the culture its employees bring to the job every day.
As a country girl, I knew hardship, but nothing like what the American citizens of Puerto Rico have experienced. My daddy would often say when the power came back on, “Thank goodness and Alabama Power.” So, in wake of their good work, it seemed right to remember that “always on,” also means always ready. And in this case, offering hope for a brighter tomorrow, as well.