By John McPhaul
Ahead of the start of hurricane season, Gov. Pedro Pierluisi Urrutia met on Thursday with the first response agencies for emergencies and detailed the government’s preparations.
“I received from the members of my cabinet who are with me today, as well as from others who are not present and from the LUMA [Energy] company, a brief summary of the preparations that have been carried out this year to deal with any emergency, in particular one involving an atmospheric system,” the governor said at a press conference. “As a government, we are ensuring that all response components are ready to effectively and quickly mitigate any emergency situation. Our people suffered too much from the ravages of hurricanes Irma and Maria, and demand that the government be ready and that its response be immediate and effective.”
During the morning, the governor met with senior executives of the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA), including the associate director of response and recovery at the national level, Anne Bink, the regional administrator of Region 2, David Warrington, and the deputy director of response and recovery, David Bibo, who were visiting the island to, in addition to talking about the reconstruction of Puerto Rico, touch base on preparation for the hurricane season.
Regarding the island Emergency Management and Disaster Administration Bureau, the governor and Commissioner Nino Correa Filomeno announced that as soon as an emergency occurs, the Emergency Operations Center will be activated with representation from all government agencies, FEMA and the National Weather Service.
Also, training for citizens related to the Community Emergency Response Team is active throughout the year and at the moment there are some 100 “community hubs” throughout Puerto Rico (churches, non-profit foundations, among others) that help in the distribution of supplies, as well as to identify people who need some type of special help.
“The important thing here is that we are prepared,” Correa Filomeno said. “On behalf of the government, we are prepared and confident that, if there is an emergency, we will make the necessary response.”
Regarding electricity generation services, the executive director of the Puerto Rico Electric Power Authority (PREPA), Josué Colón, noted that at the moment the agency has an inventory of materials in its warehouses that totals around $98 million and has 11 “blackstart” units throughout Puerto Rico, including Vieques and Culebra, which are used to partially energize the system during the recovery of electricity service.
Also, PREPA maintains approved contracts upon request to provide necessary services with local contractors and fuel suppliers. Likewise, the agency has an agreement with the American Public Power Association and with the Large Public Power Council and other companies with contingency and emergency contracts upon request, which are activated after a natural disaster to help PREPA in the recovery of the electrical system.
LUMA Energy, the operator of the island’s electrical transmission and distribution system, revealed meanwhile that it has about $130 million in inventory of transmission and distribution material including power lines, poles, lighting units and transformers, more than a 1,000 field workers and more than 1,000 vehicles available to respond. Like PREPA, LUMA has agreements with the Caribbean Electric Utility Services Corp., Edison Electric Institute and the American Power Association for mutual assistance in case they need additional restoration response resources.
Regarding the Puerto Rico Aqueduct and Sewer Authority (PRASA), the executive president, Doriel Pagán Crespo, said the facilities that are equipped with emergency generators have been inspected. At the moment, 1,240 generators are operating and from July to October another 200 will be in reserve. The PRASA chief added that equipment, materials and chemicals were also acquired to maintain drinking water service and that they have 71 satellite telephones, 17 VHF radio units for communication between the emergency center and the dams, while 157 analog lines were identified that can be used in case the communication fails.
Meanwhile, the 13 pump houses that the Department of Natural and Environmental Resources operates throughout the island are working normally, including the one on Baldorioty de Castro Avenue, which has sufficient and excess capacity to dispose of water and even has ample backup of electricity generators. Also, the agency has signed 27 agreements with municipalities for the cleaning and management of bodies of water, Pagán Crespo said.