Delta Co. linemen power Saipan’s electricity restoration

| September 11, 2015 | 0 Comments
Photo by U.S. Army Corps of Engineers  Cpl. David Schmidt, Delta Co., 249th Eng. Bn., repairs a powerline for water wells in the Gualo Rai area of Saipan.

Delta Company’s Cpl. David Schmidt repairs an electric powerline that powers water wells in the Gualo Rai area of Saipan.


Dino W. Buchanan
U.S. Army Corps of Engineers
Honolulu District Public Affairs
Photos by USACE-Honolulu District

FORT SHAFTER — Delta Company of the 249th Engineer Battalion (Prime Power) deployed to Saipan in August to provide much-needed power line restoration support to the Federal Emergency Management Agency and U.S. Army Corps of Engineers authority missions in response to Typhoon Soudelor.

The typhoon struck Saipan, Aug. 2-3, with estimated 120 mph gusts, heavy rains and lightning, leaving the island’s 50,000 residents without water or power.

The nine-man group of Delta Co. Soldiers deployed from Rhode Island, initially to assist with the repair of the Saipan port lighting system. FEMA also mission-assigned the team to assist Commonwealth of the Northern Mariana Islands in installing the hardwire and electrical wiring on utility poles and assisting with bringing up the island’s electrical distribution system.

The Commonwealth Utilities Corporation (CUC) continues to work on restoring Saipan’s power and water systems with the assistance of local, regional and federal partners. The CUC Power Division, with the assistance of Delta Co., is working, concurrently, to restore transmission and distribution systems throughout the island by slowly energizing areas after careful inspections while power plant crews address generation capabilities.

SAIPAN, CNMI -- Soldiers from the U.S. Army’s 249th Engineer Battalion Delta Company, U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, connect emergency generator powerlines to a water pumps substation on Saipan as part of the federal response to Typhoon Soudelor.

 Soldiers from the U.S. Army’s 249th Engineer Battalion Delta Company, U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, connect emergency generator powerlines to a water pumps substation on Saipan as part of the federal response to Typhoon Soudelor.

After the storm, the CUC said all 14,622 electric customers on Saipan were without grid power, and later, visual inspections confirmed nearly 800 power poles and 600 transformers were damaged.

According to Sgt.1st Class Jitu Whitehead, Co. D, the group’s certification as journeymen lineman was “a perfect fit” after the storm, since the local utility company had limited manpower.

“After our initial mission of getting the port lights on line was complete, we offered our services as linemen and began assisting in getting power lines re-energized and de-energizing the more than 90 FEMA generators providing emergency power,” Whitehead said. “In addition to reconnecting lines atop power poles, we worked to troubleshoot issues in the power substations, as well as disconnecting the FEMA generators once the main feeder lines were back to 100 percent capability.”

Whitehead characterized the missions on Saipan as “perfect training for Delta Company.”

“We’ve been trying to link up with FEMA and for them to utilize our critical skills for some time, especially in these types of storm scenarios,” Whitehead said. “This lineman mission directly links to what we do in our civilian jobs and what we do in the Army Reserve.

“It’s definitely a positive learning experience for us to collectively work on Saipan’s electrical distribution system, understand how it works while also being able to exchange ideas with the local company utility workers on processes that work for them and as us well,” Whitehead continued. “We can take back … some of those ideas back to our civilian jobs or to the Army and use those ideas to help us work more effectively and safely.”

“These are guys and gals climbing the poles and following behind CUC crews and making the connections, installing some of the hardware,” said Stephen DeBlasio, FEMA’s federal coordinating officer on Saipan, describing them as “heroes.”

This is the first time he has seen FEMA use the 249th Eng. Bn., DeBlasio said, noting that the 249th team will be on island for a minimum 30 days, but he’ll press to keep them on board as long as the CUC needs them.

“I’ve been involved in Katrina, I’ve been involved in 9/11, I’ve been involved in the hurricane season in 2004, and Irene in the northeast, and I can tell you the devastation here on this small island rivals anyone of those events. This is a heavy lift,” he said.

FEMA said, as of Aug. 27, that almost 90 of 200 new concrete utility poles have been installed and 58 of the 145 water wells of the Saipan are operable.

The international airport and port have both resumed 24/7 operations.

The 9th Mission Support Command’s Tanapag Army Reserve center on Saipan is being used by FEMA as an operations center and staging area for generators, communications systems, food and water. The Army Corps of Engineers Power Planning and Response Team along with the Army’s 249th Engineer Battalion has assessed, installed and maintained emergency generators at water wells and other critical facilities.

The 249th Eng. Bn. (Prime Power) is a versatile power generation battalion assigned to the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers that provides commercial-level power to military units and federal relief organizations during full-spectrum operations.

The battalion consists of a Headquarters and Headquarters Co., four Prime Power line companies (A, B, C & D) and the Prime Power School.

The 249th offers a variety of services, including electrical power requirement assessment and power production; transformer inspection and test analysis; maintenance and repair of power plants, substations and government owned or managed transmission and distribution systems; circuit breaker and relay maintenance; infrared surveys, medium-voltage electrical contractor oversight and training for personnel to operate and maintain prime power distribution and generation equipment.

Alpha Co., 249th Eng. Bn., consisting of a company headquarters and four Prime Power platoons, is located at Schofield Barracks.

Delta Co., comprised of all Reserve Soldiers – including the nine currently deployed to Saipan – has its headquarters and three platoons at Cranston, Rhode Island, and one platoon at Fort Belvoir, Virginia. Each line company and its four to six platoons are capable of setting up, operating and repairing complete medium voltage power generation and distribution systems worldwide.


Corps’ Support

USACE’s support of FEMA included the following:

  • Deployment of a Power Planning and Response Team (PRT) from the Honolulu District; •Advanced Contracting Initiative (ACI) assets;
  • Resources from 249th Prime Power’s Alpha and Delta companies; and
  • Debris subject matter experts (SMEs) in order to conduct rapid assessments of critical infrastructure.

Delta Co., as a part of USACE, operates under the National Response Framework in support of FEMA, and was part of the total federal response to this natural disaster. USACE is the agency responsible for Emergency Support Function Three, Public Works and Engineering.


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