|Gratuitous pic of a truck replacing |
a line on a narrow street. Photo by Kathe.
The Mayor of Villalba, Puerto Rico, was talking to a group of officials from Puerto Rico Power, FEMA and the Corps. He shared the extent of the damage done, and what remains to be done. Today marks the 100th day since the storm hit.
Villalba, for those of you not familiar with the geography of the island, is not the most remote town in Puerto Rico.
The utilities official agreed with the mayor. If materials were on hand, 60% of the lights in the village would already be energized. And then everyone turned and looked at the representative from the Corps.
Arms folded. Well?
This scene has played itself out in similar scenes all across the island. Because of a host of logistical problems with getting stuff shipped to the island, teams from every contractor and subcontractor have taken valuable (read:expensive) time to recycle for reuse any available scrap from the lines that were destroyed. Wire coiled and set aside. Boxes filled with scavenged connectors and insulators and bolts. Stacks of crossarms.
We have been struggling since right after the storm to get material where it needs to go.
We have a group of guys who we refer to as the BOM Squad. BOM - Bill of Materials - is the physical stuff we need to do the work. From day one, the BOM Squad has had the hardest job on the island. They are responsible for moving tens of thousands of power poles, hundreds of transmission towers, thousands of insulators, hundreds of transformers, wire, (LOTS of wire), and tons of nuts, bolts, crimps, and other stuff with exciting names like "Fuse Link 140A dsv Universal Fast" or "Cutout KVMAS 200A" - and getting it all where it needs to go. (Fun fact: there are chainsaws in the mix, too.)
Here's the thing: If you don't have all of the pieces, then you don't connect the electricity, and you don't turn on the refrigerator. And people fold their arms at you and stare. Well?
The BOM Squad made their order based on very early information about what the needs were, with a lot of uncertainty in what the actual needs were. And there have been countless bottlenecks:
Bottleneck at the manufacturing facility. Much of the stuff we are getting in every day is stamped with a production date from last month. That is unheard of. We have been literally having stuff manufactured, rolled off the assembly line/out of the kiln, stamped, and immediately put on a truck.
Bottleneck at the port, where the stuff was supposed to be loaded on barges. Eventually, we moved all of the stuff to a different port. And shipped it out from there.
Bottleneck at the port on the island. Taking the items off the barge, putting them down in the yard, opening the containers, cataloging, counting, repacking, setting them on trucks, distributing them to the laydown yards.
Bottleneck at the warehouse.
They have been streamlining, and the process is better. But there was no material on hand. EVERYTHING had to be shipped. What is worse, original estimates have changed, and items have been added. With no change in the timeline.
'The Corps favors the contractors they hired, and are not giving material to the locals who need it.'
'The Corps is favoring one contractor over another.'
'The Corps is favoring the locals over the contractors, who cannot perform according to the contract if they don't get the stuff.'
'The Corps is favoring one region/one village/one town over another.'
Now, two months after the order was made, we are starting to see an increase in the stream of goods that are coming to the island. Every day, we are counting containers of material, hundreds of poles, and getting more stuff into the hands of the contractors and workers who can majically turn bits of metal into electricity in the homes of those who need it. And they won't have to rely exclusively on cannibalized material to do it.
We are answering the question from the Mayor of Villalba. We are ordering material and providing it as quickly, distributing it as widely, and helping as many people as we can. As soon as we are told of the need for specific elements, we order them and get them in. As they are received, we turn them over to the team needing the material. To get them back to work.
The trickle of BOM is turning into a stream. And soon, God willing, the stream will turn into a river. As that happens, we can get it all into the hands of those who can bring power to the people.
Even in Villalba.