Conquering Frankenstorm Sandy

Valrico driver Joe Swanekamp fueling a Verizon vehicle

Area firms boost relief efforts with boots on the ground

Editor’s Note: Southeast Texas residents know all too well what it is like to fight back from the devastation of a large-scale natural disaster. In the last decade, we had to do it twice when first Rita then Ike came to call. When Sandy wreaked havoc on the Northeastern U.S. in late October, we were ready to assist. Presented here are reports from two area companies who answered the call.

Entergy Texas sends 112 workers to Northeast

Entergy Texas crews have returned home after almost three weeks spent helping restore utility service to victims of Superstorm Sandy.

“We sent 112 workers, including our company employees and contract workers, to the Northeast,” said David Richard, operations manager for Entergy Texas. “They were very successful in helping utilities in that area in their time of need, just like they have done for us following major restorations for our customers.”

The workers left in two waves in late October, with most headed for New Jersey. Eventually, they worked with Con Edison in New York and PEPCO Holdings Inc. in New Jersey.

“Our workers remained in high spirits while away,” Richard said, “while facing challenges including cold weather, traffic jams and working with unfamiliar equipment.”

The Entergy Texas teams were released Monday and are expected to arrive home in Texas by Thursday. Entergy Corporation’s total of 875 workers joined an army of 67,000 from more than 80 utility companies from as far away as Canada, California and Hawaii. The storm disrupted power to 9.6 million utility customers.

“Sandy proved to be a devastating storm, and we’re doing our part to help restore normalcy to a lot of people,” Richard said. “As one of Entergy’s workers put it, ‘We are a village that will do whatever it takes to get your lights on – because they’re going to be coming to help us one day.’”

Entergy Texas provides electricity to more than 400,000 customers in 27 counties. It is a subsidiary of Entergy Corporation. Entergy is an integrated energy company engaged primarily in electric power production and retail distribution operations. Entergy owns and operates power plants with about Valrico driver Joe Swanekamp fueling a Verizon vehicle 30,000 megawatts of electric generating capacity, including more than 10,000 megawatts of nuclear power, making it one of the nation’s leading nuclear generators. Entergy delivers electricity to 2.8 million utility customers in Arkansas, Louisiana, Mississippi and Texas. n Rhett Morris of Valrico getting ready to fuel one of Sprint’s portable generators

– Debi Derrick, Entergy

Valrico keeps cell phones on

When Superstorm Sandy threatened the Northeast, Valrico didn’t waste any time. Command centers started preparing for “The Perfect Storm” as early as Oct. 24 by setting up operations and deploying drivers for pre-fueling efforts.

Valrico clients have traditionally been major wireless carriers required by the FCC to keep their towers up and running to ensure first responder communications during and after natural disasters. But just before, during and after Hurricane Sandy hit, Valrico gained 11 more major clients, including several from other industries.

“We are very excited about the new business we have obtained and are grateful for the ability and experience to serve all of these clients,” said Cindy Perez, vice president of Valrico. “We have perfected our system over the years, and our response to Hurricane Sandy has proven that it works.”

Despite widespread road closures, power outages and streets heavily littered with storm debris, drivers were able to get through to clients’ sites with little trouble. That’s because Valrico fueling crews are equipped with four-wheel drive diesel pickup trucks to access sites where others can’t. Most Valrico drivers are police officers, fire fighters and boat captains and know how to handle these situations.

“These guys know how to handle emergency situations. They are well trained and super motivated to get the job done. We are very grateful that they are willing to work in post-hurricane conditions. Winter Storm Athena hit during our deployment, and they were not deterred from the job at hand. They continued to work when others would surely quit. Our drivers are a huge part of what makes our company the best,” Perez added.

James Smith, a new Facebook fan, posted this on the Valrico fan page: “Saw you guys heading up I-95 just prior to Sandy along with tree trucks and power trucks, read your (Web)site: Never doubt the determination of a Floridian and his pickup truck!”

When the Northeast’s fuel supply was threatened, Valrico was one of the only companies that still had a steady supply. The company utilized resources all over the country to ensure its fuel supply did not falter.

“We are dedicated to our clients and will do whatever it takes to meet their needs. ‘No’ is not a part of the Valrico vocabulary. We have been known to deploy boats, helicopters and ATVs to access hard to reach client sites. Our command center employees and drivers work long hours to meet our clients’ needs. It’s not easy, but it’s what we do,” Perez said.

Valrico is still working diligently with clients throughout the Northeast and other areas. As recovery efforts continue, Valrico has remained firm in its support, offering disaster recovery services where needed.

— Vyki Alleman, Valrico