The U.S. Army Corps of Engineers' 249th Engineer Battalion (Prime Power), the power generation battalion assigned to the Corps, is keeping sewage systems flowing with temporary power in areas of Georgia and Florida where Hurricane Michael knocked it out.
"We're deploying generators to wastewater pump and lift stations," says Lt. Col. Daniel R. Kent, commander. "If the pump is working but not the lift [station] then there's a backup in the sewer," he explains.
Kent says 20 kW to 40 kW generators are usually sufficient for these sorts of missions. The team installed five generators in Marianna County, Fla. near the Georgia line and another at the Liberty County, Fla., Lift Station, says Ismael Mercado, chief warrant officer engineer, Prime Power.
Kent says the Federal Emergency Management Agency has larger generators available to the Corps and its southeast contractor, IAP Worldwide Services. Hospitals and larger facilities usually require one or more megawatts to be fully backed up, he says.
Although reviving sewage systems is the most requested job, Kent’s crew has assessed larger facilities such as the Donalsonville Hospital and the Liberty County Jail. A 455 kW generator was deployed at Seminole County Courthouse in Georgia.
Kent says most such big facilities have back-up generators, but when the power is out for an extended period of time, they may need help or additional back-up power. "They plan for say, 12 hours, but they've been out of power for six days," he says.
Prime Power is operating out of Eglin Air Force base in western Florida and the Albany, Ga., U.S. Marine Corps Logistics Base.
Kent says each storm can attack the nation in different ways. "With [Hurricane] Michael, the biggest problem is wind damage, structural damage, and debris in the way," he say, adding that flooding was minimal since the storm was fast-moving, unlike Hurricane Florence.
From an emergency power standpoint, wind causes damage to substations and other power infrastructure such as distribution lines and power poles, says Kent.
"A lot of that infrastructure gets wiped out if it's not underground,” he says. “The power utilities and the U.S. Dept. of Energy are working hard to restore that, but places where distribution is totally wiped out will take some time to get reconstructed again."