Kris Caldwell: Getting Power Back to the People in Puerto Rico
If Kris Caldwell has a mantra, it’s “we have to do more.” The project manager for Louis Berger spent more than a year in Puerto Rico after Hurricane Maria, helping to place and maintain more than 1,600 generators around the territory, leaving only in October 2018 when the Army Corps of Engineers wound down its temporary power mission, for which Louis Berger was a contractor.
“Kris was very, very instrumental to the success of the mission,” says Steve Hill, senior vice president of Berger and mission leader in Puerto Rico. Hill says Caldwell has an “exceptional understanding of people and the technical understanding” needed for the job, as well as a solutions-based focus.
Caldwell rarely left the island during the time she was working there, and instead brought her family to visit her.
She was driven by the desire to give Puerto Rico residents the electricity and water that those in the mainland U.S. take for granted. “I really want to see these folks get back to some sort of normal,” says Caldwell, now on Tinian in the Northern Mariana Islands helping Louis Berger, which was recently acquired by WSP, provide temporary power to the island devastated by Typhoon Yutu. “I am passionate about this work. I want to see people have small things like ice in their glass.”
In March, providing a tour to ENR journalists, she proudly showed off the generators providing power to water systems pump stations. Around those generators, Caldwell pointed out laundry hanging from lines outside storm damaged homes with blue roofs. “They may not have power, but I know they have water,” she says.
Driving around the island in her purple Jeep, Caldwell knew all of the approximately 600 people who worked with her by name, and they all knew her.
During the Puerto Rico mission, she was an incident commander responsible for installing and de-installing generators around the island. She then became responsible, along with Berger vice president Raul Rosa, for maintenance when it became apparent that the generators, not intended to operate 24/7 for months on end, would need some TLC. Then, after spending her “free time” to help get the microgrids on Puerto Rico’s islands of Vieques and Culebra, Hill assigned her to help oversee and transition management of the microgrids to other entities when their mission was over.
“Kris reminds us [of] the need to do more,” says Hill. “It makes me optimistic about what we are going to be able to do in the future.”