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Weathering the Storm: A Key Partner for Community Resilience

In September 2017, Hurricane Maria devastated Dominica, St. Croix and Puerto Rico, causing wide-spread flooding, wind damage, major infrastructure loss and power outages.

In September 2017, Hurricane Maria devastated Dominica, St. Croix and Puerto Rico. The Category 5 hurricane was the worst natural disaster in history to affect those islands, causing wide-spread flooding, wind damage, major infrastructure loss and power outages. More specifically, the hurricane impacted the operations of drinking water systems throughout the islands, and then more than ever, safe drinking water was vital to public health.

In Puerto Rico, a client-partner of Jacobs’ Operations Management and Facilities Services (OMFS) practice, the Puerto Rico Aqueduct and Sewer Authority (PRASA), which is responsible for water quality, water management and water supply in Puerto Rico, was heavily impacted by the storm. Jacobs played a vital role in returning and maintaining essential services to the community, providing the drinking water system with support and resources needed to prepare for and address unexpected failures during the storm.

Preparing for swift response and recovery

In months following Hurricane Maria, thousands of Puerto Ricans were living under tarp roofs or still dealing with lack of power, but safe drinking water provided some relief. Due to advanced preparations, Jacobs made critical repairs and returned the client’s drinking-water facilities to service soon after the storms passed.

After the storm, the project lost power and the team operated the plant on generators for several weeks. Even as a main generator broke, the team secured a new emergency generator within 48 hours. Staff spent days clearing debris in order to gain access to the raw water pump station and other remote facilities and maintained key communications with the Federal Emergency Management Agency, the Puerto Rico Environmental Protection Agency technical center in Arecibo and the Army Corps of Engineers until power was reestablished at all sites. Jacobs got PRASA’s North Coast Superaqueduct (NCSA) system up and running faster than any other utility on the island.

Advanced emergency planning and diligent testing allowed the team to achieve a system startup within 24 hours of the hurricane. Additional benefits included achieving 25% production and augmenting to 75% capacity within two weeks from the natural disaster, and 100% production within the first month.

“Our team is well trained to deal with challenging operational conditions that can exist on the NCSA system,” says Jacobs Project Manager Diana Hernández López. “Our hurricane response, especially in 2017, reflects our team’s capacity to step up when emergency events require unwavering support.”

Leveraging Jacobs’ company-wide assets

Jacobs’ community partners and projects maintain access to wide-ranging technical support to assist in solving process challenges. So during emergencies, such as hurricanes, the ability to share resources is critical, especially for drinking water systems that have limited resources.

Jacobs organized support required to help mitigate the subsequent impact of Hurricane Maria. This included mobilizing two maintenance specialists to complete major overhauls on backup generators on-the-fly and coordinate with local machine shops to get the RWPS back to 100% capacity within two weeks of the hurricane.

The maintenance specialists also rigged up an emergency generator cooling system for the plant generator when the radiator failed, avoiding the need to have the plant shut down for the interim period prior to receiving the replacement generator. The effort kept the downtime at the water treatment plant to less than 15 hours and allowed the flow to resume at 75 MDG.

A little sacrifice goes a long way

Despite personal hardships, the team worked around-the-clock. A command center was established at the project site where staff cooked meals, did laundry and slept, which allowed staff to focus on the project.

“Jacobs responded with dedicated support to help maintain operability of the NCSA system,” adds Diana. “We knew it would be imperative to restore service as quickly as possible after the hurricane so customers could count on safe, clean drinking water.”

A reliable partner for community resilience

Our world-class operations and maintenance services strongly support our clients and communities in their day-to-day operations, regardless of the circumstance. We remain a key part of the communities, making sure they are prepared to respond to, withstand and recover from any potential adverse situation and maintain such essential services as clean drinking water.

Due to Jacobs’ expertise, skilled personnel and additional resources necessary to adequately provide environmental and highly technical services to PRASA and the required operation and maintenance for the NCSA, PRASA renewed a 6-year contract with Jacobs in December 2019.

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