TALLAHASSEE, Fla. – With Hurricane Hermine swirling in the Gulf of Mexico, the Florida Rural Water Association started making preparations for the storm’s landfall. The association’s effort kept water flowing despite widespread damage and power loss.
Hermine was the first hurricane to make landfall in 11 years. During that time, Rural Water has been enhancing its ability to respond to disasters. FRWA offers rapid response and recovery training to utilities. FRWA and the Florida’s Water/Wastewater Agency Response Network, or FlaWARN, has also assembled a supply of emergency generators, bypass pumps and other equipment for use in emergencies.
“FRWA and FlaWARN equipment is being staged near the predicted impact zone,” Gary Williams, FRWA executive director said on the Thursday before landfall.
Staged equipment included 20 large generators, 10 small generators, two 6-inch bypass pumps, three four-inch trash pumps and a trailer equipped with tools, radio and satellite communications, and sleeping accommodations for emergency response personnel. All the FRWA equipment is equipped with GPS locators to improve management and prevent theft.
High winds and heavy rain uprooted trees and destroyed power lines. The storm knocked out power to over 325,000 people, including 58% of the homes in Leon County, 80% of the City of Tallahassee itself.
“We’re utilizing our local staff to perform damage assessments,” Williams said. “Our standard operating procedure is to have daily assessments completed by 4 p.m.”
Once systems were assessed, the appropriate personnel and equipment were dispatched to assist. The primary issue was power, and FRWA had its full inventory of generators in the field by Saturday.
“Fuel could become a concern if power remains off for a couple of days,” Williams said.
FRWA staff continues to support systems with generators, managing fuel and moving them to other utilities when the power is restored. Technical staff are also assisting systems damaged by wind and water.
“Systems along the coast continue to struggle maintaining water pressure with washed out lines and leaks,” Williams said. “They are all partially or fully operational.”
Only a few utilities lost water pressure, and FRWA assistance was able to quickly return them to operations. Some systems issued precautionary boil orders but most of those in contact with FRWA never lost water.
“The water industry has demonstrated great resiliency, preparedness and response,” Williams said.