The U.S. Army Corps of Engineers’ Temporary Power Planning and Response Team was called upon to assist the people of Maui in the aftermath of the wildfires that impacted residents and business owners in Lahaina and Kula, Hawai‘i, on Aug. 8.
Within just a few days, the power mission will reach completion, and Chief Warrant Officer 2 Maksym Zymin, the Temporary Power team’s mission commander, reflected on the last 45 days.
“We have had quite a few successes throughout the mission and a few challenges,” he said.
Once the team had boots on the ground, the mission started immediately. The team arrived on Maui on Friday, Aug. 11, got generators to port on Sunday and by Monday, FEMA had delivered the generators to the generator staging base; the team began installation that day.
“To move that quickly is unheard of because normally installation doesn’t happen that fast outside the contiguous United States. That in and of itself, was a huge success,” said Zymin.
As soon as the team acquired the generators, they were able to start providing power almost immediately. Water wells and bolster pumps were their first order of business. By providing power to these critical facilities, it allowed firefighters to have continued access to water so they could control the fires.
The team was also instrumental in providing power to keep the pumps at the wastewater pump stations going. Emergency generators were installed to serve as a backup for the county Department of Water Supply wells and booster pump facilities so if grid power was lost, Lahaina and Kula municipalities could prevent contaminated water from polluting the water supply system that served the communities.
Although some critical public facilities such as the Lahaina Civic Center and the Lahaina Health Center had grid power restored, it was unreliable at times and outages were a common occurrence. Zymin and his team provided backup emergency generation for those facilities, allowing the county to continue conducting their recovery operations.
As with all missions, at times there can be challenges. One of the biggest challenges the team faced was gaining access to fueling assets, as well as material-handling equipment like forklifts, cranes, and trucks because of limited resources on the island.
However, the team was able to adapt and overcome by coordinating with the Department of Defense for help.
“If we hadn’t been able to get help from the DOD, we would have had to wait for assets to come from the mainland, which could have taken up to two weeks,” he said.
Instead of weeks, it only took a few days for the team to secure the needed assets.
As the days progressed, the grid stabilized and the state was able to secure other sources of temporary power, allowing for the deinstallation of the 20 total generators the Power team had installed. They are now coordinating their demobilization effort and signing the generators back over to FEMA to be returned to storage.
Zymin, who was with the mission from the beginning, can vividly remember how he felt the first time he visited the impacted areas.
“The first time I drove through Lahaina, I was speechless and heartbroken. I have never seen anything like that,” he said. “To see the aftermath on T.V. and on social media is one thing, but to see it firsthand was very difficult. The communities are strong, but healing will take a long time. It is a process and I feel grateful that we were able to play a part in helping the people of Lahaina and Kula work towards healing.”