Two Soldiers from the Fort Belvoir, VA-based 249th Engineer Battalion (Prime Power) teamed up with deployed members from the Memphis District Power Planning and Response Team to install an emergency generator at the Nisky Communications Center on St. Thomas in the U.S. Virgin islands. In the aftermath of Hurricane Irma, communication lines were heavily damaged or destroyed. At the Virgin Islands Territorial Emergency Management Agency (VITEMA) headquarters on St. Thomas, a lack of power meant little, if any, communications to coordinate relief efforts.
“Because of a lack of communications here on the island for cell phone service to internet capability it’s been a very large struggle to perform the mission and we’ve had to improvise,” said Mission Specialist Zachary Cook.
Cook said that a U.S. Army Corps of Engineers Deployable Tactical Operations System (DTOS) had logistical difficulties getting to where communications and power were needed. In addition, he said that the DTOS was not able to get direct satellite communication because of air traffic interference from an airfield adjacent to where the DTOS was positioned. He said contractors moved a generator with a forklift to the Nisky Center where the 249th Soldiers connected it in roughly four hours.
Cook, who maintains the ENGLINK database that tracks all generator installations, was able to continue his critical mission after power was restored as were the members of VITEMA.
“The folks at the VITEMA building allowed me to sit in and use their internet connection,” he said. “Our generator is helping to power the facility here, and we’re benefiting from the generator installation that we did.”
The 249th teams are assigned to the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers and provide commercial-level power to military units and federal relief organizations during full-spectrum operations. On St. Thomas, they were part of a Pre-installation Inspection Team that was assessing various buildings that required USACE assistance, and those that are life-saving and sustaining facilities as deemed by the state and FEMA such as hospitals, shelters, and nursing homes. And as added value for relief efforts, the Soldiers voluntarily instructed St. Thomas residents who needed basic maintenance with their own power generators.
“They’re quick, quick-thinking about safely and efficiently hooking up generators or performing maintenance on an existing generator to get it up and running,” Cook said.