As Hurricane Ida entered the Gulf of Mexico days before the 16th anniversary of Hurricane Katrina, prognosticators warned residents the storm could quickly ramp up to a Category 5 with devastating results for South Louisiana.
“This is one of the strongest storms to make landfall in modern times,” said Louisiana Gov. John Bel Edwards in the hours before Hurricane Ida descended on the region.
Roads began to fill with cars evacuating to neighboring states for shelter. Bernhard service vehicles were some of the few driving into expected disaster zones as crews were on emergency response standby.
“In Louisiana, storms are a way of life and we make sure storm response is integrated into our services so we can immediately address any concerns,” said Phil Garcia Jr., Bernhard executive vice president.” “We are here to fully integrate and become part of facility operations, whether it is a storm, finding more efficient energy solutions or from a facility management standpoint.”
Hurricane Ida delivered on forecasters’ early projections and ravaged the region with maximum winds of 150 miles per hour, just shy of the 157 M.P.H. threshold to become a Category 5. Facilities and residents felt the impact as Ida menaced the area and left nearly one million people without power across Louisiana. Bernhard crews quickly went into action as power failed around the region, and managed to keep their customers running throughout the Category 4 storm with around-the-clock support.
“I am overwhelmed with pride in the Bernhard team,” said Michael Cooper, Bernhard executive vice president. “They have shown perseverance, ingenuity, technical aptitude, and in many instances bravery to act to avoid catastrophic failure in the highest pressure scenario possible.”
Bernhard partners include a majority of healthcare facilities across the region, which increased the importance of keeping facility operations going not only through the storm, but in the aftermath. With lives potentially at stake, crews used their versatility and technical excellence to address a wide variety of challenges.
“At Bernhard, we are there when facility operations need us the most,” said David Bell, electrical division president. “We allow them to focus on their mission-critical operations without the added stress of worrying about their energy operations during a disaster scenario.”
Many catastrophic failures were avoided thanks to Bernhard technicians and operators who embedded at customer facilities ahead of the storm. This enabled team members to react quickly and appropriately as Ida made landfall.
A primary concern following the hurricane was restoring power and air-cooling capacity to mission-critical facilities. Bernhard delivered dozens of backup generators while on-site crews kept generators running and repaired previously installed units if problems arose.
“There is no easy template to follow during disaster relief,” said Cooper. “Everything happens at a rapid pace and crews have to be incredibly flexible and quick with decision making.”
Crews were tested early in healthcare centers as an influx of displaced patients from neighboring facilities had to be rerouted to new rooms. Bernhard teams prepared 15 existing patient rooms in real-time by replacing, testing and repairing all outlets and light fixtures as needed and relocating multiple headwall rough-ins and outlets.
Bernhard’s electrical division is still providing 24/7 standby maintenance at four separate hospitals in the region and continue to observe generator function, check fuel levels, and assist in maintenance repairs needed while on site.
In one instance, teams delivered and installed two 500-ton air cooled chillers that enabled for full cooling of a hospital. In another, a generator caught fire forcing Bernhard teams to quickly bring redundant generators online.
Another challenge faced was when a campus lost access to domestic water and Bernhard teams had to either shift to river water or well water with filtration as a backup. This included providing piping connections from potable water tanks back to campus.
Hurricane Ida’s cataclysmic wind speeds saw extreme roof damage throughout the region and even caused a roof to rip off at a Bernhard-serviced site. The team immediately re-piped the roof draining and plumbing system for the temporary roof to quell the risk of further damage. Afterwards, two tractor trailers of plywood and a trailer of drywall were delivered by Bernhard to utilize in the build back.
Everything in Between
Even though Bernhard is known primarily for their unparalleled energy services, the team also flexed their logistical capabilities by delivering more than 200,000 gallons of diesel to customers within the first five days of the storm’s landfall as it became apparent their normal suppliers would not be able to traverse the damaged roadways.
“The partnership between Bernhard and our customers has been excellent,” Cooper said. “It takes a true team to pull this together across so many facilities in a ravaged region.”
Cooper said the team will assess the challenges and successes from Hurricane Ida and use this as a learning experience to even better prepare for the next disaster. In South Louisiana, it’s not a matter of if another storm will hit, it’s a matter of when.
“We’ll have a lessons learned session immediately after the recovery to see where we can extend our disaster response and make these situations easier for everyone,” he said. “At Bernhard, we believe there’s always room to improve and always more we can provide to our communities and customers.”
To learn more about Bernhard’s disaster response services including their efforts during the COVID-19 pandemic, visit https://bernhard.com/disaster-response/