By Greg FudererDecember 4, 2017
(This is the fourth article in a five-part series on Puerto Rico, the people who came to support the response and recovery, and their homecoming.
The surname Rodriguez is ubiquitous throughout Puerto Rico. Sharon Garay Rodriguez is not related to either of the two previous subjects who share her name.
Puerto Rico's economic and social recovery is not possible without the restoration of electricity. Garay Rodriguez' education and experience made her an obvious choice to assist in that mission.)
SAN JUAN, Puerto Rico -- Homecoming is an American fall tradition, full of festivities, excitement and reunions. For several U.S. Army Corps of Engineers employees originally from Puerto Rico, homecoming has been a different experience this year.
Sharon Garay Rodríguez is the deputy director for the Puerto Rico Power Grid Restoration Program. Her office is a work station in a USACE emergency command and control vehicle parked at the Puerto Rico Electric Power Authority headquarters building in San Juan.
"When I arrived it was dark, the middle of the night," Garay Rodríguez said. "Generally, you'd see lights everywhere."
Garay Rodríguez responded to the hurricane from Fort Worth District where she serves as the chief of Construction Division. She is an electrical engineer who majored in power systems.
"I really wanted to be here to help," she said. "I tried to find a way to get here no matter what I'd do."
Checking ENGLink, a web-based component of the USACE Emergency Management command and control system that coordinates the USACE response to emergencies, she saw the mission for providing temporary power and started asking questions.
"That's how I got a tasker," she said.
Her original assignment as a subject matter expert for the temporary power mission did not last long.
Before working for USACE, she worked for the Puerto Rico Electric Power Authority in field maintenance and construction of systems. She quickly found herself working directly for Sánchez repairing the island's power grid.
"Understanding how PREPA operates has been helpful," she said. "My knowledge of PREPA informed some of our critical decisions. Without that, some of our decisions would not have been impossible, but they would have been more difficult."
Brig. Gen. Diana Holland, commander of the USACE South Atlantic Division and in charge of the USACE response and recovery effort, agreed.
"Her technical competence, acquisition expertise, and knowledge of the intricacies of the PR Electric Power Authority were an instrumental asset to the team," the general wrote. "Her foundational relationships with senior government officials were invaluable."
Garay Rodríguez said awarding the first three contracts was a huge accomplishment.
The first delivered two 25-megawatt generators to the Palo Seco power plant, providing stable electricity to the metro area. The other two to repair power lines.
Garay Rodríguez said she found the transition from her managerial duties back home to more hands-on responsibilities in the recovery rewarding.
"I'm alive again," she said. "The adrenalin, the excitement. Helping people I had worked with in the past and working at what I really enjoy doing."
Garay Rodríguez said there is nothing routine about repairing the island's aging and unreliable power grid.
"This isn't a construction program with a clear beginning and a clear end with no one touching your system," she said. "The system isn't ours. We don't control who touches it or what happens to it."
"We'll fix generators, test the system, and people still don't have power," she continued. "We'll fix transmission lines, test the system, and people still don't have power."
The inability to quickly provide electrical power throughout the island affects Garay Rodríguez personally.
"My family is still without power, but I have to stay focused on the mission," said Garay Rodríguez, who was raised in Ceiba on the island's east coast. "I simply can't focus on my family. I've been here almost two months and haven't spent time with my mom. That is sad."
(The next article is the final in this series. Mr. Sanchez is the public face and voice for the USACE power restoration mission.)