By Nate D. Herring (U.S. Army Corps of Engineers Tulsa District)March 3, 2010
TULSA, Okla. - When disaster strikes and a large number of people are left in the dark, the Tulsa District's Power Response Team is called into action to help restore temporary power. The ice storm that struck western Oklahoma Jan. 27 was no exception.
Fourteen employees from the PRT deployed on the operation, which was known internally as "Operation Mr. Freeze," to coordinate the installation of generators that restored power to water treatment plants, hospitals, police stations, nursing homes, and other facilities critical to the area's infrastructure.
The majority of the team deployed to Fort Sill in Lawton, Okla., the staging area for the operation. Two other Corps employees were deployed to Oklahoma City, where they coordinated with state officials. Some team members remained deployed until the last generator was uninstalled on Feb. 16.
The PRT was responsible for overseeing the overall mission, while members of the 249th Engineer Battalion from Fort Bragg, N.C., conducted the assessment of the facilities and contractors installed and maintained the generators.
The ice storm left an estimated 180,000 people without power, some for several weeks.
Kerri Stark, who deployed with the PRT, stressed the necessity of its quick response.
"It's important for us to come in right when things happen so we can get those places set back up so they can continue running until their power comes back on," said Stark.
The team was provided 94 generators, ranging from 6,500 watts to 1,500 kilowatts, from FEMA's storage facility in Fort Worth, Texas. The team oversaw the installation of 67 of those generators.
The ice storm was compared to a similar one that hit eastern Oklahoma in 2007, which caused severe damage and power outages to that part of the state, according the Stark.
"I could tell when I was driving down the highway on my way out there that is was bad," said Stark. "As I drove further west, you could see the ice. I was shocked. There was nothing, and then all of a sudden I saw fallen trees and ice everywhere. It was like a warzone."
The power team deploys to support various disaster relief missions where the temporary restoration of power is needed. Past operations include hurricanes, tornadoes, and, for the past four years, Oklahoma has been hit with severe ice storms that required the PRT's response. It deployed on ice storm operations in December 2007, January 2008, and January 2009.
"There is a big need and a huge importance for us being there to assist in these types of situations," Stark said.