The power behind DTE’s Puerto Rico Relief efforts

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In less than two weeks, DTE Energy trucks, equipment and people will reach the shores of Puerto Rico, joining the massive effort to restore power to the island after Hurricane Maria destroyed its infrastructure back in September.

But what does it take to coordinate such an effort, and who does it?

Kathrine Horan, manager of Supply Chain at DTE Energy, and her team have been working humbly behind the scenes to coordinate the resources needed to accomplish DTE’s furthest mutual assistance trip in its history.

From determining what equipment will work on Puerto Rico’s electrical system to scheduling charter planes for crews’ departures, Horan’s team ensures that the DTE linemen have everything they need to do what they do best – turn the power back on.

“It is important that those doing the most critical roles feel supported and that they know they have people back home taking care of them,” Horan said. “The biggest compliment we can receive is people not even realizing how much we’ve done.”

She played the same role in September when DTE sent more than 400 employees to Florida ahead of Hurricane Irma. Although, she did confess that preparing for Puerto Rico has been much different, as the island presents a unique set of challenges she hasn’t faced before.

One of those challenges was figuring out how to get a fleet of DTE vehicles, along with hundreds of pounds of materials, across an ocean.

Ultimately, the bucket trucks, pickups and other vehicles were driven to Norfolk, Va., where they were loaded onto a barge and shipped to the island. Getting the fleet to the barge alone included a spreadsheet of logistics: gathering drivers, coordinating food and lodging, organizing flights home, obtaining permission to use a Walmart parking lot, finding a vendor to wash the trucks per shipping requirements, scheduling drop-off times with the barge, etc.

And that is just one of many steps in DTE’s 60-day commitment to Puerto Rico.

The team is continuing to work around the clock to prepare for the crews’ arrival in mid-January. In addition to scheduling charter plans and lodging, she is creating plans for any obstacles the workers may face while down there, such as medical emergencies, need for additional materials, and vehicle and equipment repairs.

“We don’t know what kind of job packages we’ll be handed,” she said. “We’re estimating based on the past and researching the quickest, most cost effective routes to send materials should we need to.”

Even with all the best laid plans, Horan said you can’t always be prepared for everything.

“It is kind of minute by minute when you’re on the road,” she said. “We will dedicate one to two team members just to this effort to ensure that everything is happening as it should and that we are staying in touch with our crews, our vendors and the businesses we’ve negotiated with.”

While it’s certainly a big charge to be responsible for the safety and wellbeing of so many people, Horan says she is extremely grateful to have a role in the effort and wouldn’t pass it up.

“It’s exciting and I’m glad to be a part of it,” said Horan. “It’s just, to have so many people depending on you, you want to make sure you do it right.”

DTE Energy’s vehicles and materials are expected to arrive mid-January, at which time 50 linemen and 30 additional personal – including mechanics, logistical support, supervisors, damage assessors, engineers and administrative support staff – will begin the first of two 30-day rotations on the island.

Follow DTE’s efforts to restore power to Puerto Rico at empoweringmichigan.com/poweringPR.