Page 9 - Alabama 811 Magazine 2020 Issue 4
P. 9

Teamwork Unites City of Fairhope
A group effort spurs recovery following Hurricane Sally
By Michael Downes A 811 MAGAZINES
fter Hurricane Sally hit the City of Fairhope in September 2020, utility workers from across the country descended
on the town to help make repairs
to critical infrastructure and get the community back on its feet.
But it was teamwork from within that made the quick recovery possible.
The storm hit the area on September 15, but unlike most hurricanes,
Sally lingered over the community, pummeling it with heavy rain and high winds for hours.
When the storm finally cleared, officials and workers with City of Fairhope Public Utilities, which provides electricity, natural gas, water and sewer services to the town of about 15,000, sprang to action, many putting their community ahead of their own personal disaster needs.
The Gulf Coast is no stranger to strong storms, but Sally was unusual because of its duration.
Wes Boyett, compliance coordinator for Fairhope Utilities Gas, said the storm brought unforeseen challenges.
“Tuesday when we left for work, we were preparing for a run-of-the-mill storm that we’ve dealt with multiple times. But it sat on top of us and pounded us for a significant time. Our lives were different when we woke up the next day,” he said.
There was significant damage to the city. Infrastructure, utilities — their entire way of life was disrupted. Mutual aid workers from surrounding states came to help restore power and get things back to normal.
“They stepped up in a way I’ve never seen first-hand. They asked, ‘where can we get fuel, where can we get coffee and where can we start working,’” Wes said.
The gas utility itself sustained
little damage, as most facilities are underground. Once the above ground piping was replaced, Wes and his crews
shifted from gas repairs to help in other ways.
Utility workers who ordinarily install new service lines to new construction homes and other typically non- emergency crews shifted their focus
and picked up chainsaws to help restore power to the community.
“They became road clearing crews, tree cutter, right-of-way clearing crews to support other utilities and the public works department,” he said. We asked them to do extraordinary things that they aren’t used to doing, and they did it well — safely, efficiently and effectively.”
Jessica Walker, director of economic and community development for The City of Fairhope, said she never heard anybody complain about taking on these additional duties, despite many of the workers being personally impacted by the storm’s wrath.
“People left their own homes and their own repairs to help feed crews so we could get our services restored,” she said. “It was uplifting and overwhelming to see people put themselves last for the sake of our city and our utilities.”
Coordinating food, shelter, and laundry for hundreds of workers all while clearing roads for emergency vehicles and repair trucks is a major challenge. Not to mention, doing all of that with the added complications of the COVID-19 pandemic. Fortunately, everybody chipped in, and approached the task as a team.
Jessica focused on external communications in the immediate aftermath of the storm, encouraging residents to stay off the roads so emergency crews had full access to the town. She also encouraged them to report any hazardous situations like smelling gas and helped to coordinate responses to those calls. She also cautioned the public to be mindful of gas meters, fire hydrants and other infrastructure when piling up debris during cleanup efforts.
She secured placards for in heavily populated areas warning the public about underground utilities, and to call 811 before digging to prevent one disaster from creating another.
“All the lines were blurred in the aftermath. Nobody has a title anymore; you step up and do a job. You try to lighten the load for fellow employees,” she said.
And step up they did.
During the days after the hurricane, there were an average of 300-400 people working on the recovery at any time, many from out of town.
“In a perfect world, feeding 300 to
400 people three times a day is a lot, but the struggles of acquiring food, no refrigeration and no place to cook it all compounds it exponentially,” Wes said.
But development employees took on that challenge, and regularly came in at 5 a.m. and left at 10 p.m. for days at a time to help out.
“When something like this hits, nobody is too good to do any job,” Wes said. “Upper management was serving meals at midnight and laundering clothes for our mutual aid folks who came from out of town, or even out of state.”
And those who were serving their own community sacrificed the most for the good of the team.
“Some employees had significant damage to their home, but they showed up to work anyway, and went home
to tarp their own roof overnight, and came back to work the next day to feed someone they didn’t know. It makes you proud to be a part of this group.”
Through selfless teamwork, the community was able to get power back to almost everybody by the Monday after the storm hit.
There are still large piles of debris that will take months to clear, but things are starting to return to normal in Fairhope.
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