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Electrical industry mobilizes to respond to Sandy’s wrath

By Bridget McCrea

As they watched a lumbering, growing Superstorm Sandy make her way up the Eastern Seaboard, manufacturers and distributors across all industries started getting ready for a busy few weeks ahead. And while no one could have accurately predicted the vast swath of destruction that Sandy would cause in at least eight states, the weathermen were on target when they labeled her a “Frankenstorm.”

At GE’s Industrial Solutions business in Plainville, Conn., Gary Arnott says the company spent the days leading up to Superstorm Sandy’s landfall going through the various scenarios that “could” happen, loading trucks with critical supplies, and ensuring that human resources were strategically positioned to be able to provide quick response after the storm had passed.

Related story: East Coast distributor weathers the wake of Superstorm Sandy 

Turning to lessons learned from Hurricane Katrina, which severely impacted New Orleans and surrounding areas hard in 2005, GE worked with electrical wholesalers and contractors to ensure that ample equipment and support personnel were in place to deal with the impact of Superstorm Sandy. “We also keep a close eye on the weather reporters, FEMA, local utilities, and other information providers to track exactly what’s going on,” says Arnott, general manager of global sales, “and we start planning out the product scope and resource deployment.”

Roughly one week into the process for the most recent storm, Arnott says the situation has changed from “controlled chaos” to a more organized recovery and rebuilding approach. “We have employees calling on the impacted municipalities, visiting water treatment plants, and doing whatever else needs to be done,” says Arnott, “but there are still a lot of challenges that need to be tackled.”

Getting products to affected areas and “making sure that basic materials are flowing through the pipeline,” are two of the biggest, ongoing issues, according to Arnott. Area electrical distributors – including the wholesaler on Long Island that opened its doors to the general public after the storm – are playing an important role in overcoming these issues. “We’ve seen some distributors from surrounding areas loading 4-5 days worth of inventory on a truck,” Arnott says, “and then driving to the impacted areas to make it easy for their customers to get what they need.”

The Perfect Storm

Generac Power Systems of Waukesha, Wis., also pushed into overdrive ahead of Superstorm Sandy, knowing that its portable generators would be in high demand in the event of power outages. Aaron Jagdfeld, president and CEO, says the company keeps product stored in its own warehouses, at third-party logistics providers, and in leased distribution centers nationwide because, “you never know when and where an event like Sandy can happen.”

Generac’s own long-term disaster plan includes a 4-stage alert system that starts at green (in “normal” circumstances”) and tops out at red (where it stood at press time, thanks to the hurricane). “When we’re at red we focus on ramping up production and the supply chain,” says Jagdfeld, “and providing additional support to our distributors who are slammed and inundated with service requests.”

Now, with many of the portable generators in place and running for 10+ days, those service requests are growing in volume. “Many of these units now need to be shut down for oil changes and maintenance,” says Jagdfeld, who credits Generac’s many electrical distributors with not only supplying product at critical points, but also providing ongoing support to end users. “A lot of these distributors are small businesses with just a few employees, but they’re really doing an awesome job on the front lines.”

Determined to Succeed

Jeff Morris, vice president and general manager for Honeywell’s First Responder Products Business, which is based in Dayton, Ohio, says the company set up a relief fund that provided over $600,000 in donated personal protective equipment to hurricane victims in the devastated area. “We rallied our team, identified which products would be in highest demand, and then distributed them to the market,” says Morris, who ran Honeywell’s electrical division for 12 years before moving into its first-responder division.

The protective gear was distributed via the Nassau County Office of Emergency Management in Long Island to first responder teams in affected areas in New York and New Jersey. Morris says distributors like Hi-Tech Fire & Safety of Long Island have played an integral role in the process. At press time, the company had supplied roughly 24 fire stations with equipment and was in the process of sending loaded trucks into New Jersey and reviewing critical needs in the state of Connecticut. “The northeaster/storm that came through after the hurricane delayed the process somewhat,” says Morris, “but we’re committed to getting this deployed.”

McCrea is a Florida-based writer who covers business, industrial, and educational topics for a variety of magazines and journals. You can reach her at bridgetmc@earthlink.net or visit her website at www.expertghostwriter.net.

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