CUC wins Edison recovery award

The Edison Electric Institute last week honoured Cayman Islands-based Caribbean Utilities Company, Ltd. with its Emergency Recovery Award for outstanding efforts to restore electricity in the wake of 2004’s Hurricane Ivan, the most powerful storm to hit the island nation since 1932.

EEI, the association of shareholder-owned electric utilities, presents its ‘Emergency Recovery’ award to both US and foreign-based member companies to recognize outstanding efforts in restoring electric service that has been disrupted by severe weather conditions or other natural events, states a press release.

Winners are chosen by a panel of judges following a national and international nomination process. Awards were presented during EEI’s recent winter board meeting here.

Hurricane Ivan pummelled the Cayman Islands with hurricane force winds of 150 mph and gusts of 200 mph for more than 10 hours on September 12, 2004, knocking out power to 100 per cent of Grand Cayman’s population and causing US$3.4 billion in damages in the process.

Due to the nation’s low-lying terrain, heavy winds, rain and the accompanying storm surge washed over the Island, leaving major roadways virtually impassable. As much of the technology infrastructure was heavily damaged, communications, either via traditional landline or cell service between different points of the country was extremely difficult.

Compounding matters, roughly 50 per cent of the vehicles on the Island were rendered unusable which made it difficult for residents to obtain supplies and seek assistance.

Turning to the comprehensive hurricane recovery plan developed in the aftermath of Hurricane Gilbert in 1988, CUC quickly reached into its vast network of overseas utilities to procure technical support, labour and key material items such as transformers, poles, conductors and other hardware, going so far as to charter jetliners and ships to bring in equipment from Ecuador, Belize and the U.S.

The Company was also fortunate to be able to obtain additional manpower from its strategic equity partner, Fortis Inc. of Canada, who provided 120 workers, one group of which arrived by charter plane within a week of the storm’s passing, and from MasTec North America Inc., the Company’s line contractor, who also sent an additional 20 workers and 25 line trucks to supplement their on-island crew. In addition, 19 linesmen were deployed by CARILEC, the regional utility association, who sent emergency response teams from Barbados, Bermuda and the Turks and Caicos Islands.

The Company also kicked off an aggressive communications campaign to provide information on the restoration effort. Regular talk radio appearances by CUC’s executive management gave customers access to accurate, up-to-the-minute information, and CUC employees even resorted to hand-delivering news releases to media and other stakeholders to ensure that residents and business owners were apprised of new developments.

When all was said and done, CUC and contract employees replaced more than 140 miles of distribution and transmission lines, repaired or placed more than 10,000 utility poles, brought the island’s generating facilities, all of which were damaged by Ivan, back online, and turned the lights back on to all customers who could take power, in under 90 days.

EEI President Tom Kuhn praised the company’s quick response to the hurricane, noting that CUC and contract employees often laboured under treacherous conditions.

‘It is an honour to present this award to the men and women of Caribbean Utilities Company,’ he said. ‘This industry takes pride in its commitment to service, and their dedicated and swift action in the face of extreme adversity is a testament to that commitment.’