NORTH LITTLE ROCK, Ark.-- Across the northern half of Arkansas, the storm that struck the last week of January weighed down electrical lines with a thick coat of ice. The damage left more than 315,000 electrical customers without power; thanks to the feverish work of repair crews, that number has now declined to fewer than 13,500.
The power loss affected not just individuals but also the critical facilities that are vital to a community’s well-being. Bad as things were, they would have been much worse without the commercial generators that were brought in by the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) and delivered by the Arkansas Department of Emergency Management (ADEM), the National Guard and the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers (USACE) to keep essential services operating.
Thanks to the generators, freezing people could escape to warming and feeding stations and overnight shelters where the lights and the heat were working and they could get a cup of coffee and warm food. If the shelter had running water and working plumbing, those, too, were due in some places to generators that were running pumping stations and water treatment and sewage plants. At the height of the power outages, 155 emergency generators were installed.
Several hospitals would have had to close entirely if not for the emergency generators. Piggott Community Hospital continues to run generator power. Other facilities where these generators helped assure the provision of vital emergency services include Jonesboro National Guard Armory, Salvation Army in Fayetteville, Green Forrest Police and Fire Departments, and the fire departments in Whitehouse and Alicia.
During disasters, the USACE is assigned to manage FEMA’s emergency generators. Working with the USACE Power Planning & Response Teams, the USACE 249th Engineer Battalion assess facilities’ critical power needs. Where feasible, the USACE contracts with local and regional electrical contractors to install and, as power is restored, de-install the generators.
FEMA began providing generators to Arkansas as the result of a presidential emergency disaster declaration for 48 counties that was issued on Jan. 29. The declaration makes direct federal assistance available on a cost-sharing basis to save lives and to protect property and public health and safety, or to lessen or avert the threat of a catastrophe in the designated areas. This assistance is available only to state and eligible local governments and certain private nonprofit organizations. The declaration does not make assistance available to individuals.
FEMA leads and supports the nation in a risk-based, comprehensive emergency management system of preparedness, protection, response, recovery, and mitigation, to reduce the loss of life and property and protect the nation from all hazards including natural disasters, acts of terrorism, and other man-made disasters.