Though flash floods brought on by heavy rains, hurricanes and tropical storms are often short-lived, their devastating effects can linger for months, even years. In addition to the human loss and property damage caused by high waters, businesses and communities face tremendous financial loss with regard to commercial operations. For these reasons, high-quality emergency repair and response work is vital to safely restoring critical power systems and helping get damaged operations on the road to recovery.
As 2011 has sadly proven, few regions of the U.S. are immune to Mother Nature’s watery wrath. Spring and early-summer flooding has ravaged countless parts of the nation, wreaking havoc on buildings, power supplies and crucial infrastructure elements. Exacerbating the situation is the fact that this year’s hurricane season is already upon us—meaning that more flooding may be on the horizon. (And according to www.nhc.noaa.gov, inland flooding resulting from a hurricane can be responsible for more deaths than winds, storm surges or tornadoes.) In light of these dire facts, it’s a good idea for facility owners and managers to familiarize themselves with the steps that must be taken to safely restore power when disaster strikes.
Schneider Electric, manufacturer of Square D™ equipment, works with property owners in the aftermath of such catastrophes to restore power as quickly, safely and reliably as possible, so that further construction and renovations can effectively bring operations back to normal. The following case study shows how this critical step-by-step process was carried out during the 2010 spring storm season, when Opry Mills Mall, one of the premier retail shopping centers in the South, was virtually destroyed internally by flooding that hit the Nashville, TN, region.
One of the many electrical distribution sections that had to be completely rebuilt on site
One for the books
Rapidly rising and torrential waters poured into the lands surrounding the swollen Cumberland River on May 3, 2010, killing more than 30 people, devastating property and leaving $1 billion worth of damage in its wake. This clearly will go down as one of the most disastrous flash floods in Nashville’s history. The destructive surge didn’t play favorites. It battered several of the iconic city’s signature buildings and properties, including the Opryland Complex—home to country music’s Grand Ole Opry House, the Opryland Resort & Conference Center and the 1.2 million square foot Opry Mills Mall. Owned and operated by Simon Properties, the Opry Mills retail operations were flooded throughout, with some areas under up to 10 feet of water. Virtually no area of the complex was left untouched.
In the aftermath of the devastation, Brian Cotter, Simon Properties’ vice president of Electrical & Mechanical Engineering, took immediate action to begin repairing and reconstructing the mall. Before any interior repairs could begin, however, the first vital step was to restore power in the facilities as quickly and safely as possible.
Upon initial inspection of the complex’s electrical equipment—and discovering most of it was Square D equipment—Cotter contacted Schneider Electric to begin the process of obtaining replacement systems. As a result of this initial contact, both companies began mobilizing field-service and contractor personnel to begin the recovery and replacement process and safely restore electricity. Shortly after this process began, Square D Services was named as the general contractor for the total Opry Mills Mall power restoration.
“Prior to this project, we were unaware that Schneider Electric was any more than a circuit breaker manufacturer,” recalls Cotter. “It was only after we contacted the company for Square D replacement equipment that we realized the breadth of evaluation and consultation services it offered through Square D Services.”
Although the engineers and technicians were well-versed in electrical-system repair and evaluation, the team faced countless challenges inherent in a project of such scale. For example, the size of the site posed problems in materials handling, logistics and personnel communications. Moreover, the breadth of the disaster and reach of the flooding—across both the site and region—generated numerous safety issues.
A section of the Opry Mills Mall in the aftermath of the May 2010 Nashville floods
A comprehensive and thorough restoration process
The Opry Mills Mall restoration project had two main objectives: 1) to restore the permanent power necessary to perform operations throughout the remaining months it would take to clean and repair the mall’s interior; and 2) to restore the electrical condition to the same state it was in prior to the flood.
While some things were salvageable, and not all of the mall’s systems and electrical rooms had to be completely gutted and replaced, a significant amount of vital equipment was lost. “We lost all of our transformers in the flooding,” Cotter says, “and 70 to 80% of tenant spaces had transformers on the ground that needed to be removed from the property.”
Because the majority of electrical equipment in the mall consisted of Square D products, the team leveraged the infrastructure to create the most streamlined and efficient process possible. After securing a section of the muddy parking lot, the team set up a command center to serve not only as a central location for up to 30 technicians and 30-35 outside contractors working on-site, but also as a coordination and logistical point to receive inbound shipments from Schneider Electric plants—which were working feverishly to manufacture and expedite needed replacement equipment and parts.
“Because there was a heavy load of labor-intensive activities in the 10 switchgear rooms that needed inspection and repair, we partnered with a local Nashville contractor to supply the manpower required,” notes Mike Wallace, the Southeast regional sales manager for Square D Services. “We then created a chain of command, assigning a lead engineer to each room and assisting him or her as needed with technicians to get the electrical infrastructure back up, energized and running.”
At the onset of work, it was critical to move power from the emergency generators inside the mall complex to the emergency exhaust fans. However, several of the transfer switches necessary for this operation were damaged, presenting a problem the team had to work around on an ongoing basis.
To tackle this problem, the Services team aimed to get several of the mall’s motor control centers (MCCs) working as quickly as possible to power emergency exhaust fans. The fans were then run in reverse so they could begin pumping air throughout the facility and start drying it out. After this was accomplished, the team could then begin to thoroughly inspect equipment.
Given the fact that all of the electrical rooms in the mall had been flooded, the team had to inspect and test each piece of electrical equipment individually to determine if it could be salvaged and repaired or needed to be completely replaced. Approximately half of the equipment in the facilities required replacement—and the team ran into the tremendous challenge of coordinating and obtaining expedited shipments of parts which were needed to restore functionality by the set deadlines.
According to Wallace, because the floods affected a large region of the country—including the entire Nashville area—there was a magnitude of similar restoration projects happening simultaneously. “But,” he observes, “the manufacturing plants made our project a priority, and ensured the orders were expedited and delivered to keep the project on schedule.” This provided his team with the necessary equipment in record time and allowed them to restore permanent power as efficiently as possible.
Another challenge Wallace’s team faced was the effective management of the manpower required at the project—a feat that included coordinating up to 70 technicians at any given point. Composed of both Square D Services employees and outside contractors, the project-management team had numerous personnel considerations to deal with.
“Though we did have a project manager on the site at all times, having 60 to 70 technicians working on anything is an enormous challenge in itself,” Wallace says. “Not only did we have to manage and assemble the team as efficiently as possible, we also had to take into account the dangers, challenges and safety precautions that are inherent when working in a disaster zone.”
Upon the repair or replacement of all damaged equipment, the team then began the task of verifying the safety of all systems, which was achieved through comprehensive testing and validation. “When it came time to re-energize the systems, we placed it completely in the hands of the Square D Services team,” says Brian Cotter. “They followed all testing codes and guidelines thoroughly, and used a systematic manner to make sure our systems were ready to be energized.”
A portion of the central command center set up and operated by Square D Services
Stable power opens the door to more recovery
After working around the clock for just over eight weeks, the electrical infrastructure and power supply to the Opry Mills Mall was back up and running. By the week of July 4, the entire mall complex had complete power available to any location on-site. That was key to helping this retail operation move forward with its recovery efforts.
As Brian Cotter puts it, “What stood out was the commitment the Square D Services team made to deploy forces locally and at the manufacturing level to bring the mall to its prior [electrical] condition as quickly and efficiently as possible. I couldn’t have worked with the factories by myself, and certainly could not have pulled off a project of such magnitude in just eight weeks.” MT
Jason Bush was Schneider Electric’s project manager on the Opry Mills Mall project.