LIFE RETURNING TO NORMAL AT ANGLEC AFTER STRESSFUL PERIOD

anguillian
By anguillian January 29, 2018 10:31 Updated

 

 

Mr. David Gumbs and  Mrs. Jemila Morson-Hodge

Mr. David Gumbs and
Mrs. Jemila Morson-Hodge

Mr. David Gumbs, Chief Executive Officer, at the Anguilla Electricity Company (ANGLEC), is now perhaps the happiest man on the island with the heavy burden of the restoration of island-wide electricity, before Christmas 2017, off his back and mind.
As life returns to normal at ANGLEC, Mr. Gumbs has discarded his casual working fatigues, donned his usual business attire, and is now addressing a number of administrative responsibilities such as preparing for the upcoming annual Shareholders’ meeting early next month.

With Mr. Gumbs, his team and the entire company, enjoying a good deal of well-deserved public gratitude and respect for their sterling accomplishment, ably-assisted by the hard-working Caribbean and Canadian linesmen, there is much reason for the thumbs-up photograph accompanying this article. As part of the administrative work, the task now shifts to overseeing the handling of ANGLEC’s own in-house difficulties, among them being financing and rebuilding the company’s solar farm which was completely devastated by Hurricane Irma.

Mr. Gumbs spoke in an interview with The Anguillian newspaper on Tuesday this week. “Yes, you said it right. It is a proud moment for ANGLEC and its team,” he stated. “The restoration of island-wide electricity was a phenomenal effort with lots of hours of work and sacrifice by a lot of people to make this happen. It really feels good after you did so much to actually have a successful outcome because, despite your efforts, it could have gone the other way. We were just fortunate that our perseverance and hard work, adaptability, and creativity in everything we tossed at the task, came out with positive results.”
Considering the enormity of the destruction of the electricity network by the hurricane, with uprooted utility poles, some broken like match sticks, damaged transformers, and masses of mangled electrical lines everywhere, Mr. Gumbs was asked how the restoration teams were able to approach this situation.

“It was overwhelming for all us,” he replied. “When we came out, each of us had the same thought. How are we going to get through this? Just getting from my house to Corito [where ANGLEC’s power station is located], the day after the storm, was an Herculean effort. There were places where you could drive and then walk to catch a ride. Eventually, like Team ANGLEC always does, we just started pole by pole, line by line. It made a remarkable impression on me that when we got to Corito, you had to drive through persons’ yards off the main road; drive around [damaged and displaced] aeroplanes, fallen trees and with cargo containers all over the place. It really was a disaster.
“What it came down to, was simply the determination of the ANGLEC team to just go at it. Literally, they started from getting out of their homes where they could, using pick-up trucks and other means to pull poles, planes, trees, and everything else out of the road that was an impediment to us getting to Corito, as well as to other parts of the island. Our first four days were strictly devoted to clean-up in every part of the island along the main roads. Eventually, we started going into the by-roads, pulling poles and lines out of the way. That was how it started, and eventually it built momentum that led to the December 15 electricity restoration.”

Mr. Gumbs was pleased that there were no live wires around or danger from persons using generators during the clean-up and restoration work. “That weighed heavily on our mind,” he acknowledged. “We were encouraging people to be careful. Our Public Relations Officer, Jemila, had created an advertisement which was always on the radio and social media. Every time we reminded people to be safe. The last thing we wanted was to have a casualty and we are fortunate, with God’s blessing, I must say, that we did not have one. That is something we have to thank our customers for, because they played a large role in making sure we didn’t have a casualty. There were people who heeded our warnings to turn off their generators when the restoration crews were working in the various areas. We were saying to them to take a little inconvenience so that our linesman could be safe. We want to thank all those persons who did it right, thus making sure that we didn’t have any casualties.”

The ANGLEC CEO had considerable praise for the linesmen who came to Anguilla to assist with the electricity restoration. “The first thing they wanted to know was when they would start,” he said. “If they came in at 2.00 pm, they wanted to go out in the field that same afternoon, get started and integrate with our teams. The Caribbean teams have experience in restorations throughout the region, and the Canadian team has experience in doing this throughout the world. Their objective was basically to come in and make their work a successful mission, and they put their all into it. That is something we all must appreciate and admire because Anguilla is not their country, but they came with a passion to work and wanted to be successful.”

Asked what logistical support ANGLEC was able to provide for them, Mr. Gumbs replied:
“Well, it is the hidden stuff. The logistics were tremendous and that’s why I always stress teamwork. Every aspect of the restoration effort saw persons going above and beyond in many different ways. We had teams which were coordinating the food deliveries; the orders and numbers for breakfast, lunch and dinner. If we didn’t get it right we would have had a bunch of hungry big men who might have been a bit upset. So coordinating and managing that aspect was a big task. Getting the teams to Anguilla, negotiating with the various countries, dealing with the arrivals – making sure we had persons to greet them, pick them up and make them feel welcome and settled in their homes, helped them to feel part of the team.
“Because of the numbers of persons coming in to support us, the way we had it structured was that each team was assigned a team leader, almost like a deputy team leader on the ANGLEC side. The team leaders were basically responsible for coordinating the restoration efforts in the field; making sure that the work was carried out to our standards; and being there to see about the needs of the teams. We had to provide phones, housing, food, rent vehicles for them. It was a Herculean effort and our garage had a tremendous amount of work all day, all night, repairing vehicles including the Canadian trucks, flat tyres, broken hoses, radiator challenges. Handling the logistics was just a nightmare including dealing with the transportation system; the shippers and suppliers in the United States; dealing with the shortages of supplies; finding alternative products; shopping around the world; calling Mexico, China, Canada, shopping on e-Bay wherever else we could source items. We left no stones unturned. It took a lot to make it all happen and, as I said, the only way these things happen is through teamwork.”

What was the estimated cost of all of this effort, Mr. Gumbs was asked.
“It is several million dollars,” he laughed. “I have shared some ranges in the past but we are pretty more refined now. We have a Shareholders’ Meeting coming up, in a couple of days, when I will probably share more information and specifics about the restoration efforts. I prefer not to share any exact figures at this point and time but we have a good handle on it. It was a costly exercise funded out of pocket so ANGLEC did fund the initiative. We are seeking insurance re-imbursements for certain aspects of the damage incurred by Hurricane Irma. We are also working on other means to facilitate our financial needs but, for the most part, we were able to sustain the impact of Hurricane Irma through the restoration and Herculean efforts. Of course we had a lot of assistance from our sister utilities in the Caribbean which helped to ease some of the burden; and the UK basically financed the Canadian contribution towards the restoration. I do not know the figure, but whatever the contract was, it was not only for Anguilla. It was a contract for possibly BVI and one other territory [Turks and Caicos].”

Mr. Gumbs was asked what lessons ANGLEC learnt from the hurricane. He responded: “We learned so many lessons from this. Just as a human being, I have learned a whole lot but with ANGLEC, as a company, I think the one key lesson from this experience is that this hurricane was beyond all the other hurricanes we have had. Irma was a historic hurricane and we have to start thinking about resilience in much bigger ways. Definitely, underground work is one of those ways, and we have plans to do that, for example, from the airport to the hospital. Beyond that you will see a lot more underground activity over the coming years. Of course we have always been doing some undergrounding, but the rate we are going to be working at is going to be visibly different.” He also spoke about rebuilding ANGLEC’s solar farm to make it more resilient to hurricanes.

What does Mr. Gumbs think about the support ANGLEC received from the people of Anguilla during the restoration process? He replied in part:
“Within ANGLEC we work as a team and we push and push. We were at edge so many times and only the support we got from so many people in the general public help us. In every village there was a celebration of some sort. There was also so much excitement on Facebook that we felt we were working for something. I wish to say a big thank you to everyone for such a tremendous display of support.”
Working closely with Mr Gumbs and the various teams, was the very effective Public Relations Officer, Mrs. Jemila Morson-Hodge, who became well-known through her joint appearances on radio with Mr. Gumbs, and her information and map postings on social media. To her, it was a great and memorable experience.

“It was something I did not take very lightly but, like David said, I am very proud that we have an amazing team at ANGLEC,” she told the newspaper. “This was my first time working with a utility company. I didn’t know very much, but it was a learning process for me, and I am definitely appreciative of all the support that David and all the staff showed, and made sure that we came out of this situation strong and resilient.”

anguillian
By anguillian January 29, 2018 10:31 Updated

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