Duracell Program Gives Power Back to Disaster-Stricken Areas
Oct. 15—Duracell's PowerForward crew is working overtime this fall in the wakes of hurricanes Harvey, Irma and Marie.
PowerForward, Bethel-based Duracell's disaster relief response program, has already helped in Texas, Florida and Louisiana in the last few weeks. Last week, the crew packed 30 tons of batteries and two all-terrain trucks—another 12 tons—onto an IL-76 cargo plane and headed to Puerto Rico.
The crew, about 10 of them, also had to pack enough food, water, clothes and other provisions to keep themselves safe and healthy for the duration of their deployment.
"In the continental U.S., usually we are at a location for two to 16 days. In Puerto Rico, given the massive power outages and infrastructure devastation, we're leaving it open-ended," said Shane Grady of Gigunda Group, which oversees and executes deployments for Duracell's PowerForward program. "It's a unique situation for us."
Duracell launched PowerForward in 2011 and has visited more than 35 places that have been ravaged by natural disasters such as floods, hurricanes, tornadoes, wildfires, landslides and severe winter storms.
While other rescue missions bring food, water, clothing or medicine to impacted areas, Duracell brings power. It has distributed more than 500,000 batteries during its deployments so people can operate their flashlights, radios and even their life-saving devices as they wait for electricity to be restored.
PowerForward also brings cellphone charging stations and wi-fi so people can be in contact with family during times of crisis. The portable Community Center—a trailer pulled by a heavy-duty truck—has 30 charging stations, satellite television for weather updates, internet kiosks and lounge area for families to gather with power, lights and wi-fi.
The PowerForward fleet also includes the Rapid Responder, Heavy Haulers and Rugged Responder. Heavy Haulers can carry more than 100,000 AA batteries. The Rugged Responder features a water-tight cab and can drive through nearly five feet of water. It is ideal for traversing areas devastated by floods or hurricanes.
The fleet is strategically stationed in various parts of the U.S. in order to be able to respond to any disaster with 24 hours. The Rapid Responder, an agile truck with three computer stations, is stationed in St. Louis.
Grady, the disaster response account coordinator for the program, said the work is emotionally draining, but also rewarding.
"It can be tough at times, but you have to remember that they are going through so much," he said. "People need access to these things. The amount of hugs you get and people crying on your shoulder is amazing."
The proliferation of cellphones makes the charging stations especially welcome for people trying to contact families and friends. Landlines are typically nonfunctioning in areas hit by natural disasters and not as versatile as cellphones, Grady said.
"The need for this power is even stronger than it was years ago," he said. "Think of the amount of phone numbers you have in your head these days. It's very few. There's a lot of important content on that cellphone."
Grady recalled a deployment to Texas when a woman frantically ran to the mobile charging station and charged her cellphone just enough to power it up.
"She ripped out the charging cord, made a call and I heard her say: "Mom. I'm sorry. The kids and I are OK.' That's what we bring to these communities," he said.
Grady was particularly touched by an encounter he had during a deployment in Monroe, La., in the aftermath of a tornado. Typically, people want three or four batteries to power a flashlight or radio, Grady said, but a woman rushed to the truck and asked for a much higher quantity.
"She had a 3-year-old boy with 17 different disabilities," Grady said. "He was about half the size of regular 3-years-olds and they had run through their backup batteries for his ventilator and dialysis machines. Needless to say, I gave her a big basket of batteries.
"About 30 seconds later, I turned around and saw a real cute kid with his ball cap on backward looking up at me," he added. "His mom said his name was Shane—same as me—and Shane wouldn't let her leave until he was able to say thank you. Then he gave me a big hug. Just being part of that was so special. Every deployment is different and you meet amazing people."
Disaster can strike at any time and Grady said many people are unprepared when it happens. When he is not deployed to an area affected by a natural disaster, he is often on the road leading preparedness events.
"All disasters are different," Grady said. "One tornado to the next can be completely different."
The Duracell website has an emergency checklist and tips for surviving a disaster. The checklist includes 16 items needed in case the power goes out for an extended period of time. The site also encourages people to visit www.ready.gov for further information on surviving in the wake of a disaster.