How Massive Emergency Generators Got to Texas as Harvey Flooded Houston

By Shaun Courtney

Three states, two federal agencies and one transportation association coordinated routes and permit waivers in the midst of Hurricane Harvey on Aug. 26, to get 11 trucks weighed down with emergency generators across three states in a matter of hours.

The permitting process under normal circumstances could take days or weeks as state transportation officials evaluate routes based on weight restrictions on bridges and roads and limitations on the time of day such trips are usually allowed.

Within hours of the initial call for help Aug. 26, the oversize/overweight trucks were cleared for their 1,000-mile, 14-hour trek from a Caterpillar Inc. facility outside Phoenix; the first truck arrived at the federal staging area at Randolph Air Force Base outside San Antonio the evening of Sunday, Aug. 27.

“Everybody came together with the humanitarian aspect of this, knowing people were going to need help, knowing power was going to be out and many of the things they are going to need for shelter, for recovery, for rescue, for all of the things they are going to need to do, they are going to need power,” Arizona Department of Transportation spokesman Tom Herrmann told Bloomberg BNA.

Logistical Challenges

The Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) and the Department of Transportation enlisted the help of American Association of State Highway and Transportation Officials (AASHTO) to track down officials at state departments of transportation in Arizona, New Mexico and Texas to get weight and time-of-day waivers for the heavy trucks traveling east with relief supplies.

“States, even during an emergency, they have permitting requirements that the federal government would have to go through that’s because of issues in their states such as construction and posted weight restrictions on bridges,” AASHTO’s Program Manager for Freight, Katelyn Dwyer, told Bloomberg BNA.

That the hurricane fell on a weekend also complicated communication for federal relief operations, Dwyer said.

The federal disaster declaration was critical to allowing states to override normal permitting processes, Herrmann from Arizona said.

“The only thing we really checked was weight to make sure the trucks wouldn’t be too heavy for any of the bridges along I-10,” said Herrmann. I-10 is the primary route for freight travel from Arizona to Texas.

Officials also called ahead to the border points between Arizona and New Mexico to tell staff there to allow the trucks to pass, even if they didn’t have proper paperwork, said Hermann.

More to Come

The generators are just one example of the bureaucratic maneuvers FEMA, DOT and transportation authorities will be doing in the next days and weeks.

AASHTO held a call Aug. 28 with 16 states to make sure additional emergency supplies from water and food to mobile homes can travel safely in the storm’s aftermath.

“This coordination ensured each individual State permitting process was available to carriers 24/7 and that both USDOT and FEMA have a clear understanding of what state waivers, if any, are currently in place for permitting the oversize/overweight movements,” a DOT spokesperson told Bloomberg BNA in a statement.

To contact the reporter on this story: Shaun Courtney in Washington at scourtney@bna.com

To contact the editor responsible for this story: Paul Hendrie at pHendrie@bna.com

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