In September of 2018, Environmental Partners undertook perhaps the most intense and time-sensitive assignment in EP’s history – assisting Andover, Lawrence, and North Andover in managing their recovery in the aftermath of the gas explosions that wreaked havoc on the Merrimack Valley community. Forming a true collaborative partnership has always been a core philosophy and strategy for EP, and was as vital as ever when supporting the three communities as they faced a total of 80 fires, 8,600 customers out of gas service, and approximately 50 miles of gas lines needing replacement in busy residential and commercial neighborhoods.
Once the initial danger of the gas leaks had passed and power was restored to affected areas, the focus immediately turned to a large-scale and expedited construction management effort. Within just a few days, all three public works departments, which had already been stressed to complete planned projects before winter, collectively reached out to EP. EP acted as the Owner’s Project Managers for all three communities to monitor, track, and document all reconstruction efforts, and to safeguard their vital infrastructure systems – specifically water, sewer, stormwater, and roads and sidewalks, reducing municipal burden by also providing a 24-hour emergency contact for the communities. Within only two days EP assembled a response crew of 10 senior engineering program managers and experienced field engineers, and were integrating with the community leaders, public works staffs, and gas company representatives.
With more than 200 construction crews mobilized to engage in reconstruction efforts, it was abundantly clear that utilization of innovative strategies and technologies were imperative to the success of this recovery. EP deployed top-of-the-line technology, including iPads equipped with GPS, wireless communications, and a customized field report program, to field team members to compile all relevant GIS mapping and asset layers and to document daily activities, areas of concern, and communicate progress with all parties. Particular emphasis was placed on keeping all municipalities up to date throughout each day, continuously refreshing the database and flagging locations where the public works assets were being impacted. This allowed community leaders to provide accurate information to the public as needed, and often in real time. The most common threat to the municipal infrastructure was that gas repair crews were very likely to encounter water and sewer services, some of which were unmapped in multiple areas. This strategy ensured that any and all damage to services, pipelines, and property were properly and thoroughly documented, reported, and repaired.
Efforts required that EP maintain a high level of cooperation and communication between the three Public Works Directors and Departments, which was crucial to successfully working with Columbia Gas during what could have easily been a tumultuous restoration process. As Owner’s Project Managers, EP was the catalyst for the three Municipal Public Works Departments to accomplish recovery efforts and identify collaboration and communications strategies to reduce the frustration, stress, and emotions that were a result of this added unforeseen responsibility. These efforts further ensured unity and results, and further impacted all three communities as they now share emergency response lessons learned with their peers. They will now be able to review possible long-term changes to their operations that can increase resiliency and better prepare their communities to deal with extraordinary circumstances.
With the harsh realities of a New England winter looming right around the corner, EP worked on the ground in the three communities to oversee and manage restoration of utilities as quickly and safely as possible. Before work even began, EP met with the Mayor, DPWs, City Engineer, and the City’s Water and Sewer Department to be briefed on the existing situation. From the beginning, EP dedicated as many resources as possible to this high risk, high profile project, taking into account both the necessity to complete construction and restore utilities, and the safety of construction crews, residents, and news personnel covering the progress being made. EP made every effort to form a true partnership with the communities, stationing three senior project managers in a local office and providing four field engineers to observe construction activities and safeguard utility systems during the work performed by Columbia Gas. By December 2018, just five-and-a-half weeks after the emergency events, construction was complete and most residents and businesses had heat, hot water, and functioning gas appliances before the onset of more severe winter weather. While restoration of utilities to residents was an important and huge milestone of recovery for the communities of Andover, Lawrence, and North Andover, it marked only the beginning of years of work to be done.