NEWS

Joint Task Force Homeland Defense
Provides Guidance During Palau Energy Crisis

By JTF-HD Public Affairs


PALAU – A near catastrophic failure of the primary power plant in the Republic of Palau last November led to a significant loss of power needed to effectively keep the country up and running. When the President of Palau declared a national emergency on Nov. 7, 2011, due to the Aimeliik power plant burning and reducing power by 50% to the most populated districts and critical infrastructure, he knew almost immediately that his country needed outside assistance. That assistance came from many interagency partners, one of which was Joint Task Force Homeland Defense (JTF-HD).

The U.S. Department of Interior (DOI) provided $30,000 to the Army Corps of Engineers to underwrite an assessment visit. A team of four U.S. Army Corps of Engineers experts, including electrical engineers and prime power generation specialists, answered this call and arrived in Palau on November 20 to assess the fire damaged power plant and the short and long term implications of critical electricity and water services in Palau.

Roy Tsutsui, JTF-HD and Defense Coordinating Officer (DCO) representative and Defense Representative Political-Military Affairs Policy Advisor coordinated the response and meeting arrangements from his home base in Guam. "Assessments began immediately," said Tsutsui. "All key agency partners met and began working towards a successful resolution to the crisis," added Tsutsui.

An improvement in the sustainable maintenance program was the long term solution, but the more immediate issues had to be resolved much sooner. Identifying other power generators that were also close to failure was an equally important task that the technical advisors undertook and handled successfully. The U.S. team and Mr. Tsutsui provided their preliminary findings to the Palau government, followed by a final report, which covered the damage assessment to the burned Aimeliik power plant (revealing that it would take six to eight months to restore); Palau's power generation restoration capability and plan; environmental cleanup matters at the burned plant; cost estimates for restoration; and solution recommendations including value of incorporating maintenance and risks of other power failures.

   
(Left) Power plant workers in the Republic of Palau discuss the situation during the power loss crisis in November, 2011. Approximately 11.2 MW of power production capability was lost resulting in an electric power shortage. Members of the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers (USACE) and Joint Task Force Homeland Defense (JTF-HD) were among the interagency partners called upon to provide technical assistance and guidance during the crisis. (Official Department of Defense photo) (Center) The Aimeliik power plant in the Republic of Palau prior to the November, 2011 fire and resulting loss of power. Approximately 11.2 MW of power production capability was lost resulting in an electric power shortage. Members of the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers (USACE) and Joint Task Force Homeland Defense (JTF-HD) were among the interagency partners called upon to provide technical assistance and guidance during the crisis. (Official Department of Defense photo) (Right) On November 5, 2011 a fire occurred in the Aimeliik power plant in the Republic of Palau damaging all four main generating units. Approximately 11.2 MW of power production capability was lost resulting in an electric power shortage. Members of the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers (USACE) and Joint Task Force Homeland Defense (JTF-HD) were among the interagency partners called upon to provide technical assistance and guidance during the crisis. (Official Department of Defense photo)

"The U.S. team, and Roy in particular, really hit a home run with the expertise they provided and their assessment of the situation," said Mr. Mel Garcia, JTF-HD Operations. "Our friends in Palau, recognizing our resolve towards all-domain hazard awareness, immediately contacted us and other U.S. agencies through the U.S. Embassy for immediate assistance," Garcia added.

The effectiveness of the interagency operability program employed by JTF-HD was on display during the timely and efficient process. Partners from the Federated States of Micronesia (FSM); U.S. Commonwealth of the Northern Mariana Islands (CNMI); Guam; the U.S. Embassy; U.S. Pacific Command (PACOM); Defense Coordinating Officer (DCO); Government of Palau (GOP); and Civic Action Team Palau were but a few of the groups joining JTF-HD to carry out this critical mission. "Productive interagency planning meetings occurred on a daily basis in order to resolve this dilemma," said Tsutsui. "Everyone was able to accomplish the task with efficient and effective communication and coordination because of our long standing relationships with all our interagency partners," Tsutsui added.

The Department of Defense (DOD) is also providing a 100KW generator for a critical Palau wastewater lift station via the DOD Excess Property Program. Ambassador Helen Reed-Rowe is hosting a ceremony in late April to present the generator to Palau. Palau President Johnson Toribiong expressed great appreciation, at a recent Palau joint committee meeting, to the U.S. and DOD for their assistance during their power crisis and for providing the generator.

"Another plus is that JTF HD is familiar with the region, its capabilities and gaps, through our previous Subject Matter Expert Exchange (SMEE) program, All Hazards Atlas, situational analysis, risk assessment, planning and concept of operations," Garcia said. The major challenges the interagency partners faced were the tyranny of distance (calculating distance and time zone changes from All Hazards Atlas); the desperation and suffering of Palauan citizens and their visitors from a catastrophic power failure; compliance with legal constraints; and validating requirements diplomatically and accurately to maintain a positive relationship with the GOP.

The crisis had a very distinct impact on the people of Palau. They had to deal with scheduled power outages for the most populated districts for 8-12 hours per day for about two months; overflowing raw sewage into streets and bays; negatively impacted tourism (number one economy impact); and food preservation.

"DOD personnel also learned a thing or two during the crisis," said Tsutsui. "They learned about the strong resiliency, tolerance and loyalty of the people of Palau; the challenge of power system maintenance and its catastrophic consequences when not able to be maintained; partnership and collaboration with all our partners; international support from Japan and other nations; and the strong leadership by the President of Palau," Tsutsui added.

Joint Task Force Homeland Defense (JTF-HD) maintains situational awareness of all domains within the JTF-HD Joint Operations Area; executes mission command of assigned forces in the land domain to conduct Homeland Defense operations to deter and defeat threats to critical infrastructure and key resources and when requested/validated, conducts Civil Support operations in response to all hazards to mitigate human suffering and reduce infrastructure damage.