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In disaster response, a solar generator can bring light to the darkness

In disaster response, a solar generator can bring light to the darkness

Disaster Recovery

As we know far too well in Florida, the aftermath of a hurricane can leave thousands of individuals literally in the dark with widespread electrical outages. Getting power restored as quickly as possible is a high priority for disaster relief workers.

The problem in many locations is that the electrical grid goes offline, and many locations have aging and unreliable diesel-powered generators. It can take weeks sometimes to restore full power, and that can have a devastating effect on businesses and individuals.

That’s where the Footprint Project comes in.

Its people partner with aid agencies, non-profits, schools, and emergency service providers such as fire stations.

Together, they build off-grid mobile solar generators for what the Project calls “community-based disaster relief.”
It’s a source of clean emergency power, and the Florida Conference of the United Methodist Church is a participant.

In October, at the Conference headquarters in Lakeland, work will begin on a mobile solar generator that can be transported to any disaster scene in the state. When completed, it is believed to be the first one in Florida.
Workers from the North Carolina Conference also will participate in the construction.

“In the aftermath of a disaster, survivors and volunteers are without reliable power sources. Mobilizing solar panels on or with tool trailers will hugely impact FLUMC’s recovery efforts,” Conference Disaster Response Coordinator Trish Warren said.

“These mobilized units will be used to support volunteers' immediate relief activities, as well as survivors in the area that volunteers are serving.”

The solar panels can be used for such emergency needs as:

• Run power strips so survivors can charge much-needed electronics;

• Run air conditioning units, fans, and misters so volunteers and survivors have a cool place to gather;

• Run power tools and recharge battery packs for volunteers working on a survivor’s home, removing debris, and so on.

The project is funded by a $10,000 grant from the General Board of Global Ministries. The Board joined with the United Methodist Committee on Relief in asking the Florida and North Carolina Conferences to work together on this pilot project.

“This is going to make a huge difference,” Warren said.

The usefulness of solar generators was put to a severe test last December when a deadly string of powerful tornadoes with winds of 190 miles per hour struck the southeast.

Kentucky was the hardest hit, with multiple towns receiving catastrophic damage from the EF-4 storm. It was the first winter deployment for the Footprint Project, and it came with extra challenges.

Because it was winter, sunlight was spotty at best, making it hard to keep the solar panels charged. That became a serious issue at one of the hubs for supplies and relief volunteers. Its WiFi, which provided connectivity throughout the hub, went down because of a dead battery.

The Footprint Project swapped out that battery with one of its solar generators and got them back online.

Florida, of course, is no stranger to weather-related disasters. Warren said a solar generator could be a literal lifesaver for affected residents and relief workers.

“We are so excited to join our North Carolina and Footprint Project partners for this,” Warren said. “It’s going to be a game-changer.”

Joe Henderson is News Content Editor for

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