After Hurricane Maria tore through Puerto Rico on September 20, 2017, the priority for the leaders of Lufthansa Technik Puerto Rico (LTPR), the airline’s maintenance, repair, and overhaul (MRO) operation in Aguadilla, was assessing their employees’ welfare. It would not be easy: The Category 4 storm had destroyed Puerto Rico’s infrastructure, leaving millions stranded without access to electricity, clean water, or emergency supplies. To make matters worse, all airports were shut down, restricting the ability to transport relief in or people out.
Lufthansa Technik leadership in Europe placed a call to Haskell, which had designed and built LTPR’s 215,000-square-foot facility in 2015. It had been agreed prior to the storm that Haskell would handle any facility warranty or repairs, but this conversation wasn’t about that. It was about the nearly 400 Lufthansa Technik employees and their families whose worlds had just been devastated.
Lufthansa Technik asked if Haskell could assist with their emergency response and help them get critical supplies and assistance to their team in Aguadilla. To do so, Haskell would charter aircraft into Puerto Rico carrying bottled water, generators, satellite phones and other emergency supplies. Return flights would be used to evacuate European expatriate LTPR employees and their families back to their home countries.
On the other end of the phone, the response from Paul Raudenbush, Haskell Senior Vice President of Planning & Development, came without hesitation.
“Absolutely,” he said. “Whatever you need.”
Haskell’s team initiated conversations with local and national partners, securing a private charter jet that would take off from Jacksonville, Florida, and land at a private terminal in Puerto Rico on Monday morning, just five days after the storm.
Over the weekend, Haskell team members gathered generators, satellite phones, GPS devices, medical supplies and a truckload of bottled water. When the jet took off Monday morning, accompanying the supplies were Haskell employees who had close ties to Puerto Rico. For them, this was an opportunity to serve both customers and loved ones during a life-threatening crisis — a fact that was not lost on Raudenbush.
“We were extremely proud to have people prepared to jump on that first flight and go into the disaster zone,” he said.
In those first few weeks, Haskell arranged more than a half-dozen flights into Puerto Rico, each carrying various emergency supplies, including several generators used to restore power at the facility. By then, LTPR had converted part of the MRO facility into a shelter for local families in need of a meal, hot shower, clean clothes, or cell phone recharge.
Each flight departed Puerto Rico carrying expatriate employees and families evacuating to their home countries. As passengers began arriving safely in Europe, Lufthansa Technik Senior Project Leader Joerg Speri sent Haskell a note of appreciation.
“I don’t want to miss the moment to thank you despite the ongoing efforts and still stressful situation,” Speri wrote. “Your support in these tough hours was and still is amazing! It goes way beyond what we could expect.”
Lufthansa Technik quickly spread news of Haskell’s successful air support, and soon additional customers inquired about getting personnel and supplies into Puerto Rico. On one flight, Haskell transported satellite modems to help a business recover its entire IT system. On another, a Jacksonville woman and Puerto Rico charity owner flew to the island to care for her elderly mother.
To Raudenbush, who coordinated all flights via around-the-clock emails, phone calls, and WhatsApp messages, this unique disaster response exemplified Haskell’s dedication to meeting the customer’s needs — whatever or wherever they may be.
“Those first few weeks were more of a humanitarian effort than a reconstruction effort,” he said. “Before facility repairs, the focus was on the people.”
The Monday following Maria’s landfall, Haskell had boots on the ground at the Aguadilla facility. The first order of business was assessing the damages and creating an action plan to return LTPR to operation.
The team learned that the Lufthansa Technik facility fared better than most in Aguadilla and was able to serve as an aid base for many of the company’s people, some of whom have lost everything. The most significant damage involved the rooftop air handling units, which were ripped from their frames and sent tumbling across the roof, tearing holes that exposed the building’s interior to the harsh hurricane conditions. This also left the entire facility without air conditioning except for a few remote units that cooled the lunchroom and shop areas.
In total, Haskell identified a scope of work that included repair or replacement of wall and roof siding, roof insulation, interior finishes (carpet and ceiling tiles), damaged rooftop air handling units and supply fans. Standing in their way were two obstacles: First, all equipment would need to be delivered via boat, which added significant shipping time. Second, given the circumstances, the demand for tradesmen in Puerto Rico was higher than ever, especially roofers. With disaster recovery experience and design-build resiliency, Haskell was prepared for the challenge.
Having performed design and construction of the facility in 2015, Haskell was able to immediately access and review key project documents, including detailed drawings, purchase orders, model numbers, specifications and vendor information for the equipment to be replaced. As soon as LTPR reached a repair agreement with the building’s insurer, Haskell sent out purchase orders and utilized preexisting vendor partnerships to fast-track the shipments.
“Without the existing data, it would have been far more difficult to respond,” Raudenbush said. “We would have had to reverse engineer.”
Because all the original project documents were stored electronically and accessible from their Jacksonville office, Haskell instantly identified the subcontractors that helped build the facility and leveraged those relationships to make LTPR a priority. With contracts and terms and conditions already in place from the initial project, there was little back-and-forth required before work could begin.
“Having all that information available the day after the event streamlined the response significantly,” Raudenbush said. “We were able to muster the resources of the subcontractors and vendors to turn the project around quickly.”
The restoration effort was coordinated and overseen by Haskell’s onsite project team that included Construction Managers Carlos Lopez and Ivan Robles, Project Superintendent Jerry Martin, and Quality Assurance Manager Kevin Kett, who inspected the work to ensure it met all safety and quality requirements.
Haskell established daily progress calls between their onsite team, Jacksonville procurement team and Lufthansa Technik leadership. Given the urgency and uncertainty that is typical in disaster recovery scenarios, this constant communication was critical, Raudenbush said.
Full operations resumed at the Aguadilla facility in just six weeks. Though still uncertain when life would return to normal, LTPR employees recovered a sense of routine and a stable source of income to support their families.
Reflecting on the project’s success, Raudenbush credits the existing relationship between the two companies for giving Lufthansa Technik the confidence to immediately contact and trust Haskell. Thanks to the design-build approach, Haskell was prepared to respond without delay. Leaning on existing facility data, a deep subcontractor network and a few courageous employees, Haskell quickly put wheels in motion—literally.
For Joerg Speri of Lufthansa Technik, Haskell’s response provided reassurance that he knew exactly whom to call in future emergencies.
“It’s good to know that people like you are around somewhere,” Speri told Raudenbush.
Those words resonate with Raudenbush, who is proud of Haskell’s dedication to its customers no matter the circumstances. To him, helping customers recover from disaster is a major source of fulfillment.
“It means a lot to be the ones that customers call in their darkest days,” he said. “It’s really rewarding when people have confidence in you and your organization.”
Haskell delivers more than $1 billion annually in Architecture, Engineering, Construction (AEC) and Consulting solutions to assure certainty of outcome for complex capital projects worldwide. Haskell is a global, fully integrated, single-source design-build and EPC firm with over 2,000 highly specialized, in-house design, construction and administrative professionals across industrial and commercial markets. With 20+ office locations around the globe, Haskell is a trusted partner for global and emerging clients.