The spirit of the American Public Works Association is alive and well!

Jeff Wilson, P.E.
Regional Manager - Public Infrastructure
WilsonMiller, Inc.
Fort Myers, Florida
President, APWA Florida Chapter

Editor's Note: The following article was originally sent as an e-mail from Jeff Wilson to a number of APWA members following the destruction of Hurricane Charley. With Jeff's permission, it has been reprinted in this issue of the APWA Reporter. It is a testimonial to the power of friendship, concern, and dedication.

Hurricane Charley certainly left a very visible mark on the State of Florida.

Even now, after 10 days, I still vividly recall the events of August 13 at our Fort Myers home when my wife and I were pulling mattresses off of the beds and dragging them into a closet. The howl of the wind. Moving my SUV in front of the entryway to our house, thinking (hoping) it could possibly slow down an airborne projectile trying to gain entry. And then, hearing on the television just before the electrical power failed, the storm had jumped from a Category 2 to Category 4 in a span of about 10 minutes. Charley was tracking into Fort Myers. We suddenly realized that our destiny was no longer in our hands.

Damage caused by Hurricane Charley is a frightening reminder of the power of Mother Nature.

At the last minute, Charley turned. While we still received severe wind damage in Lee County, the brunt of the hurricane eye entered Southwest Florida at Charlotte Harbor. One community in Charlotte County, the City of Punta Gorda, was literally devastated. But the effects of the storm were not limited to Southwest Florida. Communities across Florida were impacted, including Arcadia, Desoto County, and Central Florida, before Charley left us around the Daytona Beach area.

Tens of thousands of people were without essential services. Many were without homes. The devastation is mind-boggling. And yet, as residents are beginning the long road of rebuilding homes, communities and their lives, the spirit of those who have committed their careers to the service of public works is remarkable! While there are numerous events that occurred throughout Florida following Friday, August 13th, I want to share the story of one community in Southwest Florida.

The Punta Gorda Emergency Operations Center was located at the city's Public Service Facility. Hurricane Charley damaged the roof and destroyed the fire department's overhead doors.

The Florida APWA Chapter Secretary, Rick Keeney, is the Public Works Director for the City of Punta Gorda. As most of you know by now, this community quickly came to the forefront of national news as the result of Hurricane Charley. Immediately following the hurricane, I went to see Rick to find out how I could help my friend of 15 years. Being mentally and physically tired, Rick thanked me for my offer and told me he would call. In less than 18 hours, I got that call and quickly moved into the Punta Gorda Emergency Operations Center. This was the beginning for me to truly understand what it means to be part of APWA.

When I arrived, I found a well-staffed public works department in Punta Gorda. As I met various individuals around the department, I would ask them how their families were and how much damage their homes received. Naturally, I had assumed their homes must have been in a fortunate location and avoided damage. In many cases, it was just the opposite. I met quite a few dedicated public works employees who had lost their homes completely. Some still had homes, but not livable. Others had lost roofs. Yet here they were, putting the needs of the community ahead of their own personal needs.

One of Rick's initial tasks was that of removing hurricane debris from the roadways in order to make streets passable. With electrical power out, and traffic lights literally ripped from their mountings, my task was to reinstall stop signs throughout the city, as who knew where the wind had relocated the existing ones. Having a water and wastewater background, I knew very little about traffic issues. But after one call to my APWA colleague in Sarasota County, I had sign crews in Punta Gorda within two hours.

With that task underway, we then went about securing emergency generators for the city's wastewater system. Again, after placing calls to my Florida APWA colleagues, generators started rolling toward Punta Gorda within hours from Delray Beach, Marco Island, Palm Beach County, City of Sarasota, Pompano Beach, Coconut Creek, Lee County, Palm Isles, and City of Cape Coral, to name a few. And each generator was typically dispatched with an electrician to help hook up the emergency power system. We had similar stories with outside communities sending sewer vacuum trucks, complete with lift station crews.

Aluminum carports, siding and pieces of mobile homes were scattered by the high winds of Hurricane Charley.

The city's surface water treatment plant sustained some damage, but was still operable. With some assistance from Lee County, Delray Beach and Naples, the facility was quickly brought up to full production capacity.

On the water distribution side, Punta Gorda had its share of system leaks to repair. Once again, calls to Florida APWA colleagues yielded distribution system crews from West Melbourne, Naples, Northport, Lee County, City of Sarasota, Sarasota County and Venice. They brought employees, backhoes, and materials. Within two days of their arrival, the water system was holding pressure.

And the assistance from Florida APWA colleagues does not stop with the community's infrastructure. Florida APWA district branches across the state have organized donation collection points to help with the needs of the public works employees. Many have lost everything. Immediate needs of the public works employees in the Punta Gorda area include clothing, tents, ice coolers, flashlights, batteries, charcoal, lighter fluid, candles, and generators. In fact, someone from the Suncoast Branch of Florida APWA has donated the use of a camping trailer for a Punta Gorda public works employee who lost his home to Charley.

Hurricane Charley impacted many people across the State of Florida. I encourage each of you to search your own personal resources and provide assistance to the extent you can. I am also asking each Florida APWA District Representative to organize work parties that can assist the employees of impacted public works departments in restoring their homes and their lives. These dedicated people have put the needs of their communities ahead of their family and personal needs. As a statewide organization, we need to help these members of our public works family restore their lives.

Over the past ten days, these experiences have reaffirmed my personal commitment to the American Public Works Association. There is a bond among members of the public works community. APWA does make a difference in people's lives.

Jeffrey A. Wilson, P.E. can be reached at (239) 939-1020 or at