CUAUHTEMOC “ROD” RODRIGUEZ
Alaskans show strength in the face of disaster
They say that one truly knows the strength of their community when disaster hits. I couldn’t agree more, and I couldn’t be prouder of how our community came together during the 7.1 earthquake that shook, rattled and rolled Anchorage in November. What an experience!
When I moved to Alaska 25 years ago, I often wondered what the 1964 earthquake was like. Conversations with lifelong Alaskans and contractors gave me a glimpse of what that devasting 9.2 earthquake had done to our community.
For the rest of my life, I will remember what I was doing at 8:30 the morning of Nov. 30, 2018. It’s amazing what happens to the human mind in the face of an emergency. When our office building started to shake, I was working at my desk. I remember my elementary school teachers telling me what to do in case of an earthquake. “Get away from windows or anything hanging on the walls,” Mrs. Snyder would say. I looked up at the mounted trophy sheep collection over my head and randomly wondered if the back plate or the concrete screws would snap first. It didn’t matter. Soon my prized Desert Bighorn Sheep from Mexico fell, smashing the printer and knocking over my acoustic guitar. All my miniature die-cast excavators fell and broke.
It was time to get moving. Calmly, just like my kindergarten teacher told me, I walked downstairs and made sure that everyone was OK. Soon after, we had tsunami warnings advising everyone to move to higher ground. With no time to waste, I instructed all employees go home and get their disaster-preparedness emergency kit ready.
Eventually, emergency warnings began to downgrade, and my employees asked, “Do we come back to work?” I said, “No, stay home and inspect your emergency plan. And if you don’t have one, this would be a good time create one.” On Monday, my staff and I were back at work. Everyone knew there was work to be done and sitting around at home wasn’t going to help. If we were going to manage this setback, it would take a community.
After the earthquake, our government reacted and got the job done. The Minnesota Drive off-ramp was damaged? No worries! The Alaska Department of Transportation & Public Facilities (DOT&PF) assessed the damage and had a contractor working on it. The Glenn Highway experienced 1,000 feet of damaged road and needed immediate repair? Again, no worries — DOT&PF had a contractor on it. The Parks Highway suffered 2,000 feet of road damage, blocking more than 1,500 daily users? What can I say? DOT&PF had a contractor on it! The Seward Highway MP 112 had massive rock slides — DOT&PF responded and made our roads safe again.
At home, thousands of Alaskans were without power, relying on Chugach Electric and Municipal Light & Power to turn the lights back on. By that evening, only 97 homes were without electricity. In the Matanuska-Susitna Borough, despite having inaccessible roads, Matanuska Electric Association managed to repair two-thirds of its outages and take care of Alaskans.
During this emergency, government agencies reached across the table and, together with Alaska contractors, got our community back online. In record time, Alaska families were taken care of.
Whether responding to emergencies or building our communities, contractors are instrumental in the process. At AGC, we’ve been leading the charge by standing by our mission: Promote, Advocate, and Educate. We have nearly 20 committees working to address the needs of the construction industry.
In the first three months of my tenure, I have been working with AGC to move issues forward that affect us all. First, our AGC Legislative Committee worked tirelessly to clarify and define our priorities in Juneau via our annual Legislative Fly-in. We agreed our focus should be on continuity of infrastructure projects, workers compensation and natural resources. AGC of Alaska members provided our legislators with these priorities. Currently, we have more than a few infrastructure projects that will either move forward or stall according to the whim of the new administration. This does nothing to strengthen our state, nor our industry. AGC of Alaska asked the legislators for a capital budget and a deferred maintenance program, an increase in state matching fund projects and financial investments for completing legacy projects. I am hopeful for new Gov. Mike Dunleavy and trust that he will lead the charge and set the example.
Our state’s legislators must understand that AGC, with more than 70 years in existence and over 650 contractors and related businesses as members, is a voice to be heard. We want to be included and are willing to provide real-life experiences about how it was, how it is and how it should be so we can continue to work together to build a stronger Alaska.
AGC of Alaska recently became aware of important labor laws that affect the construction industry and were developed with minimal stakeholder participation at the Municipality of Anchorage (MOA). AGC of Alaska approached Chris Schutte, director of the Office of Economic and Community Development, and asked who formed the recently approved Community Workforce Agreement review committee and what the process was for its applicability to construction projects. Increasing AGC of Alaska’s involvement on review committees like this is essential to ensuring a full and open, competitive environment for Alaska contractors. It is important to remember that full and open competition doesn’t eliminate jobs, it builds and retains our workforce and saves taxpayer money. I am happy to report that AGC of Alaska and the MOA have now initiated conversations to clarify the process and gain an invitation to participate in future.
Whether at the state level or here in our communities, we must be ready to perform: ready to meet the next obstacle head on and, most importantly, work together to move past it.
So where do we go from here? Alaskans, legislators and citizens, we do not need to wait for the next earthquake or emergency to happen. Take action now. As Alaskans we have proven our resiliency and our tenacity. We were able to replace damaged roads within four days. How did that happen? I’ll tell you how it happened: Legislators and government agencies trusted Alaskans to get the job done right.