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The Call to Restore Power

Thursday, January 9, 2020

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Dr. Chung Jerry Wong first started working part-time in a structural engineering consulting firm as a 14-year old college freshman in Taiwan. Projects he worked on in his early career included multi-story buildings and highway bridges located in several countries, including 22 states in the U.S. He also had the unique opportunities to design a reinforced concrete gravity dam as well as an underground command center when he served in the military - both were interesting and unforgettable experiences. He worked on several award-winning projects, including the longest interstate highway bridge in the Far East at the time, in which the government promptly issued a set of stamps to commemorate it.

Jerry received his first degree from Taipei Institute of Technology (1971) and earned his MSCE (1978) and Ph.D. (1984) degrees from the University of Cincinnati.

In 1987, Jerry began a 30+ year journey with Florida Power & Light Company (FPL), initially managing building facility projects but later "accidentally" getting heavily involved in the design of high-voltage transmission facilities. It became a major step in his career but also presented a distinctive set of challenges. Unlike the typically rigid building or bridge structures, electrical transmission line structures are more flexible and can be subject to complex dynamic responses under load, which may be more difficult to predict. Also, utility engineers have an even more unusual task as they are not only responsible for the design and engineering parts of the project, but they also need to be involved in the daily operation and maintenance of the system.

Through years of structural engineering experience including safety and electrical systems with FPL, Jerry provides a unique perspective around risk assessment and associated cost-saving potential, along with insights on issues such as public and worker safety, and electrical supply system reliability. Jerry has always incorporated construction considerations into the design, as construction means and methods provide unique and diverse perspectives. Jerry was able to recognize early on that construction workers, craftsmen, technicians, and field specialists are all part of the team, and it is important to integrate their perspectives into design planning.

FPL strongly encourages technology innovations; Jerry conducted many research projects that cover structure and structural component behavioral, advance material utilization, along with structural load testing methodology. A few R&D results and findings have been granted U.S. patents or were incorporated into standards.

Jerry is an active member of several SEI technical and administrative committees. The SEI Electrical Transmission and Substation Structures Conference was re-established by Dr. Leon Kempner Jr. and Jerry working together back in 1999. This successful conference presents technically advanced topics as well as practical projects in the electrical utility industry and is well respected around the world. Jerry is the 2004 recipient of the Gene Wilhoite Innovations in Transmission Line Engineering Award and advanced to SEI Fellow in 2012.

Jerry recalls Hurricane Andrew making landfall on 8/24/1992 at 4:55 am south of Miami, Florida. Around a 30-mile wide strip of mostly residential areas near Miami was destroyed. Tens of thousands were homeless and millions were without power. People suffered without air-conditioning in the Florida summer heat, without power for daily functions to provide and care for their families, and in some cases lacking the necessary power for life-support medical equipment.

Growing up in Taiwan, an island country frequently exposed to typhoon and earthquake events, the devastation of Hurricane Andrew was unexpected and quite eye-opening even for a seasoned engineer like Jerry. The tedious power restoration work following the hurricane was one of the most rewarding experiences of his long career. He observed the generosity and resilience of the human spirit in the huge gratitude of folks in need welcoming utility workers, and thunderous cheers when power was restored  Throughout the experience, Jerry was most impressed with the realization that "though not in our control to prevent disasters, it is our engineers' responsibility to ensure the power grid is reliable and resilient to maintain the quality and functions of everyday life. It is a calling to which I am honored to serve."

Chung Jerry Wong, Ph.D., P.E., F.SEI, M ASCE