Makers of the portable battery systems took their product to the derailment site to help workers from the American Red Cross and Verizon connect victims and families.
By Matt Skoufalos
The Gridless CORE power system has already proven its value for humanitarian relief efforts from Liberia to Nepal.
But after the news broke of the Port Richmond Amtrak derailment Tuesday evening, the trio of Collingswood natives behind the off-grid power company wanted to get their portable battery units into the hands of first responders.
“We heard the news; we loaded up the truck and went over,” said Gridless Power CEO Jason Halpern.
“The plan was to go over there and figure it out,” he said. “It worked.”
Halpern, Gridless President Patrick Murphy, and engineer Thomas Castner had been scheduled to deploy the CORE with the American Red Cross at a pair of events in the summer, but the trio jumped that partnership up a few months out of necessity.
At the scene, Murphy said, the Red Cross put them to work powering a charging station for lights and cell phones belonging to victims of the crash. As the relief agency worked to help those injured and disoriented by the accident, the staff from Gridless did its part to keep their gear online.
“We had a station at the crash site as well as at 30th Street Station,” Murphy said. “We were there all night dropping things off to the Red Cross.”
Murphy described the scene as “really traumatic.
“I talked to a responder who was one of the first people to pull people out of the cars,” he said.
“One of the first people he pulled out was missing a leg. Everybody was really rattled. Families were rushing around trying to figure out what was going on with their loved ones. It was heavy for sure.”
American Red Cross Regional Disaster Officer Leo Pratte said that the Gridless contributions to the relief efforts were “critical.
“Everybody’s so dedicated to cell phones today,” Pratte said. “The power allowed us to keep them up and running all day.
“They’re charging our phones and people,” he said.
Pratte said that as the Red Cross continues to work with the National Transportation Safety Board to piece together details from the accident, what disaster workers most need from the public is “just their understanding that the information will be out there as soon as it can.
“Right now we’re working with the families,” he said. “Most things are well in hand.
Gridless returned to the site again on Wednesday in support of relief staff with Verizon as well as with the Red Cross, Murphy said. Being able to contribute to disaster recovery is the “stuff [that]gets us up in the morning,” he said.
“To have some kind of an impact, however small—we’re just doing basic, power, cell phone, and lighting charging—it definitely feels very exciting and validating to be able to help,” he said.