ENGINEERED TO LEAD
A graduate of McDonogh 35 Senior High School, Bernal says he’s always had his sights set on becoming a civil engineer.
“It’s what I wanted for a career,” he says. He enrolled in the United States Military Academy at West Point in New York, which boasts one of the most prestigious civil engineering programs in the country.
“It wouldn’t have made sense to go into any other industry given my educational background.”
After graduating in 2001, Bernal went active-duty in the United States Army where he served as a second lieutenant. Upon returning to New Orleans, he worked for two local engineering firms.
And in 2005, the West Point graduate moved toward his long-time goal of business ownership and started Royal Engineers. As he was completing final details on the business launch, Hurricane Katrina struck. He chose to stay to not only rebuild his business and home, but to take part in rebuilding the city.
“It was the biggest opportunity of my life time and my career,” says Bernal.
With very little money, Bernal decided to “take a shot. I didn’t really have anything to lose. I went back to my West Point days.”
He worked tirelessly for nine consecutive months, putting in 18-hour days, seven days a week to get his engineering firm off the ground in time to take part in some of the business opportunities created by Katrina.
With immediate involvement in the damage assessment and evaluation work for New Orleans Sewerage and Water Board, as well as monitoring contracted debris removal, Royal Engineers was employing about 60 people who worked an average of 12 hours per week by November 2005
Royal would eventually expand its reach as a prime contractor for projects in Cameron Parish, which was ravaged by subsequent disasters, Hurricanes Rita and Ike.
“We still perform recovery services for them,” says Bernal.
Currently, Royal employs 75 people and manages recovery efforts across the gulf south. Locally, Royal still serves on the city’s program management team and manages St. Augustine’s FEMA recovery program. In St. John the Baptist Parish, Royal is a prime contractor overseeing the recovery from Hurricane Isaac. And the firm’s disaster recovery experience has been put to use around the nation in cities like Tuscaloosa, Ala., and Newark, NJ, which suffered considerable damage in Hurricane Sandy.
Bernal says he’s very proud of his firm’s production and willing to put his staff against leading competition.”