Ever since Hurricane Katrina ravaged South Mississippi, area utility providers have been preparing for the 2006 storm season while recovering from the devastating one in 2005.
“Right now, we still have approximately 20,000 customers from pre-Katrina numbers who are not able to receive power,” said Kurt Brautigam, spokesperson for Mississippi Power Company, a subsidiary of Southern Company. “Their homes and business are either totally damaged or damaged beyond being able to receive power at this point. We’re continuing to work with those customers on an almost daily basis to restore their power.”
Last August, all of Mississippi Power’s 195,000 customers lost electricity in the 23-county service area of Southeast Mississippi. Significant parts of the company’s distribution and transmission network sustained damage, including Plant Watson in Gulfport, one of two major generating facilities. With the help of more than 12,000 outside workers, service was restored within 12 days to all of the company’s customers who could receive it. For its efforts, the company was recognized with the 2006 Edison Award, the electric utility industry’s highest honor.
“We’ve been making more logistical arrangements for bringing outside workers into our area again, as those resources will be in high demand,” said company emergency response director Kristie Barton. “We’ve continued to upgrade our communications systems backups and plan to have more staging options in the event a major storm makes landfall here.”
Every Mississippi Power employee has a specific storm assignment, from workers in the field to those handling the logistics and supplies necessary to feed and house visiting crews. Last year at the height of the restoration effort, more than 30,000 meals were served daily.
“Logistics is crucial when bringing in any kind of outside workforce,” said Brautigam. “Our SouthernLinc radio system worked and was our saving grace the first few days after the storm.”
Lydia Walters, spokesperson for the South Mississippi Electric Power Association, said all rebuilding and restoration projects as a result of storm damage last August have been completed, including the heavily damaged Plant Moselle. “They’re back up and running even better than before Katrina because we used the occasion to update them,” she said. “We’re still actively cleaning up our transmission lines. There were thousands and thousands of trees down and there are still many down or leaning that are a threat to bring lines down without much of a storm, so we’re still very busy with that.”
Melissa Bryant, spokesperson for Coast Electric Power Association, which provides electricity to more than 69,000 members in Hancock, Harrison and Pearl River counties, including the industrial areas of Port Bienville, Long Beach Industrial Park, Picayune Industrial Park and Stennis Air Park, said the utility provider has a five-phase storm plan in place that has served the cooperative well through numerous storms.
“Coast Electric was able to restore power to members just days after Katrina’s landfall and to all members that could safely receive it in only three short weeks,” she said. “However, lines had to be rebuilt to many areas, and transformers, wire and poles had to be replaced due to the extensive damage from the storm. And that’s still an ongoing process. Since August, cooperative crews from neighboring states have worked hard to help get our system back to the way it was before Katrina.”
New this year: Coast Electric has added a permanent satellite-phone system to all offices and satellite Internet service to keep communications ongoing.
“We’ve also made arrangements to have plenty of supplies on hand such as poles, wires and transformers to ensure materials are replaced in a timely manner,” said Bryant. “A couple of challenges Coast Electric is facing for the 2006 hurricane season: the lack of hotels and employee housing. Tent cities will be set up to house and feed assisting crew members. Also, many of our employees are living in FEMA trailers and will need to evacuate should a storm threaten our area. Coast Electric is making evacuation plans for employees to ensure they are safe during the storm and can return to work quickly.”
Contact MBJ contributing writer Lynne W. Jeter at Lynne.Jeter@gmail.com.