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Author: Billy Ball
A proactive approach to disaster preparation is crucial to disaster recovery.
Hurricane Katrina made landfall near the Mississippi-Louisiana state line on the morning of August 29, 2005, with an estimated intensity of 120 mile per hour (mph) winds and a storm surge of at least 30 feet (Figure 1 - see PDF version for figures). Tropical-storm-force winds extended out about 230 miles, and hurricane-force winds extended out more than 100 miles (Knabb et al., 2005). Katrina presented Southern Company with one of the biggest operational challenges in its more than 80-year history (Table 1). According to the Insurance Information Institute, total insured losses from Katrina were estimated at $40 billion—almost twice as much as the next most expensive storm in U.S. history.
Hurricane Katrina was the worst natural disaster in the history of Southern Company’s Mississippi Power subsidiary. After making landfall, Katrina moved north northeast at about 15 mph, with winds exceeding hurricane force in all major cities in Mississippi Power’s service territory. All 195,000 Mississippi Power customers lost power, nearly two-thirds of the transmission and distribution system was damaged or destroyed, and all but three of the company’s 122 transmission lines were out of service. More than 300 transmission towers were damaged, 47 of them metal towers in the 230-kV bulk power system. In the distribution system, about 65 percent of facilities were damaged; 9,000 poles and 2,300 transformers were lost; and 23,500 spans of conductor were down.
All generation equipment at Plant Watson, Mississippi Power’s second-largest electricity generating plant, was damaged by floodwaters, which affected the company’s emergency operations center and backup control center located in the plant. Seven other buildings also sustained significant damage, including the corporate headquarters in Gulfport (Figure 2), the building housing the distribution and transmission departments, the substation construction headquarters, the Biloxi service center, and the Pass Christian office. The corporate headquarters was damaged so severely that it will not be fully operational again until late 2006.
In Alabama, Katrina caused the second highest number of customer outages, trailing only the 825,000 outages from Hurricane Ivan in 2004. Although most of the outages were in the Birmingham area, the heaviest damage was in Mobile and along the Gulf Coast (Table 2).
Planning for Disasters
Southern Company relies on extensive pre-planning, the ability to communicate internally and externally immediately after a storm, effective execution of disaster-recovery plans (including receiving significant help from external and internal resources), and the capturing of lessons learned to prepare for the next storm response.
The company’s operating subsidiaries—Alabama Power, Georgia Power, Gulf Power, Mississippi Power, and Savannah Electric—maintain detailed disaster-recovery plans with specific responses and actions identified for each. Every year before the start of hurricane season on June 1, storm training is provided for employees, whose assignments differ from their regular jobs. Training is designed to ensure that everyone involved understands every aspect of the recovery plan.
Subsidiary companies share the lessons learned from storm or hurricane experience, and plans are revised accordingly. Because Mississippi Power participated in Gulf Power’s assessment of its plan following Hurricane Ivan in 2004, Mississippi Power was better prepared to respond to Katrina. Continuous learning is a critical aspect of superior performance.
Recovery plans provide for flexible, decentralized authority so decisions can be made as close to the disaster as possible. Storm teams start taking action two weeks before a potential disaster, and every day new decisions are made depending on the latest track and severity of the storm. Mississippi Power began track-ing Katrina as it developed in the Caribbean and followed events as the storm tracked across southern Florida, impacting utilities there, before entering the Gulf of Mexico.
Three days prior to landfall, Mississippi Power, assuming a direct hit from a major hurricane, began making requests for manpower, material, and logistics—including almost 3,000 linemen and 1,750 tree trimmers. However, damage in Florida and the risk posed to utilities along the northern Gulf of Mexico in the projected path of Katrina’s second landfall reduced the regional pool of qualified line workers. Mississippi Power also placed orders for additional transformers, poles, conductor, line hardware, and fuel over and above its normal storm-season stocking levels.
Arrangements were made for nearly 4,800 beds variously located in mobile sleeper trailers, military facilities, college facilities, tents, cots in company facilities, and motels as far away as Pensacola, Montgomery, and Dothan. A pre-arranged plan with a logistics vendor, which included provisions for tents, caterers, portable toilets, showers, and dumpsters to be set up at predetermined staging sites, was implemented on Friday, August 26, three days before the storm hit. By the time Katrina made landfall, the company had spent $7 million in securing equipment and logistical support.
Details of the Plan
As it does with any major hurricane, Mississippi Power took a proactive approach to disaster preparation and recovery. The company has a detailed, flexible, “scalable” disaster procedure that has been developed over many years and is applicable to a variety of disaster types, such as winter storms, tornadoes, and straight-line winds. Mississippi Power critiques its performance after every storm and updates its procedures based on lessons learned both from its own experiences and the experiences of other utilities.
All employees have storm assignments, frequently different from their day-to-day jobs. Storm assignments include functions related to system restoration, such as disaster coordination, manpower coordination, responsibility for specific geographic areas, acting as crew guides, tending to the needs of outside personnel (such as lodging and meals), and tracking restoration efforts.
As part of the overall preparations, the company maintains weather consultants on retainer, participates in regional mutual-assistance organizations, maintains pre-arranged contracts with logistics vendors, staging-site owners, line-construction and vegetation-management contractors, and maintains pre-arranged agreements for materials, fuels, and equipment.
Disaster directors coordinate and direct activities related to specific functional areas. In addition, every disaster director has a designated backup. Each functional area undergoes an annual review, beginning with an evaluation of steps to ensure that the company is prepared to respond: