In This Issue
The Aftermath of Katrina
March 1, 2006 Volume 36 Issue 1

Rebuilding Electrical Infrastructure along the Gulf Coast: A Case Study

Wednesday, March 1, 2006

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:

  • Discussions are held with surrounding utilities and contractors to determine the availability of line crews and tree-trimming personnel.
  • Logistics activities related to housing, food, and laundry are reviewed. (Before Katrina, more than 100 potential staging sites were identified, and detailed layouts were prepared of how those sites would be used. At the peak of the restoration, 30 sites were used—18 for a combination of feeding, lodging, fueling, materials, showering, and parking, and 12 as material lay-down yards. Also at peak, approximately 11,000 personnel were being housed, 32,500 meals were provided in one day, 93,000 pounds of fabrics were laundered, and 65 buses were put into service.)
  • A detailed distribution-restoration plan is established and continually updated. Each substation is assigned a substation-restoration coordinator who reports to the area-restoration coordinator. One or more feeder-restoration coordinators, who are responsible for each circuit, report to the substation coordinator. Because these coordinators know their areas of responsibility in advance, they are able to become familiar with their facilities. This unique operational framework was extremely effective in the aftermath of Katrina.
  • Stocking levels of critical materials are increased as storm season approaches. (During Katrina, arrangements were made with other companies to provide at least five deployed storerooms at various staging areas. In one day, as many as 60 tractor trailer loads of materials were delivered, and 5,000 vehicles were fueled. Average daily fuel consumption was about 80,000 gallons, with a peak one-day consumption of more than 110,000 gallons.)
Employees Helping Employees
Hurricane Katrina had an unprecedented impact on the employees of Mississippi Power. Many homes were destroyed, flooded, or severely damaged (Table 3). In response, Southern Company’s Family Services immediately mobilized support teams from around the company system to provide services and help employees’ families arrange places to stay, repair homes, clean up debris, and move furniture to storage facilities, among many other necessary tasks. Knowing that their families and homes were being taken care of enabled many employees to return to work quickly.

Communication is crucial in responding to disasters, especially communication with thousands of extra workers. Immediately following Katrina, neither land-based nor cellular phone service was available, and communication with outside restoration resources was very difficult. For most of the 12 days it took to restore electric service, the only communication system in operation on the coast of Mississippi was SouthernLINC Wireless, a wholly owned subsidiary of Southern Company. Through this system, Mississippi Power was able to communicate internally and with other operating companies, which relayed messages to outside resources.

The SouthernLINC Wireless system was built with considerable redundancy. Therefore, even though it sustained catastrophic damage, it was functioning at near pre-Katrina levels within three days, even with the added capacity to accommodate the dramatic spike in demand. Mississippi Power also installed its own microwave capability to 12 remote staging areas in order to transmit material inventory data into the company’s automated procurement process. If communication circuits of another company were down, the information technology group found a way to bypass those circuits and restore critical communications.

Crews are prepared to function for two days without communications—including field-to-field or field-to-HQ communications and logistics/procurement communications for taking on and coordinating outside resources. Vendors procured prior to Katrina were given instructions on where to set up and what to be prepared for, even if communications with Mississippi Power were not available after the storm.

Executing the Plan
Mississippi Power began its damage assessment—the first phase of the disaster-restoration plan—as soon as the winds subsided to a safe level. The assessment indicated that the system had sustained far more damage than anticipated. It was immediately apparent that the 5,000 outside personnel the plan had assumed for a worst case “Camille-like” storm would be inadequate. The company needed more than twice that number.

Even as Katrina was still pounding Mississippi and Alabama, repair crews and trucks were rolling in from other states to begin immediate work on damage assessment and restoration. Approximately 2,400 outside workers were pre-positioned on the fringe of the storm area ready to move in where needed, with clear authority and accountability for the jobs assigned. Within 24 hours after Katrina, more than 75 percent of the electric system had been inspected on the ground and from the air. This was possible because of the pre-positioning of outside workers and advanced contracting with several aircraft for inspections.

Through mutual-assistance agreements with utilities across the nation, workers from other utilities and contracting companies joined hundreds of company employees. Within seven days after Katrina, 10,800 workers from 23 states and Canada were assisting Mississippi Power. These emergency workers were provided with housing, food, tetanus shots, and other necessities to make life as comfortable as possible for them under the circumstances. Six full-service tent cities were erected as temporary homes (Figure 3).

Many line-crew personnel were put in charge of directing outside crews and handling restoration for feeder lines or entire areas. Because they were accustomed to making decisions, they were prepared to handle the increased responsibilities.

The company’s approach to storm recovery is based on self-sufficiency. For example, backup plans are in place for when outside suppliers for critical items, such as cots, tents, and food, are not available. After Katrina, the company brought in its own 250-person armed security force to protect people and equipment.

By the end of Day 5 (September 3), Mississippi Power was able to communicate to the public its commitment to restore service to every customer who could receive it by September 11. This goal motivated everyone involved, and service was actually restored by September 10—just 12 days after Katrina hit.

Priorities for repairing electric facilities are based on the stability of the electric system and restoring service to critical customers, such as hospitals, emergency responders, and water systems. Life-threatening situations, of course, have top priority. During Katrina, the focus was on restoring generation, transmission, and distribution with priority customers in mind. Mississippi Power’s first priority in transmission was to establish a 230-kV path from an interconnection point with Alabama Power in Jackson County across the Gulf Coast and upstate through Hattiesburg, Laurel, and Meridian to a northern interconnection point with Alabama Power east of Meridian. The transmission was hindered by flooding in several key substations on the coast in addition to extensive salt contamination on substation and transmission-line facilities.

On the first day after the storm (August 30), Mississippi Power was informed of the importance of the pipeline pumping stations in Collins, Mississippi, to the gasoline supply of the eastern United States. Working virtually around the clock, crews restored service to key facilities in the Hattiesburg area, including the pumping stations, by the end of Day 2 (August 31). By the end of Day 6 (September 4), a transmission source had been established to all substations from which customers were able to take service.

When the transmission line into the Hattiesburg area was energized, power was also restored to a critical regional hospital. The company helped refuel hospital generators until service could be restored.

By the end of Day 1, 2,800 outside personnel were working on restoring distribution, and service had been restored to 600 customers. By the end of Day 9 (September 7), 10,800 outside personnel were working on restoration, and service had been restored to 126,200 customers, or 75 percent of the total.

As for generation, Plant Watson’s combustion turbine unit was back on line on September 8. Coal yard operations resumed in 34 days, and Unit 4 came back on line in 46 days. Unit 5 was back on line in December, and units 1, 2, and 3 are expected to be back on line by mid-2006. By the end of Day 12 (September 10), service had been restored to every customer who could receive it, and the number of outside personnel working on restoration had been reduced to 5,300.

The total cost of restoration in Mississippi has been estimated at more than $250 million—the costliest in the company’s history. Remaining costs include rebuilding distribution facilities in areas decimated by the storm surge where there are few or no customers able to take service and completing repairs to flooded and damaged substations, Plant Watson, various buildings, and a 230-kV transmission line across the Pascagoula River swamp.

Substation and transmission line repairs will be largely complete in the first half of 2006. Generation repairs and repair work on damaged buildings should be primarily complete by the end of 2006. Distribution reconstruction is likely to continue for years as the most heavily damaged areas are rebuilt and customers are able to take service.

Lessons Learned
The greatest cost savings resulted from the effective use of outside resources and the effective use of time. The establishment and operation of staging areas and the procurement of food, shelter, fuel, and security are critical to the efficient use of resources. Mississippi Power is a vertically integrated utility, and the coordinated restoration of damaged generation, transmission, and distribution facilities enabled optimum use of scarce services and other resources.

Close coordination with, and support from, government agencies and officials was also crucial. By staying in close contact with state legislative and regulatory agencies, law enforcement, local governments, and disaster-recovery agencies, including the Federal Emergency Management Agency and the Mississippi Emergency Management Agency, conflicts between restoration and recovery efforts were avoided, and much-needed support for traffic control was available.

Other federal agencies also provided assistance. The Federal Energy Regulatory Commission granted a waiver for utilities affected by Katrina in reporting requirements under their standards of conduct. This allowed the utilities to focus entirely on restoring the electric grid and service. The U.S. Department of Energy offered its support and is following up by studying the technology and technological advancements that would facilitate electric-system restoration after major events like hurricanes and ice storms.

Continuous learning is a disciplined process. In preliminary findings, the following issues have been identified for improvement:
  • The acquisition of “initial showing” resources and their division among the affected areas should be refined.
  • Evaluations of the resources needed “on the ground” for initial showing can be improved. First-day resources do not have to be line resources; they may be tree crews or evaluators.
  • Potential improvements in storm prediction and storm damage models should be explored.
  • Backups for all positions, including storm leadership positions, should be identified.
Many customers suffered significant personal losses, were without homes, food, water, and sewer services, and were faced with looting and other conditions that were unimaginable under normal conditions. At times, hope itself was a scarce commodity. As every electric utility knows, municipalities, law enforcement, and local, state, and federal agencies need electric power before they can begin the process of recovery. When the lights come back on and vital services return, hope seems to make a comeback.

Knabb, R.D., J.R. Rhome, and D.P. Brown. 2005. Tropical Cyclone Report Hurricane Katrina. National Hurricane Center, Miami, Fla. Available online at:


*Southern Company, which has 40,000 megawatts of electric-generating capacity and 26,000 employees, provides electricity to more than 4 million customers in Alabama, Georgia, southeastern Mississippi, and the Florida panhandle.


TABLE 1 Peak Customer Outages as a Result of Hurricane Katrina

Southern Company
Number of Outages
Total Customers
Alabama Power
Georgia Power
Gulf Power
Mississippi Power

TABLE 2 Transmission Lines Outages as a Result of Katrina

Alabama Power
Mississippi Power
Total Lines
Out after Katrina
Total Lines
Out after Katrina
500 kV
230 kV
161 kV
115 kV
46 kV

TABLE 3 Impact of Hurricane Katrina on Mississippi Power Employees

Percentage of Employees

Homes destroyed



Homes flooded



Homes Damaged





About the Author:Billy Ball is senior vice president of Transmission Planning and Operations for Southern Company.*