Insights > ‘A Herculean effort’: Employees rally after Katrina to restore power safely in 11 days
‘A Herculean effort’: Employees rally after Katrina to restore power safely in 11 days
Just before the start of the 2005 hurricane season, Entergy Mississippi employees participated in the annual systemwide storm drill. The fictional scenario that year involved two back-to-back hurricanes striking Entergy’s service area.
A few months later, fiction became reality when hurricanes Katrina and Rita made landfall in a 26-day span, leaving virtually no portion of Entergy’s four-state service area unscathed.
In Mississippi, Katrina’s rampage left three quarters of Entergy’s customers in the dark. Guided by safety, training and teamwork, employees proved what they were capable of accomplishing when their customers and communities needed them most.
“Because we drilled that scenario, we were well prepared,” said retiree Carolyn (Shanks) Correro, who at the time was president and CEO of Entergy Mississippi. “We had never seen the entire system hit in Mississippi—75% of our customers lost power after Katrina. Despite the unprecedented nature of the event, our crews worked safely to complete restoration in 11 days and then turned around and helped our sister companies restore power for their customers.”
“We thought restoration was going to take at least a month—the distribution system was in shambles, especially in the south part of state,” said retiree John Scott, who in 2005 was manager of the distribution operations center in Jackson. “It was a herculean effort by our employees and mutual assistance crews that I credit to storm planning and drills. Eleven days is not a long time when three quarters of your customers are out.”
Preparation makes key difference
In the days leading up to Katrina’s landfall, Entergy Mississippi’s war room in the old Tombigbee St. Building in Jackson was abuzz with activity as employees developed contingency switching procedures for the electrical grid in anticipation of widespread damage. A major concern was the loss of communications between the DOC and field personnel.
“We developed temporary procedures days before landfall that allowed us to hand off switching operations to experienced, dedicated employees in the field when communication was lost,” Scott said. “We used temporary procedures effectively in Katrina, and they were incorporated in future major storm events.”
Scott’s example is one of many that happened across Entergy Mississippi as employees shifted into storm mode and prepared to deploy the largest restoration workforce in company history. As part of the effort, a logistics team made sure that thousands of mutual assistance workers had food, lodging and other resources during their stay in Mississippi.
With power and telephone service disrupted across the service area, finding ways to communicate with customers and communities became an urgent priority. During the crisis, customer assistance desks were opened in high-impact areas and staffed by customer service managers who provided routine updates about Entergy’s service-restoration efforts.
“We knew it was important for Entergy to have a presence in communities, and engaging with customers also helped us gain a better understanding of what they were dealing with,” said retiree Gloria Johnson, who was director of customer service. “Customers were able to ask questions and discuss unique issues with customer service managers, who in turn would work with service personnel and others in the company to address their issues.”
While Entergy Mississippi focused on getting 300,000 customers back online, it also helped employees displaced by floods and devastation in New Orleans and neighboring areas, many of whom relocated to Jackson and were able to work in temporary offices.
“Many employees lost everything,” Correro said. “We helped them get housing, and if they had families, we worked with schools so their kids could enroll. We set up a company store to provide things like kitchen supplies, towels and linens for their apartments. We tried to help in as many ways possible.
“At the same time, many Entergy Mississippi employees and their families were impacted,” she said. “Their homes were damaged, and they didn’t have power, but they still reported to work to help our customers. They also housed employees from other parts of Entergy. It’s unbelievable what people did to take care of others.”
Mississippi lends hand to corporate
Mississippi employees also supported business continuity by helping New Orleans-based corporate functions, such as transmission, communications and finance, regroup in Jackson and get back on track. Entergy eventually relocated its corporate headquarters to Clinton for several months until conditions made it possible to return to New Orleans.
Katrina was a reckoning point that required Entergy to reassess and rethink storm response from all angles. One of the chief outcomes was Operation: Storm Ready, a comprehensive, centralized approach to disaster response and service restoration fueled by continuous planning, preparation and training.
Many of the improvements after Katrina have benefited Entergy Mississippi’s performance across the board. By storm hardening the electrical system and improving resilience, the company has reduced outages and increased service reliability. By upgrading communication systems, more ways to connect with customers have been created, enabling the company to provide timely updates about their service.
By completing Katrina restoration without an accident or injury, Entergy Mississippi reinforced safety as a shared value that makes everything else possible—including its mission to power life today and for future generations.
“Safety performance during the Katrina restoration was a high point for Entergy Mississippi,” Correro said. “Employees pulled together and did something that had never been done before, and at the end of the day, they were able to return safely to their homes and families. The company’s strength will always be dedicated employees who take pride in working safely to serve customers and communities.”