Mississippi Power readies for 2006 hurricane season

After its restoration performance following Katrina, some observers might think there’s little Mississippi Power can do to improve. The company was recognized for its efforts with the Edison Award, the electric utility industry’s highest honor. But once again this year, Mississippi Power employees have been reviewing plans and conducting training in preparation for tropical storm activity this year.

“Storm preparedness is an integral task for any utility serving coastal areas,” said company emergency response director Kristie Barton. “This is a new year and each year brings its own threats and possibilities. Our emergency restoration plans have always been extensive but, even as well as they worked last year, they can always be improved. Based on lessons learned, once again we’ll be very well prepared.”

Last August, Hurricane Katrina roared through the heart of Mississippi Power’s service area, cutting service to all of its 195,000 customers. Significant parts of the company’s distribution and transmission network sustained damage, as did Plant Watson in Gulfport, one of two major generating facilities.

With the help of more than 12,000 outside workers, company employees restored service to all customers who could receive it within 12 days. Crews have been working since the end of the initial restoration process to rebuild and stabilize the company’s system. As the 2006 storm season begins, there are still nearly 18,000 customers who have not returned to their homes or businesses.

The basic components of Mississippi Power’s emergency plan remain the same as always. As soon as there is a possibility of a hurricane making landfall along or near the Mississippi Coast, company employees make arrangements to move equipment and material into areas expected to be affected. Additional line crews and tree trimmers from other companies will be called on and mobilized, if needed. Emergency communication procedures for customers, the media and employees will also be put into effect.

“We’ve been making more logistical arrangements for bringing outside workers into our area again, as those resources will be in high demand,” said Barton. “We’ve continued to upgrade our communication system 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. In addition to those employees working in the field or overseeing outside crews, other personnel are assigned to handle 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 each day and there were locations where more than 1,000 workers slept each night.

“After Katrina, our employees performed with incredible efficiency,” said Barton. “Nobody could have imagined the devastation we saw throughout south Mississippi. Once we understood what we faced, however, everyone pulled together and we were able to exceed all expectations.

“Getting the lights back on is probably one of the biggest morale boosters for everyone as we put our lives back together after a storm. That’s why every year we plan and train and prepare as much as we possibly can.”

Mississippi Power, a subsidiary of Southern Company, serves customers in the 23 counties of Southeast Mississippi. The company earned a 2006 Edison Award, the electric utility industry’s most prestigious honor, for restoration efforts after Hurricane Katrina.