As the 2005 hurricane season approaches, everyone along the Gulf Coast has a renewed awareness of what can happen when a storm makes landfall. After participating in several major restoration efforts in 2004, including the aftermath of Hurricane Ivan, which caused outages to nearly half the companys customers, Mississippi Power employees have again 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 spokesman Kurt Brautigam. Each year brings new threats and possibilities, so you can never let down your guard. Our emergency restoration plans are extensive and we refine them each year. Were confident we can restore electricity as quickly and safely as we were able to do last year if a storm hits our region again.
Last September, more than 50,000 Mississippi Power customers along the Coast lost electric service as Hurricane Ivan came ashore, but the vast majority of those who could receive power were restored within 36 hours. Approximately 25,000 customers also lost service in the companys Meridian division, with most of those being restored within 48 hours.
As soon as there is a possibility of a hurricane making landfall along or near the Mississippi Coast, Mississippi Power 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 necessary, and sources of food and lodging to accommodate them will have been contacted. Emergency communication procedures for customers, the media and employees will also be put into effect.
If a storm comes our way, our first priority is to ensure the safety of our customers, employees and the electric system before and during the storm, said Brautigam. Once the storm passes, thats when well see the results of all our planning and preparations. Last year, our employees performed with great efficiency. We were able to complete our restoration in a remarkably short period of time and then move our crews to Alabama and Florida where the damage was much more extensive.
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, who may number in the thousands depending on the severity of damage.
Last year we had nearly one thousand outside personnel assisting with our restoration effort, Brautigam said. Our employees supervised the work in our area, then moved with those same crews for further duty. They functioned as well-managed units that wound up restoring entire sections in Pensacola.
We understand that getting the lights back on is probably one of the biggest morale boosters for all of us putting our lives back together after a storm. It would be nice to think we wont have to deal with a storm in our service area again this year, but sooner or later we will. Thats why every year we plan and train and prepare as much as we possibly can.
Mississippi Power, a subsidiary of Southern Company, serves more than 195,000 customers in the 23 counties of Southeast Mississippi.