In just four days, Entergy and its storm team restored power to nearly 90% of the 481,000 customers affected by Hurricane Zeta. With wind speeds of 110 mph, the Category 2 hurricane damaged 2,800 poles, 575 transformers and 1,800 spans of wire.
“Hurricane Zeta marked the seventh time Entergy prepared for impacts from a tropical weather system and the third major restoration effort in Louisiana to follow a devastating hurricane,” said John Hawkins, Entergy’s vice president of distribution operations in Louisiana. “While it has been a challenging hurricane season, Entergy remains committed to doing what it always has — safely delivering power to and supporting the communities we serve.”
Rather than focusing on one storm at a time, Energy views storm preparation as a continuous cycle without a beginning or end.
“It is through this strategic set of action steps that we can respond, restore, and safely reconnect our customers' power more quickly and more efficiently after every storm,” Hawkins said.
For example, the utility assembles teams for lessons learned discussions. In addition, Entergy ensures a quick resolution of clean-up work to restore facilities back to their normal configuration. Finally, the utility encourages its field employees and mutual assistance crews to shift their mindsets back to regular work with safety remaining the #1 priority.
While each storm is unique and has its own challenges, Entergy prepared far in advance for any potential impact from Hurricane Zeta. These proactive efforts secured the support needed to restore power for the customers.
Before a storm makes landfall, the utility uses storm prediction models to help determine how many resources will be needed on site to perform restoration work, based on the storm’s path and intensity. A team of about 100 Entergy employees uses that information to manage logistics including lodging, meals and staging sites.
Following Hurricane Zeta, Entergy had nearly 8,000 workers from 23 states who volunteered to help the company restore power. Of those, nearly 5,100 needed lodging.
“This posed a challenge as some hotels in the area remain closed due to COVID-19,” Hawkins said. “To help, we utilized two floating hotels when there simply weren’t enough rooms for workers.”
For example, the HOS Achiever and Island Performer were able to dock near where a large amount of the restoration work needed to be done, giving workers a place to rest and reduce their travel time to job sites. The Achiever is a 432-ft vessel that can house and feed nearly 270 passengers, and the Performer is a 426-ft vessel that can house and feed more than 110 passengers.
Having already worked through several storm restoration events during the pandemic, Entergy has plans in place to ensure safety for all its workers. These practices include encouraging social distancing in work areas, use of masks, safe lodging accommodations, 50% capacity on shuttle buses, to-go box meals rather than buffets and COVID-19 champions at each staging site to ensure safety protocols are followed.
Beyond ensuring safety during the pandemic, the utility also faced another challenge—ensuring Louisianans had the ability to cast their vote in the presidential election, as Hurricane Zeta continued to bear down on the state.
“Even before Zeta was forecasted to impact the area, Entergy was preparing for Election Day,” Hawkins said. “Once we had a better understanding of the path of the storm, we mobilized an elections task force to mitigate any potential power interruptions to polling locations to ensure all Louisianans were able to vote.”
For example, the teams worked hand-in-hand with state and local officials to find creative ways to restore power to polling locations. As an extra level of precaution, across the state, 200 generation kits were made available to deploy as necessary before voters arrived to cast their vote.
In addition, the line crews discovered damage to terminal poles, which are the closest to substations that deliver power to neighborhoods.
“These poles require a more extensive and detailed restoration process due to the field switching that may be needed to reconfigure the circuits for our ability to restore all affected customers,” Hawkins said. “During a storm, there is a significant amount of switching that takes place that requires load analysis to ensure we don’t overload circuits.”
Through a focus on advance planning and preparation—and dedicated linemen who didn’t stop until every customer had lights back on—Entergy was able to quickly and safely restore power.