First responders to the devastation of Hurricanes Katrina and Rita, people who rescued tens of thousands of Gulf Coast citizens, and those who brought back power and security to the battered areas, mesmerized participants at the Opening Session with their personal stories. Video footage of line workers in action added to these eye-witness accounts.
Jim Greer and Tommy Mayne co-chaired the event. Greer said, “In the worst of times, we demonstrated the best in us;” and Mayne lauded the efforts of the tens of thousands of utility and contract workers without whose help the restoration would not have been possible. For example, PPL sent one of every ten employees down to assist in the restoration efforts.
IEEE PES President, John McDonald, reminded all that this event, originally scheduled to be held in New Orleans, was moved to Dallas after Katrina hit because of the need to refocus all the resources of the Electric Power Industry to bring back power to the more than two million customers affected by Katrina. >p> Outgoing PES President, Teddy Puttgen, encouraged all in attendance to continue to support those impacted, reminding all that citizens of the Gulf Coast are still in the process of rebuilding their lives and their homes.
Dr. Marc Levitan, Director the Hurricane Center at Louisiana State University, recounted his experience of feeding data into supercomputers in Baton Rouge that showed that the levees would be breached and providing this information to government officials who had no idea that damage of this magnitude could happen.
Aviation Commander Colonel Barry Keeling directed the relief efforts from the air, flying 12,000 sorties, dropping 1600 sandbags into the breaches of the levees, and delivering 1,400 tons of food and supplies. Keeling and his helicopter team rescued 69,000 Louisiana citizens.
The fire chief of the city of New Orleans, Mark Bruce, told how gut wrenching it was to receive calls for aid from people who were in dire straights, never knowing what outcomes awaited them. Bruce also said that some volunteers helped by sending text messages to relatives of those who were finally rescued. Others loaned their boats and vehicles. Many helped prepare food.
Kay Wilkins, CEO of the Southeast Louisiana Chapter of the Red Cross, mentioned that in her region more than 900 Red Cross volunteers working closely with the Southern Baptist Convention opened 24 shelters housing 5,000 people.
Entergy’s Linda Barnes said that 1200 Entergy employees were personally affected by the storm; but through the company’s Operation Restore Hope, more than $4.2 million dollars in aid was provided to 4000 individuals and families.
Entergy Louisiana Customer Service Manager, Gary Silbert, who provides liaison with government officials during the storm season, stated that his daunting job was made even more challenging when the Department of Security and FEMA officials confiscated hotel rooms and provisions.
Mike Carter, Distribution Manager at TXU for the Dallas Region, shared a touching moment with a video showing a woman well into her eighties who his crews adopted. When the crews showed up with three similar breakfasts, she said she ate Vienna Sausages for three days even though she hates Vienna Sausages.
Mike Marullo, a New Orleans native, and president of the research company, InfoNetrix, emphasized that, “No one in the Katrina/Rita Impact Zone is yet back to normal or will they be for a very long time.”
Over at Southern Company, Engineer Lee Welch stated that responding to Katrina was the greatest operational challenge his company had ever faced. Entire beachfront communities including Bay St. Louis and Pass Christian were simply washed away by a storm surge that topped 35 feet. One million Southern Company customers were out (half of their Alabama customers and every one of their Mississippi customers), and more than 1000 lines were down. Although the Mississippi Power Storm Center was destroyed, the Georgia Power Storm Center was able to take over without missing a beat.
Jim Bishop, Utility Manager with Curtis H. Stout, gave input from the vendor community: “Our manufacturers went above and beyond to deliver the products. Also, other utilities were gracious to give up their production space so we could meet the needs of the Gulf region. S&C Electric stepped in to provide fuses and Hughes Brothers worked around the clock. What we accomplished in 6 weeks was truly awesome.”
Rob Trimble, the President and COO of TXU Electric Delivery praised the more than 3,500 TXU employees and contractors who drove more than 1.3 million miles and put in more than 300,000 work hours to bring power back to the Gulf Coast.
George Bartlett, Director of Transmission Operations, Entergy Services, closed the Opening Session discussion on Katrina and Rita this way: “I’m a fourth generation New Orlean and my family never before evacuated the city of New Orleans, but this time we all evacuated. More than 37,000 square miles of the Gulf Coast were impacted by Katrina. We had 13 staging areas, six tent cities and 4,500 cots, yet in the Entergy service territory, 75 % of customers (729,000) were restored in 11 days and we had 75% of Rita Customers back in 10 days.”
Then Judd Putnam, the Dallas Event Coordinator, encouraged everyone in attendance to recall what was demonstrated by the Electric Power Industry in overcoming the devastation of Katrina: “that the efforts of the Electric Power Industry to help those who lost everything are a testament to the industry’s good will and uncompromising expertise.”