Saturday, October 1

Katrina taught Entergy lessons


There was at least one positive thing that came out of Hurricane Katrina: When Rita hit, Entergy was well-manned and better prepared.

Although Katrina has required a significant amount of Entergy’s attention for obvious reasons, company spokesperson Sheila Matte said she could think of no negative effects that Katrina has had on energy resources in the days of Rita’s wake.

“There was a good effect, actually,” she said. “When Rita hit, we had people from across the nation in the area. That opened up a lot of opportunities for us.”

She said the company was also much better prepared for communication failures. After Katrina, as cell phone towers failed and telephone lines died, Entergy employees had a hard time getting in touch with one another.

“I was in Houma, and I was completely isolated,” she said. “No phone. No cell. No email.”

As Rita swirled its way in the gulf, Entergy developed a communication strategy to avoid many of those problems. During the hurricane, they relied on text messaging. They also pinpointed which cell towers were still operable so employees could receive phones within that limited service.

The company also anticipated widespread power outages and stocked up on necessary equipment and supplies.

“We had supplies coming in and were talking to manufacturers (before landfall),” she said.
Their biggest challenge has been downed poles, trees in the roadways and fallen lines.

According to Matte, there are 3,379 poles down from Jennings to the Texas border; 4,773 fallen wire spans; 1,168 inoperable transformers; and 3,009 blown transformer arms. Typical thunderstorms blow a transformer fuse or knock down a line, “but we’re talking about something significantly different,” Matte said.

So far, Entergy has stuck to its priority list for re-energizing the city. The hospitals and wastewater facilities come first, followed by emergency offices such as law enforcement. Residential power is the final leg of the process.

To prevent hindrance of Entergy’s goal to have 75 percent of the city up with about 12 days, residents should stay off the roads as much as possible to give work trucks an opportunity to work at full capacity.

Matte also stressed to residents that they should “absolutely not” plug their generators into the breakers of their home.

This can cause a backfield of electricity into the power lines; a surge, in other words, that could harm an Entergy employee or unsuspecting friend or neighbor working near a downed power line.

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