37 maps and a great staff guide massive Entergy repair

Published 12:00 am Friday, September 12, 2008


Editor and Publisher

LAPLACE – As you walk through the hallways of the Entergy office on Airline Highway, and see one map after another taped to the wall, you get an idea of how it all begins.

But any way you figure it, the monumental task of restoring power to almost 37,000 customers—all in a matter of a week or two—still seems hard to comprehend.

That was the task facing the Entergy staff, and particularly Area Line Supervisor Willie Wilson and his number one man, Ray Holley, who has worked with Entergy for 39 years, now as the Operations Coordinator.

When Hurricane Gustav came blasting through the River Region on Labor Day of 2008, bringing with him 100 mph winds that kept blowing for almost eight hours, it was clear to Wilson he had what he later termed a “colossal” problem facing him.

“We have a small staff of about 10 people who ride out the storm right here at the Entergy office,” he said. “We monitor the storm as it comes in, and we get a lot of reports electronically that help us see what is going on to our substations and to our service.”

Wilson said he could practically see where the hurricane was during that Monday, watching his computer system tell him slowly during the day, as Gustav knocked out substation after substation of power.

“You could watch the systems go down, and you could tell just where the storm had gotten to,” he said. “But as I watched the volts and the currents die, I knew how much we had lost.”

By Tuesday morning, Wilson and the Entergy staff had the full report that all of their St. John and St. James customers were without power. Even in St. Charles, which is under a different Entergy management team, power was almost completely out.

To start the monumental task of restoring power to the thousands of obviously anxious customers, Wilson said that Entergy has a clear system to approach what might otherwise seem like a job that is far too big for anyone to figure out.

“We are actually prepared for these things before hurricane season begins,” he said. “We have maps printed out of all the areas we cover, and they are ready to go up on the walls.”

Hence, the sight you see in the Entergy office when you walk in after a hurricane.

Wilson said that his company has the two parish coverage area down to 37 different maps, which all show a small portion of the River Region. Very simply, his crews of workers color code them to show what work is finished, and who has gotten power.

But before the work begins, Entergy has an equally huge job to just figure out where the problems are.

Sure, computers can say which transmission lines no longer have power, but Wilson said nothing can replace the human eye, which has to visually inspect every inch of line.

That means sending crews out to look at over 200 miles of what Wilson calls “the feeder backbone,” as well as 460 miles of actual electric lines.

“We have to inspect 660 miles of lines, assessing where there are repairs to be made,” he said.

While some people were criticizing Entergy for supposedly not being on the streets by Tuesday morning restoring power, Wilson said that his crew can’t do anything until they know exactly where the problems are, and what it will take to fix them.

“Personally, I think the work by these guys was just stellar—outstanding,” he said. “Our crews leave their families and homes to come spend long, long hours working for us. And it’s all because they want to do the job of getting our customers back on line.”

Entergy Customer Service Representative Sheila Butler said Entergy had a total of 785 crews working, which included hundreds from out-of-town, with many crews putting in 16-hour days.

“I’m new to this area and I have to admit that I was so impressed with the pride of the employees here to get this job done,” she said. “They left their families and homes for days to do this job. People just take it so for granted that when they flip the light switch at home, they have light. When they don’t have the power, I know it’s appreciated more, so I understand that they are anxious to get their electricity back.”

Entergy was expecting to have all their customers, “other than a few spots,” back with power by today, but the bad weather expected in the area beginning on Friday from Hurricane Ike might have delayed what few homes had not been restored.

Wilson, who came to work for Entergy in 1999, said this was his first hurricane to work, but was very impressed with how quickly the crews got power back to the region after so much damage.

“From what I’ve seen, Reserve was hit harder from this storm than from anything they’ve ever gotten. And overall, the damage here was certainly as bad as if it compared to Katrina,” he explained. “But I feel really good about the work getting done in such a short time. It was great.”

Despite other criticism that certain areas had favoritism in getting restored, Wilson again repeated what has been said by the officials all along. The priority began with life saving facilities to emergency services, life supporting facilities, major roadways, businesses with key services, and then “the areas that give us the most bang for our buck,” meaning Entergy would go for areas with the most people in a small region.