Area leaders hear Entergy’s emergency plan

Published 12:00 am Tuesday, August 18, 2009

By David Vitrano

RESERVE—A group of local leaders including St. James Parish President Dale Hymel Jr., St. James Sheriff Willie Martin, Mike Tregre and Greg Maurin of the St. John District Attorney’s Office and Executive Director of the St. John United Way Dean Torres as well as representatives from the Port of South Louisiana and local healthcare facilities recently gathered at Entergy’s Reserve office for a program explaining the company’s storm response procedures. And with three named systems developing over the past week, the timing was perfect.

Entergy Customer Service Manager Sheila Butler welcomed the guests and gave a short introduction to the program before turning the reins over to Network Supervisor Willie Wilson, who handled the bulk of the program.

Wilson started his explanation by saying, “We’re trying to build your confidence in us.”

He then went on to outline the different stages of the power company’s storm response procedures.

During the preparation stage, which happens throughout the year in anticipation of storm activity, the company determines priorities and examines the roles and responsibilities of each of its workers to figure out who must stay and who should evacuate in the event of a storm.

When a storm approaches, Entergy enters the pre-landfall stage. During this time, workers from other areas are mobilized and evacuation decisions are made. During landfall, the remaining workers generally ride out the storm and will only respond to calls of a life-threatening nature.

After the storm has passed, Entergy enters the post-landfall stage, during which damage is assessed and downed power lines are cleared.

The next stage, restoration, is the busiest stage for most workers. It is during this stage that power is restored to Entergy’s customers. According to Wilson, Entergy first tries to restore power to emergency and essential facilities such as hospitals and police and fire stations. They then work on problems in such a way that their actions will restore power to the greatest number of customers first and work their way down to smaller and smaller units.

The final stage of the plan is called the closeout stage. During closeout, those customers still without power have their power restored and the system is generally restored to its pre-storm capacity. Workers also assess their performance and see what lessons they have learned during this stage.

“We understand that there’s always room for improvement,” said Wilson. He added that many procedures have already changed since Hurricane Katrina roared ashore in 2005.

He also asked for patience from Entergy’s area customers as the company tries to restore power. The network, he said, covers all of St. John and most of St. James as well as portions of Ascension and St. Charles parishes. That’s a total of 33,000 customers and an area that includes 13 substations and 40 feeders.

Although workers often put in over 16 hours a day, seven days a week, covering such a large area takes time. He said during Hurricane Ike, there were 950 employees working to restore power across the region.

This year, Entergy hopes to move its staging area from to East St. John High School to the St. John Civic Center to accommodate the large number of workers more safely.