With hurricane season approaching, Entergy Texas is using the many lessons learned from Hurricane Rita to strengthen storm-response capabilities. More than 286,000 Entergy Texas customers were left without power following Hurricane Rita’s landfall last Sept. 24. The company serves 380,000 customers.

“Entergy restored power to all customers who were able to take electricity in 21 days,” said John Mullins, distribution operations director. “In addition, we learned several new things about storm response during what was the most devastating event in Entergy Texas history.”

The company suffered extensive damage following Rita, which severed all transmission connections between Louisiana and Texas. In Texas alone, nearly 10,000 distribution power poles were downed, many snapped in half. Power generating units at Lewis Creek near Conroe and Sabine Station near Bridge City were also taken off line by the storm, with the Sabine plant suffering extensive damage.

Restoring power after the storm cost the company about US$400 million.

Since Rita, however, company workers have made repairs and fully restored Southeast Texas’ electrical system. Additionally, improvements are planned for the logistics of power restoration should another storm strike, and upgrades have been made to key electronic equipment in the company’s distribution operations center.

Mullins said the company has repaired all known storm damage that could affect the reliability of the electrical system and performed visual patrols of primary circuits. Texas employees are continually monitoring rights-of-way for dead trees inside or outside the right-of-way that could fall into lines and disrupt service. “When we discover trees outside our rights-of-way that could present a threat, we are working with landowners on removal in order to prevent outages,” Mullins said.

Mullins said lessons learned from Rita will be incorporated into storm drills this year as part of testing the various response systems within the company.

Mullins cited several positives that came out of Rita. One involved the use of helicopters to perform aerial assessments immediately after the storm. “Using helicopters was much faster than other types of patrols,” he said. “It helped expedite repairs.” Mullins also cited coordination with industrial customers to get the many plants in Southeast Texas back on line. “Getting plants back up was critical to our success,” he said.

Mullins said many lessons were learned in the area of logistics. Before the storm struck, 4000 personnel were pre-staged to respond to the storm. The workforce swelled to more than 10,000 workers once restoration began. The size of the workforce, made up of electrical workers from around the country, made it possible to restore power quickly. Mullins said that Rita proved that getting major logistical arrangements--hotels, motels, food, etc.--lined up before crews arrived was critical when receiving an army of people.

In addition to completing repairs before the new hurricane season arrives, Entergy Texas has also upgraded its Automated Mapping and Facilities Management system. The technology is used in the Distribution Operations Center (DOC) at Edison Plaza and provides instant information regarding the status of equipment throughout Southeast Texas. It is also used to dispatch workers when outages occur. DOC Manager Gerald Jones said features have been added that improves the efficiency of the company’s dispatching system.