From Flower to Garden: Katrina-Electricity and Emergency Management: Plans Are Afoot to Rebuild the Country Infrastruture-A Collaborative Strategy Requiring Public, and Community-Based Involvement

By Henderson, Lenneal | The Public Manager, Fall 2009 | Go to article overview

From Flower to Garden: Katrina-Electricity and Emergency Management: Plans Are Afoot to Rebuild the Country Infrastruture-A Collaborative Strategy Requiring Public, and Community-Based Involvement


Henderson, Lenneal, The Public Manager


Hurricane Katrina taught federal, state, and local public managers extensive lessons about the criticality of electricity reliability in a disaster. In the report, The Federal Response to Hurricane Katrina: Lessons Learned, the White House conceded that, "Hurricane Katrina had a significant impact on many sectors of the region's 'critical infrastructure,' especially the energy sector." However, the first lines of this concession focused on the shutdown and disruption of crude oil and natural gas recovery in the Gulf of Mexico and the shutdown of 11 petroleum refineries, or one-sixth of the nation's refining capacity, in Louisiana, Mississippi, and Alabama.

[ILLUSTRATION OMITTED]

Only later in the paragraph does the report turn to the 2.5 million customers who suffered power outages across a 90,000 square mile area in Louisiana, Mississippi, and Alabama. Homes, businesses, and federal, state, and local agencies had intermittent or no electricity. There was no light at night; no air conditioning; no refrigeration of food, essential medical supplies, and equipment; and no computers, radios, televisions, or other communication devices powered by electricity.

According to an ICF International (www.icfi.com) report, by October 2005, an estimated 2.2 million people had registered for the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) aid, and 416,852 people were still without power in Louisiana, Texas, and parts of Mississippi. The irony was that energy-producing states were without energy or power for nearly six weeks.

Electricity disruption had a macabre connection to other parts of the disaster. The absence of lights at night encouraged predatory crime. The oppressive summer heat was unmerciful to those with chronic respiratory illnesses and to children and the elderly. Those providing emergency medical assistance could not access vaccines, antibiotics, or other medicines that needed to be stored in refrigerators or electrically operated security storage. The lack of street lights made walking, swimming, navigating, or driving nearly impossible. Food could not be stored or cooked in large quantities.

The Entergy Corporation, an integrated utility that distributes electricity to 2.7 million residential, commercial, and industrial customers in Arkansas, Louisiana, Mississippi, and Texas, and natural gas to 184,000 customers in Louisiana, suffered significant damage to its more than 15,500 miles of high-voltage transmission lines and 1,550 transmission substations. This was as a result of the hurricane, the flooding aftermath, and the destruction of the capacity of customers to pay bills. The company went bankrupt and only recently emerged as a restructured utility.

Recovery and Electricity

Since 2006, massive efforts to rebuild homes, businesses, and industries include a reconsideration of the role of electrical infrastructure. As the ICF report indicates, "In the 140 years since the Civil War, the Gulf Coast region was populated with about 2 million single-family homes that, by 2000, cost an average of $71,685, nearly $48,000 less than the average single-family home in America."

These homes were not only cheaper, but typically more than 30 years old. Energy efficiency in these homes was among the lowest in the United States. FEMA indicates that 310,353 new single-family homes are needed in the Gulf Region because 241,524 were destroyed in Louisiana, 68,466 in Mississippi, and 363 in Alabama. Moreover, the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency's (EPA's) ENERGY STAR program extends building code requirements for new home construction to meet rigorous energy efficiency guidelines.

Homes in the post-Katrina Gulf Coast--trailers, renovated structures, or new buildings--require electricity for cooking, air conditioning and heating, refrigeration, lighting, and the operation of basic household appliances. Communities rely on electricity for street lighting, signage, semaphores, water pumps, and a variety of storage facilities. …

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