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Today is September 20, 2018


Mississippi co-op crews help in Irma recovery operations

By Michael Callahan

Michael Callahan
Michael Callahan,
Executive Vice President/CEO
EPAs of Mississippi

Mississippians stepped up to serve on the front lines of emergency operations in Florida after Hurricane Irma raked that state Sept. 10.

The Mississippi Emergency Management Agency immediately sent teams of emergency response specialists to help with search, rescue and recovery efforts. Florida was the first state to arrive on the Mississippi Gulf Coast after Hurricane Katrina, according to MEMA director Lee Smithson, so this was our chance to offer them the same aid.

Once we determined the storm would not seriously impact electric service here, Mississippi’s electric cooperatives deployed 333 workers and equipment to help Florida electric cooperatives rebuild their electrical grid. These same electric cooperatives came to help us after Katrina, and we were glad to return the favor.

Electric cooperatives in 25 states created a force of 5,000 workers to speed the unprecedented power restoration in the region affected by Irma. Millions of people lost power in Florida, South Carolina and Georgia as the hurricane uprooted trees and smashed utility poles. This likely will become the largest hurricane-related power outage in U.S. history.

Electric power restoration leads the way to recovery from a natural disaster. Safety tops the lists of reasons why we act quickly and decisively in such emergencies; downed power lines must be cleared to allow safe passage through affected areas.

Thousands of miles of power lines must be rebuilt as soon as weather conditions allow. Electricity is crucial for all phases of disaster relief work, including security and law enforcement, sanitation and water supply, communications, shelter operations, traffic control, and so on.

Obviously, the more crews we have rebuilding the power grid, the sooner it can become functional again. Toward this end, the Electric Cooperatives of Mississippi (ECM), based in Ridgeland, coordinates emergency operations among the 25 electric distribution cooperatives and one generation-and-transmission cooperative in the state.

Each distribution cooperative is a locally owned utility. But all 26 cooperatives work together to achieve mutual goals—emergency power restoration being one of the most important.

What’s more, ECM is part of a multi-state network of electric cooperatives that meet each year to discuss ways to improve their emergency response plans and coordination. This mutual-aid network provides the contacts and means for a fast, coordinated team response uniting electric cooperatives throughout the region after major disasters.

We in Mississippi have often been on the receiving end of this aid. Time and again out-of-state cooperative crews have helped us rebuild lines destroyed by hurricanes, tornadoes, ice storms and floods. In fact, we are very good at disaster recovery because we’ve had so much experience doing it!

Mississippi’s recent aid to other states is not limited to electric utility work—or to the Irma recovery. In August, the Mississippi Forestry Commission sent a crew of wildland firefighters to Montana to help contain some of the wildfires that have plagued the Northwest this summer.

And after Hurricane Harvey left a trail of destruction in Texas and Louisiana, countless individuals, organizations and businesses in Mississippi donated truck loads of food and supplies (and sent money) to help jumpstart the long recovery process.

Mississippians’ first reaction upon seeing any community suffer is to reach out with donations of goods, money and services. It’s not because we may get something in return. It’s simply because helping others is the right thing to do.   

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