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What Houston Utilities Learned From A ‘Category Tree’ Hurricane

With the start of hurricane season just a few days away, Houston's largest power provider says it's still looking for ways to lessen the effects of a big storm on the city's power grid.



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Hurricanes Alicia in 1983 and Rita in 2005 helped to strengthen CenterPoint’s storm recovery culture with annual drills and mutual assistance efforts with other utilities around the country. But Hurricane Ike slammed the area with a vengeance, knocking out power to more than 2 million customers.

This is Alicia Dixon with CenterPoint Energy.

“Hurricane Ike was — we called that a “category tree” hurricane. It was all about the tree damage, even far outside of our easements. Tall trees were falling into our power lines, into our poles. Wasn’t a lot of flooding particularly, it was really the wind and the tree debris in our lines.”

Long ago, utilities around the country banded together to help each other out in times of need and Dixon says Ike certainly qualified.

“It was tough, we’re part of a mutual assistance network of companies. We brought in 11,000 resources from all over the country and as far away as Canada to come in and help us restore power. In fact, we just got back from Oklahoma City, we just sent crews up there to help after the devastation in More, Oklahoma. No utility staffs on a consistent basis, to handle that type of restoration efforts, so that’s what that network of companies is all about.”

Power restoration after Hurricane Ike was made on a priority basis: fire-stations, hospitals, and other health care-related facilities getting electricity back first.

She says there is a science to responding to outages after a major storm.

“It takes time to get our resources in. They have to have safety meetings, get to their staging sites, get out and do the work. Again, the goal is to bring on as many customers as we can, as quickly and efficiently and safely as possible.”

Four days after Ike, most transmission lines were up and running, but Dixon says it was a learning experience, with some customers without power for several weeks.

“When you have 11,000 additional resources coming into the city — and you have to get to jobs and the traffic lights aren’t working — it creates challenges. So, we added more staging sites, smaller sites throughout our city, so people could get to the work faster — could get in and out faster — and we’re improving the way we communicate with folks.”   

The public is invited to a free hurricane workshop with CenterPoint, the City of Houston and the National Weather Service. It happens on Saturday, the first official day of hurricane season, from 10 a.m.-3 p.m. at the George R. Brown Convention Center.