The Power of Our People: Weathering the Storm During a Pandemic
Hurricane Laura hit the Louisiana coast as a major Category 4 hurricane – one of the strongest to make landfall in the state since 1856. It caused catastrophic damage in Louisiana and the Southwestern Electric Power Company (SWEPCO) territory. Our COVID-19 safety and health efforts were essential in protecting our employees and our peer utilities during hurricane restoration efforts.
When Hurricane Laura hit Louisiana in late 2020, more than 3,000 workers were deployed to support power restoration efforts. Hotel rooms were unavailable as local residents evacuated the area to safety. In response, SWEPCO mobilized base camps to house employees and visiting workers.
Each of the base camps housed 500 to 800 people. With safety and health as the top priority, the bunk trailers were retrofitted with special air filtration systems, and partitions to create compartments that allowed for social distancing, even while sleeping. They were filled to only a third of their capacity and they were sanitized twice a day. When crews checked-in, every individual completed a self-observation questionnaire and a temperature check. They were also required to physically distance and wear a face covering. Third-party COVID-19 observers also helped remind people to wear their masks and keep at least six feet from others when they were in common areas.
The safety precautions during restoration efforts allowed for crews to safely replace approximately 1,600 poles, 750 transformers and 1 million feet of conductor, despite the challenges posed by the pandemic.