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 regions
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 nations refining capacity, in Louisiana, Mississippi, and
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
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
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 Agencys (EPAs) ENERGY STAR program
extends building code requirements for new home construction to
meet rigorous energy efficiency guidelines.
Homes in the post-Katrina Gulf Coasttrailers, renovated structures,
or new buildingsrequire 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. Businesses require electricity not only for
lighting, but also for computers, office equipment, a variety of
machines, and advertising.
According to the Federal Financial Institutions Examination Council
(FFIEC), Power and telecommunications outages can disrupt all
electronic forms of payments, including debit and credit card
payments. Customers and employers remaining in, or evacuating from,
flooded or damaged neighborhoods, central business districts,
industrial parks, and rural areas often require substantial amounts
of cash to pay for critical goods and services, particularly if
they cannot return to their homes and businesses.
Conventional Electricity Distribution
I refer to conventional energy generation and distribution in the
Gulf Region as a single flower model of electric power. More than
90 percent of the electric power distributed to homes, businesses,
industries, and transportation comes from generators owned by a
The electric power infrastructure serving Louisiana, Mississippi,
Texas, and Alabama during and after Hurricane Katrina broke down
during the natural disaster. Commercial power depended upon coal,
petroleum, and nuclear fuel sources. Ironically, hydropower is used
significantly less than fossil and nuclear fuel sources combined.
Fuel was damaged by water. Rail and road deliveries of fuel to
generate plants were disrupted.
The Entergy Corporation was at the center of a kind of complex
electricity federalism in which federal law requires investor-owned
electricity companies to file a proposal or a progress report on
how they would create or join a Regional Transmission Organization
(RTO). The RTO acted as an umbrella organization by bringing all
utility transmission systems within a region under common control.
The Southwest Power Pool (SPP) was created in 2003 as a RTO
approved by the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission (FERC). It
serves 4 million customers in all or parts of eight states,
including Louisiana, Mississippi, and Texas. Alabama belongs to
another RTO, SeTrans. RTOs are essential to the web of electricity
reliability but they back up single flower electricity generation.
However, decisions about generation needs, transmission and
distribution lines, fuel source, and how the RTO members would
respond to customer need and demands are made as much in the RTO as
by individual utilities and their state regulatory agencies. The
bottom line in electricity is the goal of reliable electricity
service to customers.
Reliability includes both adequacy and security. Adequacy is the
continuing ability of the electric system to supply customer
requirements at all times and at reasonable rates. Security is the
ability of the electric system to endure sudden disturbances,
whether technical, financial, or at the onset of a natural
disaster. Both reliability and security were compromised by
The challenge is to assure reliability and security as the
electricity generation, transmission, and distribution system is
redesigned. Fortunately, public, private, and community-based
initiatives are moving the Gulf Region from a single flower to a
Garden Model of electricity generation and distribution. The garden
includes multiple sources of fuel, including solar, wind, hydro,
and other renewable optionsas depicted in Figure 1.
The Renewable Energy Equation
Although small in scale, various renewable energy strategies are
redesigning the electricity infrastructure in states that are at
risk for hurricanes. Smaller in scale, potentially more resilient
in a storm, and accessible to a variety of communities and
businesses, these green reconstruction strategies are part of the
mitigation, preparedness, and response phases of emergency
management. As instruments of mitigation, solar photovoltaic units
are portable and can build electrical storage capacity needed for
emergency and backup electricity generation.
Individual units powering street lights and signage can be more
readily replaced than electric power substations or even damaged
transmission lines connected to damaged generation systems. Solar
contributions to battery storage help to address radio system
disruptions that result from power outages, tower failures, and
system interconnect failures.
The solar technology is now reaching beyond the 24 to 48 hours of
outage capability to nearly one-week. This allows time for
conventional facilities to be repaired and restored. Renewable
electricity generation can be configured to backup or even replace
convention electrical systems. Once hurricanes and flood surges
end, the sun comes out and the wind blows gently again.
The Obama Strategy
In April 2009, President Obama signed into law the American
Recovery and Reinvestment Act (ARRA). Many provisions of this
statute support an integrated renewable energy strategy for
emergency management. As Figure 2 indicates, the ARRA includes key
emergency management provisions.
Community disaster loans, transit and rail security grants, and the
port security grants provide funding for not only disaster
recovery, but also reconstruction. Reconstruction includes
opportunities to redesign homes, businesses, transit, street
lights, and port facilities with both more energy-efficient
components and equipment, solar photovoltaic, and other renewable
The administration strategy also addresses the inevitable question:
How will the electricity infrastructure makeover be financed?
Initial federal investments, combined with state and local public,
corporate, and community initiatives, will finance much of the new
garden electricity model.
However, these investments yield returns in the form of reduced and
avoided utility costs, reduced demand for fossil fuel, and an
expanded participation in electricity generation by hospitals,
schools, factories, and other institutions with generators.
Another return-on-investment for this strategy is the reliability,
security, and resiliency of telecommunications, medical, transport,
law enforcement, and educational systems. Electricity is central to
all of these systems. Moving from passive consumers of electricity,
the garden model invites these systems to contribute to electricity
production and management.
Using the 204 provisions of the 1978 Public Utility Act and
provisions of the new energy statute recently signed by President
Obama, hospitals, universities, factors, and other institutions
with excess electricity capacity can contribute to the electricity
These contributions build the capability the electricity network
beyond the conventional single flower model. Combined with energy
efficiency strategies provided for in other parts of the 2009 ARRA,
electricity-contributing institutions can reinforce the connection
between electricity reliability and security and emergency
Elements of an Electricity-Emergency Management
An electricity-emergency management strategy involves rebuilding
electricity infrastructure by diversifying supply and constructing
smaller, community- and small business-managed units that will
reduce risk of supply disruption, expand response capability, and
expedite both mitigation and recovery. Another element is to
include a reconsideration of electricity federalism by assessing
grid risk and capacity by hurricane zone rather than by state, and
balancing federal, state, local, and community roles.
Other elements of the strategy should include encouraging small
power supply and production and collaboration between conventional
and alternative supply and recasting risk in electricity
reliability terms. More important, this sort of strategy can use
economic recovery as an opportunity to redesign the electric
generation or distribution system in garden terms.