In August 2021, we sent more than 100 employees and contractors to Louisiana to help repair utility infrastructure damage and restore energy service for thousands of customers impacted by Hurricane Ida.
Over the years, Pepco has sent hundreds of crews and support personnel to assist energy companies in the Mid-Atlantic and across the country, as part of regional mutual assistance networks. To help provide a firsthand account of our mutual assistance efforts, Pepco Senior Engineer, Brian Bell, sat down with us to share his experiences during this nearly three-week restoration effort.
Timothy: Thanks for taking the time to chat with me today, Brian. Really looking forward to learning about your efforts in Louisiana. To kick us off, I think our readers would be interested to hear about the type of damage you saw on the ground, once you arrived in Louisiana.
Brian: Thanks for having me. Happy to share my experiences. The damage to the local infrastructure and utilities was extensive throughout the region. Most of the residential homes and commercial businesses either had some form of roof damage or had their roofs blown completely off. The roofs for many establishments were blown several streets over. Windows were shattered and glass was everywhere. A majority of the residents and businesses were without power.
While navigating through the streets, days after the storm had passed, there were hundreds of utility poles and miles of power lines laying across roads. We could drive an hour and not see a standing utility pole or working traffic signal. It was tough to see, especially the impact it had on the residents in the area.
Timothy: That’s terrible to hear and mirrors what the national media was sharing following the aftermath of the storm. Can you tell us what it was like to see and work in this type of environment?
Brian: Seeing the hurricane’s destruction firsthand, I could truly see the power that nature possesses and the mercy it lacks. I was in awe seeing some megastructures completely collapsed and damaged beyond repair. In some cases, I saw the homes of people laying on top of other homes after being completely lifted and thrown by the storm. Witnessing people living without daily utilities for over a week and knowing it would take at least a month to fully restore was eye-opening. Not having simple things such as light, phone service, refrigeration, and air conditioning puts into perspective how much we take for granted some of our basic necessities.
Timothy: What kind of work did you and/or your team handle as part of the restoration efforts in Louisiana?
Brian: My role was specific to engineering support. I worked with the local utility to mark locations in the area that would require any digging or new utility poles needing placement. I also assisted in meeting with crews in the field to direct them toward their next worksite.
Timothy: Where in Louisiana did you and your team complete your assigned restoration work?
Brian: Our team was assigned to the Terrebonne Parish of Houma, La. This was one of the most impacted areas by the hurricane. Houma is located about an hour southwest of New Orleans, La.
Timothy: I’m sure you’ve heard this before but I want to make sure I thank you for your efforts in Louisiana on behalf of Pepco. I know these mutual assistance opportunities are volunteer based so I’d like to know what you enjoyed most about offering your time to help with the restoration work in Louisiana?
Brian: The humility and appreciation of the residents was the most rewarding and impactful part of the experience. The people displayed gratitude for the utility workers and our efforts in the most memorable ways I had ever witnessed. Residents made signs along the roads thanking the utility workers for being in the region. The residents would drive up with cooked meals and cold drinks, to feed workers while they worked extended hours to restore power. I saw residents from nearby states and cities drive all the way into the aftermath to provide food and beverages to those in need. I received several hand-made thank you cards from the children in the area. I received consistent gratitude from everyone I met every day I was there. Even the residents that didn’t have much after the hurricane were still offering what little they had to support the restoration efforts. It was a powerful moment for me and showed me the good in humankind.
Timothy: That’s beautiful to hear. From a personal perspective, why did you decide to volunteer for this mutual assistance request?
Brian: I had never volunteered for mutual assistance before. I wanted to provide my support after hearing about the destruction. It was a great moment to give back to the community.
Timothy: Why do you think participating in mutual assistance opportunities outside of your service area is so important?
Brian: It’s a great opportunity to work with coworkers and others from different utility companies and learn from them. I gained experience from working along individuals from other roles and from different backgrounds. We were able to exchange knowledge and stories. I was also able to gain a newfound appreciation for customer satisfaction.
Timothy: Again, Brian, it’s been great speaking with you and thank you again for your efforts. In closing, I’d just like for you to share with us what you think others should know about these mutual assistance opportunities?
Brian: Thanks again for the opportunity to share my story, Timothy. While the experience was unlike any other for me, it can be very demanding. You are required to work double shifts everyday without any weekend breaks for the term of the commitment. You are not guaranteed comfortable lodging and must come prepared to sleep in tents or in vehicles. In this case, we found lodging at a staging area that required us to sleep in trailers that contained bunkbeds. The staging area contained trailers that had hot showers and only port-a-potties available for our use. We were provided a meal in the early morning before heading out to our work sites and received a meal when we returned to the staging area in the late evening. There were no places to buy food outside of this which made the daily food and beverage support of the locals significant and even more appreciated.
It’s wasn’t a glamorous job but the pride I felt while helping my fellow humans is something I’ll never forget and will cherish forever.