By Roger Cox
President ACTS Now, Inc.

An EF3 tornado ripped through Ruston early Thursday morning on April 25. EF3 tornadoes have winds of 136 – 165 miles per hour. Two people were killed as the powerful twister sent trees into houses, ripped roofs off buildings and snapped power lines and poles throughout the path of the storm.

Residents were awakened as the result of the chaos caused by the storm. As calls came in to the various utility companies, plans for recovery were already being implemented.

A command post was set up so that both utilities and first responders could coordinate their specific responsibilities. Clear and concise communication is critical in difficult times such as these. When severe weather or a natural disaster occurs, nothing is more important than the safety of the residents and those who are working to restore life back to normal.

Utility companies like CenterPoint Energy (CPE), Ruston’s natural gas provider, knows the importance of protecting their underground gas lines every day. Protecting all underground utility lines is important. When damages occur, essential services are interrupted, costly repairs are required, work on the project that caused the hit is delayed and most seriously, the safety of crew members and the public are exposed to risk.

If striking a gas line on a clear day can cause a major disaster, on this particular day, it was even more critical to avoid striking a gas line, as everybody was already dealing with a major disaster. CenterPoint then contacted USIC, their contract locating company in Louisiana, to help them create a storm response strategy.

USIC dispatched six (6) additional technicians to locate CenterPoint gas lines ahead of the City of Ruston’s Light and Electric department. The power company had to replace power poles across a major part of the city. Having the gas lines identified before replacing the poles (even in the same hole) is a critical step in keeping utility workers and the general public safe.

While USIC’s technicians who were assigned to the storm response continued to locate ahead of the power company, the regularly assigned USIC locating technicians kept up with the other utilities that were also impacted in the area.

By locating ahead of the pole replacement, CPE’s lines were protected, and the City of Ruston’s electric department was able to quickly restore services to vital areas in the city while allowing the businesses and residents to focus on getting their own lives back together.

The teamwork continued throughout the recovery. The CenterPoint employees involved in the recovery and several of the USIC employees that worked the storm sat down together a few days later to discuss the storm, the impact and to review what they’d learned from the experience. Listed below are just a few of the lessons learned and shared through this interview.

  1. It was amazing how fast the response team came together. It was agreed that everybody involved had already exchanged phone numbers and knew who to call. A plan was in place, communication was clear and a common goal was established in the field.
  2. Everyone on the storm response team had a specific role and all stakeholders depended on each stakeholder to fulfill that role. USIC storm response locators were in constant contact with the crews involved in pole replacement and located ahead of the work being performed which allowed the CenterPoint technicians to work the emergency outages caused by trees falling on houses or meter sets.
  3. Finally, one of the more amazing facts heard while sitting down with these damage prevention professionals was their statement that during the chaos of getting things back to normal, there was not one CPE underground gas line damaged as the result of the restoration. As remarkable as that sounds, not one!

The question was asked, “Zero damages and zero injuries? How is that even possible?” Perhaps it is not just a slogan. If it can be achieved in the chaos of a storm recovery in Ruston, I wonder if it is possible to reach the goal in all of Lincoln Parish? Or maybe even in East Baton Rouge Parish?

Hats off to CenterPoint Energy, USIC and to all those who worked together in Ruston for making this story possible.

Dig Safely!