NATCHITOCHES – Northwestern State University is serving as a basecamp and staging area to utility crews from around the United States and Canada this week as linemen travel to Louisiana to restore power to storm-battered areas in the aftermath of Hurricane Laura. Thousands of people across the state have been without power since Laura made landfall in Cameron as a Category 4 storm late Wednesday, Aug. 26 and early Thursday, Aug. 27.
Logistics are facilitated through Storm Services LLC, in cooperation with regional service provider Southwestern Electric Power Company. Storm Services offers complete mobile infrastructure and disaster services and specializes in providing logistics for large numbers of workers who are temporarily relocated and require housing, food, water, laundry and sanitary facilities when a natural disaster or regional emergency occurs. The basecamp is one of eight currently up and running in Louisiana.
SWEPCO began wrapping up recovery in the Shreveport-Bossier area earlier this week and relocated its staging area at CenturyLink Center to Northwestern State.
A huge dining tent is erected in NSU’s main commuter parking lot in the center of campus with dozens of mobile sleep trailers lined up in parking lots near university residence halls for the crews that work 16-hour days. The sleep trailers can accommodate up to 30 workers each. Fleets of utility work trucks are parked at Prather Coliseum and workers are bused to and from the housing and dining facilities to start and end their shifts.
The Louisiana School for Math, Science and the Arts also coordinated to house linemen and other workers in nearby Caddo Hall.
“SWEPCO contacted NSU and the Louisiana School about using our campus to facilitate their mobilization,” said Jennifer Kelly, director of University Affairs. “There is nowhere else in Natchitoches Parish, the heart of SWEPCO’s Valley District, where they can park trucks and set up services for the workers.”
SWEPCO employees Mary Burton and Vera Severin were working as housing coordinators for the crews. Burton, AMR coordinator for SWEPCO, said the dining facility fed about 450 workers Tuesday and about 800 Wednesday with more expected to arrive.
The operation began Monday and workers were told to be prepared to stay through Saturday, said Severin, who is a field revenue specialist for SWEPCO. The crews are prepared hot meals served in an air-conditioned facility while also maintaining social distancing and COVID-19 safety protocols.
“With so many people across the state without power, we at NSU are happy to offer assistance to those who are working non-stop to restore power to residents and businesses,” said NSU President Dr. Chris Maggio. NSU suspended classes through Tuesday, Sept. 8, which freed up the large parking lots for the use of the basecamp. Caddo Hall is currently available as LSMSA is holding virtual classes this semester due to COVID-19.
Louisiana Public Service Commissioner Foster Campbell toured the basecamp Wednesday with Maggio Kelly.
SWEPCO also assisted Northwestern with their campus clean-up process after the storm blew down trees and power lines, Kelly said.
As of mid-day Wednesday, SWEPCO had restored service to about 40 percent of its 42,000 customers in the Valley District.