Western environmental science professor Scott Miles was awarded a $32,000 grant by the National Science Foundation to study power outages caused by Hurricane Isaac.
Hurricane Isaac hit the Louisiana coastline in August 2012.
Miles ultimately hopes the research will help form a universal means of evaluating the performance of power companies in emergency situations.
“There are definitely things to improve upon,” Miles said. “It’d be nice for the public to understand just how complicated it is to get the power back on. There is no technology in human existence right now that is more complex than the power grid.“
The research will focus on complaints made by the public about the slow response time of Entergy, a Louisiana power supplier. Hurricane Isaac struck New Orleans on Aug. 29, and by Sept. 3 only 90 percent of homes had their power restored. Some areas were without power for up to nine days, Miles said.
Nine days is brief compared to the aftermath of Hurricane Sandy last November, which knocked out power in parts of New York and New Jersey for up to 13 days after. In 2004, Hurricane Katrina took 23 days to restore power to New Orleans, according to the Associated Press.
However, Hurricanes Isaac and Katrina had very different circumstances surrounding them, Miles said.
“With Katrina, people largely evacuated either before or immediately after, so there wasn’t necessarily an urgency to get the power on,” Miles said. “With [Hurricane Isaac], people didn’t evacuate, so they were experiencing the power outage and wanted it fixed.”
Miles said he has no reason to think Entergy did a poor job restoring power, but he can understand the public outcry.
“One politician said he saw line workers at the strip clubs and the bars downtown and that made him upset,” Miles said.
However, the line workers were legally prohibited from fixing the power lines because the high winds in the area were a safety concern, Miles said.
Miles’ fieldwork began October 2012. He spent 10 days conducting interviews with more than 40 emergency workers, politicians and government officials. The rest of his research will be conducted through phone and email surveys, and will focus more on business owners. He plans on enlisting undergraduate students to aid in the research process.
Miles is awaiting approval on a larger grant that will allow him to compare data from different power outages and determine economic and social patterns. In the meantime, he plans to incorporate aspects from his research in New Orleans into his classes.