Opinion

What The Media Won’t Tell You About Gulf Coast Hurricane Recovery

(Photo by Joe Raedle/Getty Images)

Ronnie Shows Former Democratic Congressman

As someone who spent most of his life in elected politics, I learned it’s human nature to place blame somewhere else, when things don’t go your way. Most politicians know this too, which is why whenever there is a disaster – natural or manmade – many elected officials get on their pedestal and criticize whatever government agency, or business, they think voters want publicly shamed.

In the recent case of a United Airlines passenger – with a seat he paid for — being beaten bloody and dragged off an airplane, we all enjoyed as politicians and celebrities ridiculed the company and its leadership. It even led to the current chairman of United Airlines losing his chance to become its CEO. In the long run, the national outcry directed at United Airlines was beneficial to society, because it encourages all carriers to treat their passengers better.

However, while politicians – and the general public – are always quick to place blame, we often struggle to acknowledge a job well done, especially in a disaster setting. To me, this is a shame, because when public servants – and corporations – do a good job, we need to make an effort to praise their hard work. After all, it makes the people who did a good job feel appreciated and inspires others to also achieve positive results.

Which brings me to the most recent disasters impacting Houston and Florida – two devastating hurricanes that led to lives being lost and billions of dollars of damage. As someone who has been through his fair share of hurricanes, I know one of the greatest issues impacting people living in those areas, immediately after the storms, is the return of electricity. After all, the return of power means that air conditioners and de-humidifiers will function, which allows people to sleep comfortably and not worry about mold destroying their homes. It also means you can keep food in the refrigerator, drive on streets with traffic lights and generally feel like life is returning to normal.

When I served in the Mississippi State Senate, I chaired the committee that oversaw the utilities in the state, and also served as Highway Commissioner, so I have a pretty good understanding of what the utilities need to do to ensure that their customers get power back as soon as possible after a bad storm.

To be sure, there are times when the utilities have not performed up to snuff. But in reality, the long delays to power restoration are not always the fault of the electric companies. Most of the time, what slows the return of electricity are roads and highways blocked with downed trees and debris, preventing service vehicles from servicing the power lines.

We should also praise the utilities for getting better at coping with large disasters. Whenever these storms approach, the companies – often across state lines — work together to send linemen, trucks and other equipment to those impacted areas to quickly get to work and help restore power. This is happening right now in Texas and Florida. In fact, friends of mine in Naples, Florida said that they had power back just a few days after Irma slammed that region. This is impressive and thousands of homes and business will not fall victims to mold infestation due to the hard work of the utilities.

Finally, one question I have been getting from my friends and neighbors living in areas threatened by hurricanes, is whether or not solar panels will help them get access to power more quickly after a storm. My answer to them is no, because solar panels are typically connected to the electrical grid. If the grid is not powered, their homes will not be either. This is to protect the linemen working to restore the grid, from having electricity running through damaged powerlines.

My friends on the Gulf Coast tell me that the power companies in Texas and Florida did a great job restoring electricity – even to the regions most devastated by Hurricanes Harvey and Irma. There isn’t a lot of media coverage of this, because the public, the press and politicians typically only focus on the electric companies when they’re failing. But I want to commend the utilities, and remind folks to appreciate their employees. Those utility workers, are men and women who spent many hours away from their families and loved ones, to ensure that people living in the aftermaths of Harvey and Irma could quickly get back to their own lives.

Shows, a lobbyist, represents energy companies, but does not represent the utilities industry