By Michael Downes
Tornados wreaked havoc across the southeastern United States on Easter Sunday and Monday, April 12-13, 2020, the strongest of which was rated a high-end EF4 and occurred in Mississippi. The tornado outbreak included a total of 140 tornados touching down and inflicting catastrophic damage across Mississippi and nine other states. Among those responding to the storm was Lewis Holifield, Natural Gas Operations area manager for CenterPoint Energy in Laurel, Mississippi. He and his team jumped to action when faced with the disaster, and his efficiency and dedication of service did not go unnoticed. For years, colleagues in the field have taken note of the great job he and his team do when responding to natural disasters as they occur in the area.
Lewis recently celebrated his 33-year anniversary with CenterPoint Energy. He values the clean source of energy CenterPoint Energy provides to its customers. “We serve the public – both residential and industrial customers – offering a very clean product. Natural gas plays a key role in assuring our energy supply remains strong, while providing consumers an affordable and safe source of energy.” Lewis also has a great appreciation for the “lower impact it has on the greenhouse effects we’re dealing with in today’s society.” Lewis values the product they offer and their customers, which is his primary motivation when faced with disasters, such as the one that occurred Easter Sunday. “The first thing is making sure that our customers and our employees are safe. Protecting the public and customer safety, that’s our number one priority—SAFETY.”
Being prepared is key. “We are always prepared for any kind of natural disasters. Once the storms pass through and it is safe to respond, we immediately dispatch our workforce to assess the affected areas. They start working on natural gas leaks due to weather damage and checking on any reports of blowing natural gas. We’ll have our construction crews on-site safely and efficiently working to make sure that we can get natural gas leaks stopped in a safe manner. The storm we experienced Easter Sunday was spread out so far that four of the areas I oversee were hit by the storm. We responded to all those areas. The fortunate part is that a lot of the storm damage took place in rural areas, so damage was minimal compared to the storm hitting a densely populated area. But no matter where the storms hit, we make every effort to ensure that our customers and employees are safe.”
Teamwork is always an important element in this industry, but never so important as in times of duress. “Teamwork is also important in our everyday work. While conducting restoration work, we locate natural gas lines to make sure nothing gets damaged. Teamwork and communication are extremely important during a storm.”
Lewis explains what it looks like during these kinds of emergencies. “Our first objective is to collaborate with first responders to secure the area and identify natural gas leaks and get them repaired as safely and quickly as possible. When there’s a weather event, command centers are set up for all the utility companies to evaluate damage and respond accordingly. Our plan is straight-forward – First, stop any natural gas leaks. Then, inspect the area to identify and mark broken poles and uprooted trees along natural gas lines so power companies can make repairs and restore electricity to customers without damaging our pipelines. We know that there may be other buried utilities in the area and we want to make sure that we’ve done all we can do to prevent our buried natural gas lines from being hit.”
“Often, storm restoration can be very hectic. That’s why we try to be proactive, and it seems to be working. Out of all the storms we had that came through Easter Sunday, we didn’t have any natural gas lines damaged by other utility companies making repairs.” It is this kind of commitment to effective communication and teamwork, of searching out and marking lines before being asked, that makes Lewis Holifield a real Mississippi 811 Damage Prevention Champion!
Lewis made it clear to us that this is not something he does on his own. “The one thing I would like to add is that I couldn’t do this job without the team. I’ve got dedicated employees that really care about what they do. I can call on them at any time, and they’re there. They’re always willing to do above what is called for to make sure we provide service to our customers and we do it right. My team is what makes me look good.”
Lewis concluded, “I’ve always believed you can do anything you put your mind to and do a good job at it. I believe in working hard and dedicating time to your job to make sure everything is done right.
But there’s nothing like being with my family. That’s my number one goal. I want to work safely to be sure I can be with my family at the end of the day. Because that’s important to me, I’m also aware of the importance of doing everything I can do to make sure that the people I work with go home safe to their own families at the end of the day. I believe in doing the right thing because if you do the right thing all the time, you don’t have to worry about anything else.”
Congratulations, Lewis. Your commitment to safety, teamwork and core values has been recognized by your peers. Thanks for all you do and have done to make Mississippi a safer place to live and work!