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MLGW News Release
10 Years Later: MLGW Remembers "Hurricane Elvis": Utility's Largest Outage in History Led to Many Improvements
July 17, 2013

On July 22, 2003, a storm like no other hit Shelby County. Powerful straight-line winds cut a swath of destruction through MLGW's service area, knocking out power to nearly 339,000 customers.

"The 2003 storm brought many challenges to Shelby County and MLGW," said MLGW President and CEO Jerry Collins Jr. "In the 10 years since that catastrophic event, we have implemented numerous improvements to strengthen our system."

The outages represented more than 80 percent of MLGW’s customer base and was the largest outage event in the utility’s history. Over the next two weeks, more than 2,000 utility workers worked around the clock to clear debris, repair damage and rebuild MLGW’s electric system. More than 1,300 poles, 2,000 transformers, and 1,000 streetlights were repaired or replaced.

ore than 5,000 tons of tree debris was removed. MLGW’s force of about 1,000 employees was strengthened by another 1,000 outside utility workers and contractors. MLGW’s damages totaled in excess of $30 million. A video highlighting MLGW’s response can be found at A photo gallery can be found at

Ten years later, MLGW has implemented a number of improvements that were identified in the wake of the restoration:


  • MLGW now has a real-time outage map at that provides the public with a snapshot of affected areas, the number of outages, and estimated time of restoration.
  • Customers can now get outage updates via MLGW’s Twitter and Facebook sites, as well as its blog.
  • MLGW’s free iPhone and Android applications allow a customer to obtain an outage status at his or her address.
  • MLGW has the ability to utilize an automated call system to notify customers in affected areas of expected restoration times.


  • In 2007, MLGW opened its Bob Gary Emergency Operations Center at its Netters Business Center location on Whitten Road. It provides a central location for MLGW’s response team to coordinate restoration during an emergency.
  • MLGW created a Crisis Management Coordinator position to provide a key point of contact to manage the emergency response process.
  • In the wake of the storm, MLGW tripled the phone capacity of its Customer Care Center.
  • Expanded mutual agreements with outside contractors and utilities to increase the number and availability of external resources.  
  • Improved collaboration with the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) and other government entities.


  • Strengthened the electric systems that feed critical care facilities such as Methodist South Hospital, Methodist North Hospital, MLGW’s Sheahan Water Pumping Station, and the city’s wastewater treatment plants.
  • Increased backup generation and circuit feeds at various pumping stations.
  • Installed of automated switches in key areas that allow power to be automatically redirected to minimize an outage's effect.
  • Smart meters would allow MLGW to automatically detect outages and speed up the restoration process.

Underground Vs. Overhead

  • Following severe weather, MLGW sometimes receives inquiries about the possibility of putting all of its services underground. Here are some facts about overhead vs. underground:
  • MLGW has about 40 percent of its electric lines underground. According to the Edison Electric Institute, this is about twice the national average.
  • All new construction is required to have underground service, but it is not feasible from a financial or logistical standpoint to convert all of MLGW overhead lines to underground.
  • In the last 30 years, MLGW has experienced $100 million in storm damages. Comparatively, it would cost at least $3-5 billion to place all lines underground. This would also result in the relocation of water, sewer and gas lines for many neighborhoods.
  • In addition, all underground lines are fed by above-ground substations and transmission lines.
  • While underground lines are less susceptible to storm-related outages, the average underground outage is longer in duration because crews must dig to locate the issue.
  • Underground cable also must be replaced more frequently.

MLGW is the largest three-service public power utility in the nation, serving more than 421,000 customers in Memphis and Shelby County.