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Restoring power after a natural disaster could look different in a COVID-19 world

Fewer crews traveling long distances could translate into longer restoration times

Power lines.
Power lines.

As we settle into hurricane season while also watching COVID-19 cases rise nationally, it’s difficult not to wonder how one could impact the other.

Linemen at power companies have always taken precautions during outages after storms and other disasters, but the coronavirus pandemic is proving to be another danger to contend with.

Jeff Brooks, a representative with Duke Energy, one of the largest electric power holding companies in the United States, told weather.com, ”It’s going to be challenging, (but) we’ve been working on storm response in a coronavirus world for several months now.”

Brooks said company crews were put to the test in April, when a tornado in the South caused more than 1 million homes and businesses to lose power.

Some of the ways in which the company’s new strategies were implemented included:

  • Crew members stayed in separate hotel rooms instead of sharing.
  • Employees who were deploying to the area were screened for COVID-19 beforehand. They were also able to request a test at any time while on assignment.
  • The company created a virtual storm response center instead of having a large number of employees in one facility. In doing so, customer assistant agents worked from home.
  • Crew members were required to travel with their own protective equipment.
  • Where two people used to be in the field, damage assessors instead sent images to a colleague who worked from home.

But let’s cut to the chase as to what this could mean to you: Because of some of those internal changes, fewer crews will travel long distances, and that could translate into longer restoration times.

The Florida Power and Light Company President and CEO Eric Silagy told CNN,” While we are committed to restoring power to customers as quickly as possible following a hurricane, I am not willing to sacrifice safety for speed. The number one priority of every employee and contractor working to restore power is to return home safely to loved ones.”

Still, electric company crews realize that power is an absolute necessity, so “we’ve got to make sure we can provide the same level of response to protect employees and customers,” Brooks said.


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