Florida, Georgia utilities ready to help Gulf Coast in aftermath of storms

FPL, JEA and Georgia Power crews familiar with hurricane aftermath

They won't leave until the job is done.

JACKSONVILLE, Fla. – Florida Power & Light, JEA and Georgia Power crews all know what it’s like to deal with the wake of a hurricane or tropical storm.

As Louisiana and Texas grapple with the aftermath of both, crews from the utilities are heading west to help their Gulf Coast counterparts.

Providing mutual assistance after natural disasters is a hallmark of the energy industry, FPL said. The mutual assistance network consists of hundreds of utilities from around the country that answer the call when they are needed.

Crews from JEA left Jacksonville on Wednesday afternoon to answer a mutual aid request from Lafayette, Louisiana. In total, 32 JEA trucks deployed, with work expected to start as soon as Thursday afternoon.

Many JEA crewmembers have been in similar situations before.

“Oh yeah. Multiples times,” said Chris Richardson, a JEA foreman.

Hurricane Sandy was the first named storm that came to Richardson’s mind, but he knows no one can ever fully prepare for what they’ll be going into.

“We’re staying clear of the storm until it’s over, but reacting first is difficult sometimes when you see families and devastation, so you do all you can,” Richarson said.

And this year, the coronavirus will be an additional obstacle.

“We’re social distancing and wearing masks,” Richarson said.

The timeline for the crews coming home is flexible because they said they are not coming home until the job is done.

“(Families) will offer you whatever they have left, water, anything to make your life a little easier,‘ Richardson said. “It’s an honor.”

And that’s the reason Richardson and the other JEA crewmembers said they do what they do.

Georgia Power sent 100 personnel to Baton Rouge to aid Entergy Louisiana crews with restoring power, and FPL sent more than 300 lineworkers and contractors to Baton Rouge.

Georgia Power said it has another 300 personnel standing by waiting for requests from the mutual assistance network.

The FPL crews left Tuesday morning from West Palm Beach and arrived Wednesday. They will be tasked with helping Entergy crews restore power in Texas and Louisiana.

“Our thoughts and prayers go out to our Gulf Coast neighbors as they prepare for the damage and destruction that will likely follow being hit by a tropical storm and then a hurricane in the same week,” said Eric Silagy, FPL president and CEO. “Earlier this month, 600 FPL lineworkers and contractors helped restore power to our fellow citizens in New Jersey in the aftermath of Hurricane Isaias. As the tropics continue to produce storms that affect other areas of the country, we stand at the ready to assist our fellow Americans. These storms are a reminder that we must not let our guard down as we reach the peak of what is forecast to be a very active hurricane season.”

Due to the pandemic, all crews will follow safety guidelines to keep everyone safe, including social distancing, increased sanitation measures and wearing masks where appropriate, FPL said. Signs on trucks remind the public to honor the 6 feet social distancing requirements that help keep the crews safe while they work.

“In the state of Florida, Aug. 26 is recognized as Lineworker Appreciation Day – a time to recognize the vital work our men and women do every day,” said Manny Miranda, FPL senior vice president for power delivery. “Severe weather events provide an opportunity for our lineworkers to show their commitment to safety, to their profession and to those who seek their help. Our team is ready to face the challenges posed in the aftermath of these storms and the pandemic, taking extra measures to ensure their and the public’s safety.”

As of Wednesday, more than 900 FPL personnel were on their way to assist with restoration.

The state of Florida on Wednesday sent one of its urban search-and-rescue teams to Louisiana with life-saving equipment and resources to help in the aftermath of Hurricane Laura, Chief Financial Officer and State Fire Marshal Jimmy Patronis announced.

Patronis said the team will be checking on the health of people who ride the storm out.

“They will deploy out. They will go street by street. They will get a neighborhood assigned to them. And they will physically inspect every single household, a minimum of four times. They have a GPS tracking system where they will go to those houses. They will check for the vitals in the house, make sure the occupants are healthy, see if they need medical attention,” Patronis said.

On Wednesday, Chief Financial Officer and State Fire Marshal Jimmy Patronis joined Florida’s Urban Search & Rescue (US&R) Task Force 4 at the Florida Emergency Operations Center (EOC) in prayer prior to their deployment to Louisiana ahead of Hurricane Laura. (Chief Financial Officer's Office of Communications)

About the Authors:

A Jacksonville native and proud University of North Florida alum, Francine Frazier has been with News4Jax since 2014 after spending nine years at The Florida Times-Union.