Thousands of utility workers ready to respond during Hurricane Dorian

President & CEO of FPL says Florida's largest utility is ready for storm

By Maggie Lorenz - Multi-media journalist, Jim Turner, The News Service of Florida

TALLAHASSEE, Fla. - Lengthy and widespread power outages are in the forecast after Hurricane Dorian impacts Florida.

Thousands of workers from companies like Florida Power & Light and Duke Energy Florida, as well as some out-of-state companies, are positioned to respond to potential widespread outages. Government leaders have warned people in Florida to prepare for up to a week without power.

On Saturday night in Columbia County, hundreds of trucks were lined up at the fairgrounds, ready to roll out at a moments notice. Crews were waiting to hear exactly where they'll end up as the storm's track remains in question.

"The more saturated it gets, it's going to knock over more of the powerlines and trees," said Charles Sampson, a lineworker.

Linemen from 34 different states and Canada are in Columbia County staging for what’s to come. Linemen have one of the most dangerous jobs during and after a storm. 

The men and women brave floodwaters and dangerous aftermath to get people out of the dark as quickly as possible.

"Pretty hard. Especially when you have kids at home," Sampson said.

Over 18,000 men and women from various power companies across the country are in Lake City preparing for Hurricane Dorian. Among them were Dominique Steward and Colton Engelke from Texas.

“We are ready for the long hours, the long days. The biggest problem is trying to get to the work, in swampy ground or roads are blocked by trees or things of that nature. You keep a suitcase ready with a lot of extra clothes and socks, extra underwear because you’re going to be wet and working in some rough conditions so you gotta bring spare clothes to keep you dry,” said Steward, from Austin, Texas.

Steward’s co-worker at Line Tech Services, Colton Engelke, said they are prepared to do whatever the job demands.

“I’m a journeyman lineman. I work the bucket most of the time and help assist on the ground with the apprentices and do whatever needs to be done. Walk through swamps or get in the bucket,” said Engleke. 

It is tough work but these guys said it’s all worth it.

“(The best part of the job is) making people happy. Whenever they see that light come back on kids come out and know they have hot water, knowing there is an elderly person that needs their medicine and a hot shower…just making people happy,” said Engleke. 

Eric Silagy, president and CEO of Florida Power & Light, said Friday the state’s largest utility is ready for the storm, with crews and equipment positioned to start restoring power after sustained winds dip below 35 mph.

“There will be power outages from the storm,” Silagy said after giving Gov. Ron DeSantis a tour of the company’s command center in West Palm Beach. “There is no doubt that if the storm comes on with the kind of power that is currently predicted there will be significant outages.”

  Tracking Dorian

FPL provides electricity along most of Florida’s East Coast. It has secured about 16,000 employees and workers from other companies, “with plans for thousands more” for the anticipated restoration effort, Silagy said.

DeSantis continued advising residents to prepare essential supplies -- water, food and medicine -- for at least seven days.

“These guys are going to work hard to get the power back on, but it’s not like the storm comes and in 24 hours you’re going to be guaranteed (power restoration). There could be extended periods where you don’t have power,” he said.

FPL, which serves 10 million people through roughly 4.9 million customer accounts, had to restore power to 4.4 million customers because of Hurricane Irma, which traveled up the state from the Keys to Jacksonville in September 2017.

Restoration took about 10 days before it was considered completed to all but the most-damaged properties.

It’s important to remember if you do lose power and evacuate your home cut the breakers off.

If you do see a downed power line do not attempt to touch it stay far away and just call the power company for help.

News Service of Florida