Power crews prepare for hurricane season amid pandemic

Reporter: Justin Kase Writer: Jack Lowenstein
Credit: WINK News.

Hurricane season is weeks away, and power crews are already preparing to make sure they can get your lights back on.

But, because of the coronavirus, that process could look a little different.

“The outages could be extended as we go into this hurricane season, which may be like none other that we have faced before,” said Bill Orlove, a spokesperson for Florida Power & Light.

But for those who can’t go long without power, they’re concerned about returning to shelters.

Ruthann North and her husband Jim, who has disability, had these concerns during Hurricane Irma. The couple stayed in a special needs shelter at Gulf Coast Medical Center during that time.

“Jim has a power chair and a power lift, and we needed that to keep him safe,” Ruthann said. “We’re really nervous about it this year, more so because, obviously, we’re trying to do all this social distancing. And it’s going to be very difficult to do that in shelter.”

But, with continuing threats of the coronavirus, local utilities point to recent severe weather in the southeastern United States, saying mutual aid might not be the same.

“We’ve already seen how Mother Nature does its work,” Orlove said. “And yet, because of the pandemic, there’s less likelihood of crews coming.”

And staging sites that housed hundreds or thousands of workers in past, along with their equipment, will also face capacity limits because of social distancing.

“They need to sleep somewhere. They need to eat. They need to have their laundry done,” said Karen Ryan, public relations manager with Lee County Electric Cooperative. “There’s a lot of things that happen behind the scenes with the pandemic. That just multiples the challenge.”

And those sites will now be smaller and more spread out.

“There are going to have to have less people, less equipment,” Orlove said. “So these crews may not be necessarily exactly where we want them to be.”

Local utility companies are also gathering more vehicles for their fleets so that they can limit the number of workers in each vehicle.

Companies typically don’t need to work inside peoples’ homes. But, while working in neighborhoods, they’ll be asking customers to stay at least six feet away to keep everyone safe.

And because of potential delays in power restoration this hurricane season, some are making plans and gathering supplies in case they decide to stay home in the dark.

“We’ve given some thought to how would it work if we decided to just stay here in our own home,” Ruthann said. “I would just like to say to people, you just really need to try to settle down about it, think logically, and we’re all in this together.”

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