Simulated storm Hurricane Clyde made landfall in Pensacola this week as a Category 1 storm, packing 80 mph winds. In the scenario played out by Gulf Power employees in its annual storm drill Thursday, the storm knocked out power to 156,000 customers, mainly in the Escambia and Santa Rosa counties, and triggered Gulf Power’s restoration response. In a new challenge for this storm season, the company had to incorporate its pandemic guidelines into the restoration efforts.

“While we have weathered many storms together, this year brings a completely different set of challenges for us all,” said Mike Spoor, Gulf Power VP of Power Delivery. “We face a very real possibility of dealing with a hurricane in the midst of a global pandemic. While the circumstances have changed, Gulf Power’s commitment to restoring power to our customers safely and as quickly as possible has not.”

To ensure social distancing guidelines, Gulf Power employees split up, with some meeting at the company’s storm center, some at the main office and others working remotely. Meetings were conducted virtually. The drill was also conducted simultaneously with the Florida Power & Light family.

In response to the COVID-19 pandemic, the company’s restoration plan includes precautionary measures for the safety of its customers and its restoration workforce, including daily health screenings for restoration personnel, adjusting the layout of staging sites to prevent large numbers of restoration workers gathering together and allowing for as much social distancing as possible. In addition, more micro-staging sites will allow for smaller groups of personnel to be closer to the damage and help prevent the spread of germs.

Another change because of the pandemic is that given possible travel restrictions and guidance from health officials, Gulf Power may not be able to put together a restoration workforce like it has in the past. With a smaller predicted workforce and pandemic safety precautions in place, it could take more time to restore power after a hurricane.

“We understand how challenging it is to be without power, especially during a pandemic, and we know that our customers depend on us to get the lights back on safely and as quickly as possible,” Spoor said. “Our annual storm drill helps Gulf Power refine our plan and make sure we’re in the best possible position to respond following a storm.”

During an actual storm, every Gulf Power employee has a specific storm assignment that contributes to an orchestrated effort of keeping customers informed and getting the power back on safely and as quickly as possible.

Just as Gulf Power prepares for severe weather, the company is asking customers to be prepared and review their storm plans for their family, home or business, and this year those plans should include dealing with the COVID-19 pandemic. Preparation and safety tips are available on Gulf Power’s Storm Ready Center. Customers are also encouraged to download our Mobile App on their Apple or Android device to manage their account from anywhere and stay connected with Gulf Power during a storm.