PENSACOLA, Fla. – The 2020 Atlantic hurricane season is off to a busy start, with the third named storm, Tropical Storm Cristobal, approaching the Gulf Coast later this weekend. Gulf Power stands ready to respond if the storm affects Northwest Florida, and urges customers to be prepared as well.
The global coronavirus pandemic adds an additional layer of complexity to the storm’s preparations and response plans. Gulf Power has expanded its restoration process plans to include new safety measures to help protect customers and Gulf Power employees from COVID-19.
“Every storm season presents different challenges, but this year we face the very real possibility of something we haven’t experienced before – restoring power after a major storm in the midst of a global pandemic,” said Gulf Power President Marlene Santos. “While the situation may be unprecedented, one thing that has not changed is Gulf Power’s commitment to getting the lights back on for our customers safely and as quickly as possible.”
Gulf Power prepares year-round for hurricane season, including at our generation sites, and this year will join with Florida Power & Light Company for its annual storm drill June 22-26. The company also experienced a live test of restoring power during a pandemic when a team assisted Alabama Power in April following severe thunderstorms.
New safety measures amid pandemic
Gulf Power continues to evaluate health and safety guidelines to ensure that the company is taking precautions to keep employees, contractors and customers safe should a major storm impact Northwest Florida.
Gulf Power will require its entire restoration workforce to undergo additional health checks before heading out to restore power after a hurricane. Gulf Power also is altering the layout of staging sites – which are like miniature cities with lodging, parking, food, showers and laundry for out-of-state crews who assist with restoration – to account for social distancing and limited interaction. Gulf Power will also expand its use of smaller, micro-staging sites.
Given the current travel restrictions and guidance from health officials, Gulf Power may not be able to put together a restoration workforce like the 7,000 outside workers who assisted in restoring power following Hurricane Michael in 2018. With a smaller predicted workforce and pandemic safety precautions in place, it could take more time to restore power after a hurricane.
Steps Gulf Power is taking to ensure employees and customers stay safe during the restoration process include:
- Incorporating social distancing wherever possible, appropriate personal protective equipment and other health and safety measures as an integral part of storm response planning.
- Implementing extensive cleaning and sanitization measures of company vehicles and at staging sites and command centers to protect personnel supporting the restoration effort.
- Administering screening and temperature checks at all staging sites and corporate facilities, as well as antibody testing employees in critical functions.
- Minimizing the movement of crews; as much as possible, Gulf Power will keep the same crews assigned to the same work areas.
- Minimizing crews entering customers’ homes and businesses.
- Assigning back-up staffing and alternate locations for all critical functions, including command and control centers, which coordinate storm response and grid operations.
- Where possible, having employees work remotely.
Investing in a stronger, smarter electric grid
Between 2019-2021, Gulf Power is investing nearly $100 million in storm hardening and reliability improvement efforts that help restore power faster and, in some cases, avoid outages altogether. Gulf Power works throughout the year to deliver even more reliable service for customers and prepare for storm season, including:
- Replacing all 4,800 wooden transmission structures with concrete or steel.
- Hardening main power lines that serve our communities to extreme wind loading criteria.
- Installing flood monitoring at 13 substations.
- Installing 5,000+ automated lateral switches by 2021.
- Investing in self-healing network devices.
- Regular vegetation management trimming.
Be prepared for storm season
Gulf Power has a plan for storm season and is working hard to ensure the company is in the best possible position to restore service safely and as quickly as possible following a storm. Gulf Power is asking customers for their patience if severe weather strikes during the pandemic, and urges customers to prepare now and anticipate that a direct strike by a major hurricane could damage the energy grid, causing residents and businesses to be without power for an extended period.
“Now is the time to look at your family’s plans, consider any impacts from the COVID-19 pandemic and ensure you are ready should a storm come our way,” Santos said. “We know how important information is to our customers before, during and after a storm, and we encourage customers to download the Gulf Power app as part of their preparedness checklist. If a storm strikes, we want our customers to know that we will work around the clock to get everyone’s power back on safely and as quickly as possible.”
Customers should download the Gulf Power Mobile app prior to storm season by searching for “Gulf Power” in iTunes or the Google Play store. Through the Gulf Power app customers can access the outage map and get the latest storm information at GulfPower.com/storm, as well as our social media channels on Twitter, Instagram and Facebook.