J.T. Young, left, Customer Service general manager, and Verdell Hawkins, Community Relations manager, go over scenarios during the storm drill.

Now that hurricane season has officially started, Gulf Power employees know that every season is different, and sometimes it’s not really a question of if a major storm is going to hit, but when and where in Northwest Florida.

That’s why more than 100 Gulf Power employees gathered, recently, in the McCrary Training Center to test the energy company’s comprehensive plan to restore electric service as quickly and safely as possible following a tropical storm or hurricane. They also worked out how to handle the logistics of feeding, housing and supplying thousands of utility workers from out sister utilities who would pour into to our area to help restore power for more than two weeks.

But often, storm restoration involves much more than just rebuilding power lines and getting the power on.  This year, Gulf Power employees faced new after-the-storm “hit” and other scenarios to keep storm team leaders thinking about solutions for situations they could face if an actual storm hit the energy company’s service territory.

During this year’s annual storm drill simulated scenario called for Northwest Florida getting hit by Category 2 Hurricane Andre that made landfall in the Panama City area late in the night. before the exercise kick-off. About 120,000 customers lost power, mostly in Bay and Walton counties.

“We prepare year-round for storm restoration,” said Rick DelaHaya, Gulf Power spokesperson. “Our crews are prepared for widespread power outages if a hurricane makes landfall anywhere in or near our service area. And if needed, there is security in knowing we can count on our Southern Company sister utilities or other utilities across the country when we need help.”

Gulf Power Chairman, President & CEO Stan Connally, made sure the drill had some unexpected twists and other unique situations into the mix including making one of the energy’s company’s most experienced storm leaders unavailable during the drill, equipment malfunctions, and scenarios at the generating plants not normally seen.

“I think this was well worth our time,” Connally told the group at the end of the drill. “Every time you practice this, the better you’ll be. Many of our employees have not participated in a drill or have not been with the company during an actual storm, so it’s a good example of how each person is responsible for some part of restoration and all working toward a common goal.”

Even though Northwest Florida hasn’t experienced a hurricane in more than 10 years, Gulf Power’s crews have had plenty of storm restoration practice — they’ve traveled out of our service area more than 30 times since 2008 assisting with power restoration efforts after storms such as Superstorm Sandy that hit Atlantic City, New Jersey, in 2012 and after the devastating tornadoes that hit Tuscaloosa, Alabama, in 2011.

Gulf Power received the Edison Electric Institute’s “Emergency Assistance Award” in January for its extraordinary work assisting in power restoration efforts after Hurricanes Hermine and Matthew in Fall 2016.

Gulf Power responded to the City of Tallahassee and Georgia Power following Hurricane Hermine’s landfall on Sept. 2, 2016. A month later, Gulf Power storm teams responded rapidly to calls for aid from Florida Public Utilities and Georgia Power, assisting with recovery operations following Hurricane Matthew in October. Gulf Power employees devoted more than 12,768 and 10,565 hours while helping to restore service in the wake of Hurricanes Hermine and Matthew, respectively.

“Our crews are well trained and prepared to restore power quickly and safely, whether here at home or for our neighbors,” added DelaHaya. “It is a total team effort when our crews and support personnel leave our area to support other utilities.”