As the hurricane season approaches, utilities in the potential storm paths are re-evaluating their response plans in the wake of another disaster, the COVID-19 pandemic.
Florida Power & Light Co., announced it is factoring the pandemic into all of its planning for hurricanes this summer and fall. It also is urging customers to do the same.
“FPL and many of our customers have been through storms together, but this year is like no other,” said FPL President and CEO Eric Silagy. “We face the real and daunting prospect of staring down something none of us has ever had to deal with: a hurricane and a global pandemic at the same time. While the circumstances have changed, FPL’s steadfast commitment to restoring power safely and as quickly as possible has not.”
FPL will hold its annual dry-run exercise in storm response June 22-26. The effort will include more than 3,000 employees tested on how to deal with a simulated hurricane while also employing safety measures related to the coronavirus.
In addition to the annual drill, FPL will test its new pandemic safety procedures for restoration crews in an exercise at a staging site during the week of June 15.
See how Entergy and other utilities have dealt with utility workforce challenges in the era of COVID-19 in this free, hour-long webcast still available here.
Under the expanded response plan, FPL will require its entire restoration workforce to undergo daily health screenings before going to work to restore power after a hurricane. FPL 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 FPL with restoration – to account for social distancing and limited interaction. FPL will also expand its use of smaller, micro-staging sites.
For Hurricane Irma in 2017, FPL assembled a restoration workforce of 28,000, including utility workers from 30 states and Canada. Given the current travel restrictions and guidance from health officials, FPL may not be able to put together a restoration workforce of that size, if needed. With a smaller workforce and pandemic safety precautions in place, it could take more time to restore power after a hurricane.
That’s why FPL is asking customers for their patience if severe weather strikes during the pandemic. FPL’s commitment to work around the clock to restore everyone’s power will not change, but it could take longer to do so under these extraordinary circumstances.
Precautions FPL 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.
- Providing masks and sanitizing materials to crews, such as hand sanitizer, disinfectant spray and wipes.
- Implementing extensive cleaning and sanitization measures 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 testing employees in critical functions.
- Minimizing the movement of crews. As much as possible, FPL 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.