In a well-oiled operation the company trains for each spring, Florida Power & Light brought in thousands of heavy repair trucks and 13,000 out-of-state workers to help restore power in FPL’s 35-county service area in the event of expected devastation from Hurricane Dorian.
That storm-repair army included hundreds of trucks and 1,000 workers encamped at the Vero Beach Regional Airport, one of 10 staging areas.
Workers and equipment came from 34 states, as distant as Maine and California, as well as from Canada. They were joined by thousands of FPL employees to make up a total emergency response workforce of more than 16,000 – all ready to tackle downed trees and power lines to get electricity flowing again to the company’s five million customers, including hospitals, schools, businesses and homes.
FPL spokesperson Bill Orlove explained how the utility prepares for large-scale power outages like the one threatened by Dorian: As soon as a potential impact is identified, “we look for more resources, quickly reaching out to other utilities. By Aug. 29, we had already secured 13,000 personnel, and by the following day crews had begun to roll in.”
Ultimately, more than 16,000 utility employees, including FPL’s, answered the call, and were dispatched to two Florida processing centers: one in Lake City and one at the Daytona Speedway. From there, Orlove said, crews were assigned to one of the 10 staging areas.
How does FPL prepare ahead of time for major catastrophes?
“We have drills,” Orlove said, “usually the first week in May. About 3,000 FPL employees participate – one third of our employees – every year.”
In the drills, employees respond to a mock storm, modeled after an actual Florida hurricane. Staff and crews are fully engaged, going through procedures, responding to actual data, in real time.
“Each of us has a storm role,” Orlove said.
FPL has a special reserve fund to pay for massive repair operations in the wake of disasters, Orlove said. If expenses exceed reserve funds, FPL will make a documented reimbursement request to the Florida Public Service Commission.
A week after FPL’s first call for support, after Dorian’s deadly rampage through the Bahamas and the fortuitous wobble that spared Florida a similar fate, crews began to head out of Vero Beach, some returning home and some, perhaps, heeding requests for help from other utilities in the storm’s path.
“We are like a family,” Orlove said of utility companies around the country. “We take care of each other.”