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Amy Zubaly: Preparing for a hurricane amid a pandemic

Tuesday, June 02, 2020

It’s that time of year again: the start of the Atlantic hurricane season. While many Floridians are just starting to think about restocking their hurricane preparedness kits and hurricane supplies, Florida’s public power communities have been working year-round to prepare.

Whether it is clearing trees and branches away from power lines to conducting regular inspections of utility poles and lines to participating in hurricane drills, public power communities are always working in advance to minimize outages. And, no matter the predictions from forecasters, the Florida Municipal Electric Association (FMEA) and Florida’s 33 public power communities always prepare for a worst-case scenario.

What’s different this year, however, is preparing in the midst of the COVID-19 pandemic.

During hurricanes and other disasters, FMEA coordinates mutual aid — bringing crews in from other states to assist Florida public power communities or sending our crews to help others in need. Now, in a pandemic environment, sending or receiving mutual aid has created some new challenges that we have been working through.

The past four hurricane seasons have been incredibly active with hurricanes Irma and Michael resulting in hundreds, even thousands, of mutual aid crew members responding to Florida.

This year, we continue to prepare for another potential large-scale mutual aid event, but we now are including additional planning to ensure mutual aid crews adhere to the highest health and safety standards and practice social distancing.

We have created guidelines to help maintain social distancing while crews are being brought in and briefed, for lodging of crews, for work assignments and even how to feed crews. Furthermore, we have implemented additional cleaning and sanitizing protocols.

To keep our crews healthy and safe, we will also need some help from communities across the state. We know you love your lineworkers, but if you see public power or mutual aid crews out in the field, please maintain your distance and stay six feet back.

In a pre-pandemic world, a cold water bottle or dozen doughnuts would have been welcome tokens of thanks. This year, we encourage members of the public to find other ways to express your appreciation to lineworkers and utility crews.

In the event of widespread power outages due to a hurricane or other storm, our highest priority will always be to restore power to our customers as quickly and safely as possible. Regardless of the additional procedures we need to implement this year, this will remain our top priority.

While hurricane season in the midst of a pandemic may seem uncertain, be certain that your public power community will be there for you and is committed to ensuring we all power on together.

Amy Zubaly is the executive director of the Florida Municipal Electric Association, which represents 33 public power communities across the state.

Read in the Gainesville Sun:

This op-ed was also featured in: The Palm Beach Post, News Break, Spot on Florida, The Lakeland Ledger, St. Augustine Record, and Florida Times-Union.

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