Gulf Power conducts storm drill with ’Hurricane Clyde’ amidst the pandemic

special to Gannett Florida
Walton Sun

PENSACOLA — Simulated storm Hurricane Clyde made landfall in Pensacola this week as a Category 1 storm, packing 80 mph winds. In the scenario played out by Gulf Power employees in its annual storm drill Thursday, the storm knocked out power to 156,000 customers, mainly in the Escambia and Santa Rosa counties, and triggered Gulf Power’s restoration response. In a new challenge for this storm season, the company had to incorporate its pandemic guidelines into the restoration efforts.

“While we have weathered many storms together, this year brings a completely different set of challenges for us all,” said Mike Spoor, Gulf Power VP of Power Delivery. “We face a very real possibility of dealing with a hurricane in the midst of a global pandemic. While the circumstances have changed, Gulf Power’s commitment to restoring power to our customers safely and as quickly as possible has not.”

2020 ATLANTIC HURRICANE SEASON: Here are the names

EPA prepares for 2020 hurricane season amid COVID-19

THE VIRUS AND NOW THIS: New forecast says brace for major hurricane to strike the U.S.

To ensure social distancing guidelines, Gulf Power employees split up, with some meeting at the company’s storm center, some at the main office and others working remotely. Meetings were conducted virtually. The drill was also conducted simultaneously with the Florida Power & Light family.

In response to the COVID-19 pandemic, the company’s restoration plan includes precautionary measures for the safety of its customers and its restoration workforce, including daily health screenings for restoration personnel, adjusting the layout of staging sites to prevent large numbers of restoration workers gathering together and allowing for as much social distancing as possible. In addition, more micro-staging sites will allow for smaller groups of personnel to be closer to the damage and help prevent the spread of germs.

Another change because of the pandemic is that given possible travel restrictions and guidance from health officials, Gulf Power may not be able to put together a restoration workforce like it has in the past. With a smaller predicted workforce and pandemic safety precautions in place, it could take more time to restore power after a hurricane.

“We understand how challenging it is to be without power, especially during a pandemic, and we know that our customers depend on us to get the lights back on safely and as quickly as possible,” Spoor said. “Our annual storm drill helps Gulf Power refine our plan and make sure we’re in the best possible position to respond following a storm.”