Tampa Bay might not sustain a direct hit from Hurricane Irma, but utilities agree: there will power outages. In anticipation of the storm, Duke Energy Florida and Tampa Electric are mobilizing workers and preparing their emergency responses to handle damages their coverage areas may sustain.
Duke, which has a local headquarters in St. Petersburg, is pulling resources from around the U.S. and as far as Canada to brace for the storm. It mobilized 7,000 workers who handle line work, trees, damage assessment and support to go to "safe locations" both outside of Florida and locally.
"When you have a storm that has 150-miles-per-hour winds, we do anticipate having outages," Ana Gibbs, Duke spokesperson, said.
The utility serves 1.8 million customers across Florida. Stationing response workers outside of the state, the company said, lets the crews quickly mobilize while remaining safe.
TECO Energy subsidiary Tampa Electric, which serves about 730,000 customers in West Central Florida, said its crews are prepared to work around the clock to restore power as quickly and safely as possible. It has more than 1,000 workers ready to assist from other nearby states. Those additional linemen will the number of crews in the field. After the storm, the company intends to increase staffing and extend available hours for weather-related calls.
Tampa Electric will also use seven Fold-Out Rigid Temporary Shelters (FORTS), a portable command post that provides temporary office space in the field, including internet access. With the help of the Mobile Command Center, FORTS will provide storm leaders with access to the hardest-hit areas, the utility said.
"While the path remains uncertain, we encourage our customers to begin making preparations now," said Gordon Gillette, president and chief executive officer of Tampa Electric in a press release Tuesday.
Duke and Tampa Electric are also pairing with trade association Southeastern Electric Exchange, which is a group of utilities that pledge mutual assistance in a storm and other times of crisis, to bring in additional resources from states surrounding Florida.
Workers from the utility will respond to incidents in wind speeds up to 35 miles per hour. Any reported problems will be attended to based on a triage system — first priority, Gibbs said, goes to hospitals, 911 response centers, law enforcement and emergency services. Next are areas with large outages. Areas with extended periods without power also get priority.
The utility conducted inventory checks for supplies such as extra utility poles in the week leading up to the storm.