Hurricane Dorian journal: Reports from the field, Sept. 4

With Hurricane Dorian expected to knock out power in the coastal Carolinas, Duke Energy gets ready to respond to the storm

Duke Energy’s corporate communications teammates are embedded with crews throughout Florida and the Carolinas to support Hurricane Dorian efforts. Here are their reports from Wednesday, Sept. 4.

Before Dorian hits the Carolinas, a little city emerges

Jessica Wells 

With Hurricane Dorian inching toward the Carolinas coast, line workers, tree crews, damage assessors and other crews are funneling into temporary cities throughout North and South Carolina, where they’re ready to restore power outages as soon as it’s safe to do so.  

Dorian is expected to bring hurricane and tropical storm-force winds and rain in the coastal, Pee Dee and Triangle regions of the Carolinas. The company expects the storm to cause 700,000 outages and has resources from 23 states and Canada ready to respond.

The temporary city in Florence, S.C.

The Florence Civic Center, about 70 miles west of Myrtle Beach, S.C., was transformed overnight to house about 1,500 of these crews.

“We want them to be as close to the impacted areas as we can,” Customer Delivery Ops Manager Jonathan Evans said, “but still be out of harms way.”

Evans, who is managing logistics, said his team does practice drills throughout the year so they’re ready to set up these facilities when a storm is forecasted. The sites have cots and sleeping trailers, showers and hot meals for crews while they wait out the storm. They can also fuel their trucks and get any materials they need before they roll out. 

At the Southern Region Operations Center, three conference rooms are staffed with teammates who are watching the weather and adjusting staffing plans as the storm shifts. In front of them, a whiteboard shows all of the crews ready to work in dry erase marker and magnets because adjustments happen often. It’s been a challenging storm to track, but they’re making sure that all of the staging sites are properly staffed for whatever Hurricane Dorian brings. 

Powering communities through the storm

Ana Gibbs @DE_AnaGibbs

Storms like Hurricane Dorian remind us how power plays an essential part of our lives.

Many of us struggle without WiFi and mobile devices, but the energy that powers our lives is essential to the infrastructure in our communities. From 911 call centers to hospitals to traffic signals to the neighborhood supermarket, daily necessities require electricity.

Michelle Lee

In Duke Energy’s DeLand Operations Center in Florida, Senior Administrative Assistant Michelle Lee supports the government and community relations team, which works closely with public officials and emergency operations centers during storms to ensure critical services can be restored as safely and quickly as possible. Critical services often support first responders and ensure safe public drinking water and sewer services.

"I get great satisfaction in being part of such a great team,” said Lee, who has worked for Duke Energy 23 years. “It provides me an opportunity to build great relationships with community members, nonprofit organizations, and fellow employees.” 

Lee and her co-workers are often called on at any hour of the day or night to help keep the lights on, “When our customers go through significant events like Hurricane Dorian,” Lee said, “everyone watches out for each other, to get our lives back to normal as soon as possible.”

In Florida, the storm that wasn’t … was still filled with purpose

Heather Danenhower

Dorian is the 10th hurricane I’ve worked in my career. I’ve traveled with line crews plenty of times, but during this deployment, I went airborne in a bucket truck for the first time.

I insisted local media go up with me to take photos and videos. As we inched to the sky, the bucket truck swayed, and our heart raced from the jolt of adrenaline.  From 50 feet up, we saw what ready looked like.

Joe Hulett and Heather Danenhower

“Wow, this is incredible,” exclaimed Daily Commercial photographer Paul Ryan. “I could stay up here all day.”

Duke Energy started mobilizing 6,500 workers in Florida a week ago. The 135-acre mustering spot in The Villages of Sumter County alone had more than 5,000 workers and 7,000 line and tree-trimming trucks and specialty vehicles ready to roll.

Canadian lineworker Shane Hastings described Dorian as “painstakingly slow,” and Orlando radio host Rick Stacy jokingly called it the most inconsiderate storm in history.

Still, Duke Energy needed to prepare with determination.

In the end, Dorian was the storm that wasn’t in Florida, and that’s a good thing. As quickly as workers set up the mustering spots, they broke them down and released line crews. Many are heading to the Carolinas to help with restoration efforts.

For me, experiencing the camaraderie among the crews and working with Duke Energy employees like Joe Hulett made the 3:30 a.m. wake-up calls, long hours, soaking rain and steamy heat worthwhile.