During a crisis, Jason Hollifield, Todd Fountain and Anthony Brown are prepared.
They are Duke Energy’s incident commanders for the Carolinas, Florida and the Midwest, and they work year-round to ensure the company has the right people, supplies and processes to restore power after an emergency like a hurricane or ice storm.
“Our first responsibility is to ensure the safety of our employees, our customers and the communities we serve, followed by restoring critical business functions as quickly as possible,” Fountain said.
In November 2018, after three years that included hurricanes Matthew, Florence, Michael and Irma, the company implemented the Incident Command System, a standardized emergency response approach used by several organizations including the military. Incident commanders are at the helm of the response but responding to a major hurricane requires support from all of the company’s teammates.
Every Duke Energy employee has a storm role. Some teammates will travel to the hardest-hit towns to assess damage and determine what crews will need to make repairs while others will stay home and respond to customers who report outages to call centers or social media channels.
"What I love about storms and the work we're doing is to see how many groups across Duke Energy come together," Hollifield said. "You really see the power, scope and scale of this organization, and how different groups within the company have one singular mission - to get the lights back on safely and effectively communicate to our customers."
Learn more about what drives Duke Energy’s incident commanders and meet a few more of the 28,000 Duke Energy teammates who are ready to respond this hurricane season.
Role: Incident commander for Duke Energy Ohio, Kentucky and Indiana
Brown is Duke Energy’s newest incident commander – he was promoted on May 31 but has 11 years of storm restoration experience. He started in Duke Energy’s distribution control center, where grid operators monitor the electric grid and dispatch crews to restore power outages, before moving on to roles leading teams that design the electric grid and then the crews that repair and maintain the grid.
“Right out the gate, I got introduced to restoration efforts, and so I think that's where my passions come from: understanding how we restore customers. I am a family-oriented person, so I really think about our customers from that perspective, and I try to put myself in their shoes.”
Last summer, he managed the storm response for a storm with 70-mph winds that damaged the Terre Haute, Ind., area and knocked out power to thousands of customers on Father’s Day weekend. Seeing his team respond, he said, was an encouraging moment in his career and reinforced the importance of being prepared.
“We pull together really well. All hands are on deck, and everything gets put on the back burner except for being prepared to roll trucks and making sure we’re coordinated. If I was talking to a customer, I would want them to understand that we are well equipped to respond safely and of course as expeditiously as possible. They are our number one priority.”
Storm role: Customer call center support
Marth manages communications and marketing for products and services that can help Duke Energy customers be more energy efficient. During a storm, she works side-by-side with other Duke Energy call center employees and volunteers to answer their questions about outages and restoration.
She’s worked for Duke Energy for four years, but also worked for the company when she was in college. She remembers working in the call center then, too, and still finds it rewarding to help customers when they need it most.
“When you're all coming together to work a storm, there's a lot of camaraderie. Everyone really feels like they're helping the customer as a live person on the phone. You never know whether someone's going to be emotional, happy, mad, or sad, but you really feel a sense of togetherness when you're helping out that customer. It's a very good reminder of how important our roles are.”
Role: Incident commander for Florida
Todd Fountain was deployed to Atlanta during an ice storm in 2000. While there, he received news that his father died unexpectedly.
“I think of that every time I deploy a crew. You’re not just sending 500 resources – you’re sending 500 people with families and loved ones back home. So that always plays a factor in what I do.”
Although the incident commanders focus on storm preparation, their emergency planning goes beyond that. During significant events in Duke Energy’s service territories like political conventions, major sporting events, COVID-19, protests, demonstrations and more, this team organizes response efforts and prepares months in advance.
Hollifield, Fountain and Morgan meet daily for check-ins and monthly for longer meetings to share what they’ve learned and to launch best practices so each response is better than the last.
“Many people think we’re storm troopers, but it’s everything else that comes with ensuring the continuity of operations.”
Storm role: Storm center logistics
Graves manages Duke Energy’s electric vehicle programs including the Park and Plug program in Florida that’s added more than 600 DC fast charging stations across the state. He started his career with the company in 1996 with a background in engineering and has worked in several organizations from finance and accounting to project management. A few months after he joined Duke Energy Hurricane Fran knocked out power to thousands of customers across North Carolina.
“I knew the company was building a large staging site at the mall in Cary. I literally went to the mall and showed my badge and said, ‘I'm a Duke Energy employee. Where can I help?’”
For nearly four weeks, he helped at the staging site and at worksites. One night, he had moved to a new location and couldn’t find a place to stay.
“It was raining, hot, muggy – it was not nice – and one of the linemen said, ‘Come stay at my house.’ That really made an impression on me how the company approaches storm response. We take care of each other in the same way that we take care of the community.”
Over the last 25 years, Graves has worked several storm roles, watched the company formalize its storm response and use technology from digital sensors on the grid to drones for damage assessment and more detailed meteorological data to shorten power outages. He’s worked several storm roles but today he uses his years of experience to bring in enough crews to the right places to manage the restoration process.
“It’s a satisfying role for me because I know that all these pieces that I've witnessed firsthand in the field, are actually coming together in a larger scale. I've been able to witness both the field and office, and I will tell you that that without a doubt, people pour their heart and soul into a storm response. Everyone that I've ever seen work a storm has been completely dedicated to getting the lights back on.”
Role: Incident commander for North and South Carolina
During Hurricane Matthew in 2016, Hollifield was leading a team in Fairmont, N.C., south of Fayetteville, which experienced historic flooding.
“Right beside the substation was a little church, and they were so good to us, treated us like family, let us use their parking lot, and even cooked dinner for us one night.”
When restoration was complete, Hollifield wanted to give the church something to remember his team by.
“I asked the team for a clean hard hat and marker and told everyone to sign it with their names. When the hat was done getting passed around, not only did it have everyone’s signatures, but it was filled with money.”
The team left on a Sunday morning.
“When I knocked on the door a young lady answered, and I handed her the hard hat, and she walked me into the service in front of the congregation. They stood and applauded our team and thanked us for all that we did for them. They were crying about the money in the hard hat, and it was one of the most fulfilling experiences in my career.”
Storm role: Social media customer care
Perez works with a team of software engineers to improve Piedmont Natural Gas customers’ website experience. They develop new features and solve problems, but during storms, Perez switches to a different digital platform – social media. From his house, he joins hundreds of other Duke Energy and Piedmont Natural Gas employees in responding to questions from customers on Facebook and Twitter. Throughout the storm response, Perez is getting up-to-date information about estimated restoration times so he can give customers the best answer. He’s also able to use his knowledge of the company’s website to help customers troubleshoot their issues.
“We never want your power to be out, and we're trying to get it back on as quickly as possible. Across the company, everyone from the linemen to the operations centers to people responding through email, text message, social media, or the website, everybody has a role in it. It’s cool to think about the teamwork that’s happening across the organization.”