A series of storms that hit the south and the southeastern United States beginning on Easter Sunday and continuing into Tuesday resulted in a reported 1.2 million customer outages at its peak Monday morning. The storms extended from Texas though to the Carolinas and have resulted in at least 33 civilian deaths.
Utilities staged power crews early on to prepare for the storms, responding by late Sunday to severe weather. In light of the current COVID-19 pandemic, these companies are doing everything in their power to protect workers and ensure safe working conditions.
According to a Georgia Power spokesperson, "Utility crews, including Georgia Power's line crews, are considered essential workers during the COVID-19 pandemic. As with all storm restoration responses, Georgia Power tracked the weather closely for days prior to this line of storm and prepared line crews across the state to respond as needed. Our crews work around the clock to prepare and respond to power outages following severe weather. Once the storms passed, the assessment and restoration process began."
"Georgia Power is closely following and adhering to all CDC guidelines during the COVID-19 pandemic and continues to take proactive actions including special "distancing" and other precautions to help protect customers and employees from the spread of the virus."
Entergy, which serves some of the most heavily impacted parts of Arkansas, Louisiana, and Mississippi—the state that recorded the largest number of civilian deaths, at 11—reported that it was working to restore power to nearly 200,000 customers on Monday morning. The utility said that damage from the storm reflected that of the back-to-back ice storms that it experienced in 2000.
Within Entergy's service territory, damage assessment could take up to three days, and restoration might be slowed by safety precautions instilled to protect workers. Along with standard storm preparations, the utility, like others, is taking additional steps to ensure social distancing amongst teams.
In North and South Carolina, Duke Energy crews are working to restore power to more than 325,000 customers who lost power at the height of storms early Monday. The utility recorded more than 6,000 outage events where equipment would need repair. Areas hardest hit include communities in Western North Carolina and Upstate South Carolina.
As of Monday afternoon, Duke crews were completing damage assessment and restoring power where possible. "We will restore power to critical infrastructure, such as emergency centers, fire stations, hospitals, water treatment, and other public safety and health facilities. At the same time, the company will safely repair major power transmission lines, damaged substations, and other large-scale electrical equipment to restore power to the largest number of customers as quickly as possible," said a company spokesperson.
Utilities did not comment on the utilization of mutual aid networks for storm restoration, or if access to mutual aid had been impacted by the COVID-19 pandemic.
As part of the pandemic protocol, utilities are asking the public to avoid approaching crews in the field or entering their work zone as they restore power. This includes requesting that customers avoid interaction with workers at all costs. In the case that it is required, utilities are requiring workers to ensure that they maintain at least 6 feet of separation, as recommended by CDC guidelines.
Utilities have advised customers to adhere to stay-at-home orders as much as possible to help to crews avoid distraction by supporting social distancing guidelines as they work. If it is necessary to leave home, customers should move over or slow down if they see utility crews or other first responders working along roads.
Georgia Power has requested that customers keep a minimum of six feet from utility crews while they are working. During this time, we ask that customers not provide any cookies or treats but to show their gratitude by giving a thumbs up or a wave. Customers can also sign the digital 'thank you' card at www.GeorgiaPower.com/ThankALineman in honor of Lineman Appreciation Month in April.
Entergy is providing storm updates at https://www.entergynewsroom.com/storm-center
Duke Energy provides real time outage information at https://outagemap.duke-energy.com/#/home.
Georgia Power provides real time outage information at www.georgiapower.com/storm.
Power outages in the United States can be tracked live at https://poweroutage.us/.