Our teams from Davey Resource Group arrived in multiple groups. Many drove to Florida before the hurricane hit, and weathered the storm in Orlando. They were excited and nervous to be heading south on mostly empty roads with only bucket trucks filled with utility tree trimmers and linemen.
The next group dispatched Sunday night/Monday morning. My group, heading from Illinois and Indiana, hit Irma as a tropical depression, encountering heavy rain in Tennessee and Georgia. However, that was nothing compared to the heavy traffic we hit the next morning. With the hurricane threat abated, many Floridians who had evacuated hit the road to return home. The remaining first responders trying to enter Florida spent hours in stopped traffic, including being stuck in gas station lines that backed up onto the highway. After spending nine hours to travel less than 300 miles we finally made it to Lake City, Florida, where almost 20,000 contractors working for Florida Power and Light were checking in.
Over the next few days, adrenaline was high as our team ventured south to the harder hit areas. Our group of 85 was sent across the state to various staging sites, with the majority of our team being split between the hardest hit Naples/Ft. Myers area and the largest population area, Miami.
DRG jumped into action, working with FP&L foresters, tree crews, and lineman to complete circuit inspections. Some of our team members assisted FP&L directly, working hand-in-hand with local foresters to manage and dispatch hundreds of crew resources for an entire site. Others spent much of their time patrolling lines to identify downed wires and trees, while others worked in the field directly with a smaller group of crews, leading them to sites and directing work.
Some of the highlights included:
Miami - In order to expedite the restoration process, our lead planner (Kaleb Smith) in Miami had the police chief’s phone number, and as he moved his crews throughout the city, would call for a police escort. This enabled caravans of tree crews and linemen to follow the most efficient routes possible, safely traveling the wrong way down one-way streets, and past stop lights that were still out. This group was spread out throughout the Miami-Dade metro area, but many of them had lodging accommodations in South Beach. One DRG team member noted that her accommodations would have been fantastic if she was on vacation, but working long days on storm response was definitely not relaxing.
Naples - This area was the hardest hit, and a huge amount of Florida Power and Light customers were affected by outages. Our team arrived while most stores, gas stations, and hotels were still without power, and thus spent their storm response sleeping in FEMA trailers and limited to the staging site resources for food and fuel. This group worked incredibly hard, leading teams of tree trimmers and linemen into flooded neighborhoods and bogs, working to coordinate large crane jobs, and the removal of at least one monstrous ficus.
Texas Team - Many on our team from Texas came straight from Harvey storm response with a minimal break, and leaving their own damaged communities and homes to help restore power in Florida.
All the teams worked very hard and did a great job keeping safety as a value. The team spent extended hours driving though heavy traffic areas, many of them unfamiliar with working in cities. I personally put over 4,000 miles on my car in 15 days.
Overall storm response was a great experience. It was exciting to work with such a large group of contractors from across the country, and an honor to be a part of such a committed group on first responders.