Pinellas County’s energy provider is bringing thousands of additional personnel into the area Tuesday as Hurricane Ian strengthens into a strong Category 3 storm.
Tuesday morning forecasting models show Ian making landfall just south of St. Petersburg as a major hurricane late Wednesday night or early Thursday. In light of the expected impacts, Duke Energy announced an initial mobilization of nearly 10,000 lineworkers, tree professionals, damage assessment and support personnel.
Audrey Stasko, corporate communications director, told the Catalyst that Duke is setting up a staging site at Tropicana Field Tuesday. The workers – coming from several midwestern territories and as far away as New Jersey and Maine – will also set up operations in the Villages and Polk County.
“Some have already arrived, and some will be coming throughout the day,” said Stasko. “And basically, we would place them in areas likely to be affected by the storm, and that allows for the quickest and safest response.”
Over a quarter of Duke Energy Florida’s nearly two million residential customers live in Pinellas County. While local officials expect severe impacts to the area over the next 48 hours – including strong winds, heavy rains and potentially life-threatening storm surge – Stasko said it is still too soon to estimate the severity or length of power outages.
Echoing local meteorologists, Stasko noted the storm continues to shift slightly from west to east, increasing the difficulty of predicting effects. However, she does expect crews to have their hands full throughout the Tampa Bay region.
“We serve over 500,000 customers in Pinellas County alone,” said Stasko. “And so, that would be pretty significant. But again, if that storm just went a little bit south, we don’t serve Manatee County.”
Duke Energy, explained Stasko, prepares for potential storms throughout the year. She said grid improvements – including the company’s self-healing technology – will aid restoration efforts.
In a previous interview, Ana Gibbs, corporate communications manager for Duke Florida, compared the self-healing technology to GPS as a simplified way to explain the process. Just as a vehicle’s GPS redirects drivers to a more efficient course when encountering an issue, Duke’s system automatically guides power flow around problem areas.
In 2021, the innovative technology that can autonomously repair itself helped Pinellas residents avoid over 57,600 extended outages and save over three million interruption minutes. Gibbs said Duke’s latest annual storm protection plan represents a 10-year, $8.1 billion investment into the system.
The automated aspect allows workers to assess operations – and conduct repairs, in some cases – from dispatch centers without sending out a crew. Duke cannot send out bucket trucks for repairs once winds reach 35 mph, which local officials expect by Wednesday evening.
“Right now, half of our customers in Florida are served by some form of self-healing technology,” said Stasko.
Gibbs previously noted that 45 “self-healing teams” operate in Pinellas, representing “about 29% of the total that we have for the entire state.”
According to the company’s Tuesday morning press release, Duke will restore power “in a sequence that enables power restoration to public health and safety facilities, and to the greatest number of customers, as safely and quickly as possible.”
It also states that as the energy provider begins the restoration process, customers may not see workers in each impacted neighborhood. Duke’s first priority is repairing large power lines and infrastructure.
The company offers an interactive outage map, which residents can view here. To report an outage and receive status updates, customers can visit duke-energy.com, utilize the Duke Energy mobile application, text “OUT” to 57801 and call the automated system at 800-228-8485.
Duke is also enlisting the help of over 1,500 corporate responders to assist customer service specialists as needed.