In a recent Q&A with the American Public Power Association’s Public Power Daily, Amy Zubaly, Executive Director of the Florida Municipal Electric Association (FMEA), detailed how FMEA is taking a number of steps to ensure that planning for the upcoming hurricane season is not disrupted by the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic.
QUESTION: Against the backdrop of forecasters predicting an above-average Atlantic hurricane season in 2020, can you detail what steps FMEA is taking to prepare for the upcoming hurricane season?
ZUBALY: FMEA and Florida’s 33 public power utilities prepare for every hurricane season with the expectation of an above-average season and for the worst-case scenario. As we’ve seen in recent years, it only takes one storm to create devastation, so projections don’t change the way we plan.
QUESTION: Could you describe your role in terms of coordinating mutual aid activities in Florida? What are you working on as it relates to preparing for the 2020 hurricane season?
ZUBALY: During hurricanes and other disasters, I serve as the mutual aid network coordinator for Florida’s public power communities and the APPA mutual aid working group. In addition, I also serve as the liaison between FMEA’s member utilities and the Florida Governor’s Office, State Emergency Operations Center, Division of Emergency Management and other state and federal government and industry partners. Every May, FMEA hosts a Hurricane Forum for our members where we provide important information on the upcoming season, review lessons learned from recent storms, share best practices with each other, and discuss ways we can better communicate and provide information to our customers. While we had to cancel FMEA’s Hurricane Forum this year because of the Coronavirus pandemic, we will be hosting various webinars and virtual roundtables in its place to continue the information sharing and exchange of ideas with our members.
QUESTION: How is the COVID-19 pandemic affecting FMEA’s hurricane mutual aid/power restoration planning efforts?
ZUBALY: Sending or receiving mutual aid while in the middle of a pandemic creates several new challenges. Some of the recent hurricanes Florida experienced has resulted in hundreds, and even thousands, of mutual aid personnel responding to the state. This year, we need to be prepared for another possible large-scale mutual aid event, but now need to have additional plans in place to follow social distancing guidelines when it comes to lodging, food, onboarding, and work assignments. We also need to make sure we implement proper cleaning and sanitizing protocols, and we need to ensure we are effectively and proactively communicating with customers about restoration activities. To help facilitate these conversations with our members, FMEA is holding a virtual mutual aid webinar to discuss these and other issues pertaining to mutual aid during a pandemic. Our highest priority following a hurricane is to restore power to our customers as quickly and safely as possible. Regardless of the additional procedures we need to implement this year, that priority does not change.
QUESTION: Are there any lessons learned from the 2019 hurricane season that FMEA is incorporating into its preparations for the 2020 hurricane season?
ZUBALY: Every hurricane, and threat of a hurricane, creates lessons learned. We continuously learn from previous storms and find ways to improve – whether it be on preparedness, customer communications, proper documentation for FEMA reimbursement, or the actual power restoration process.