After Hurricane Irma, How Power Gets Restored

Crews From the Midwest Traveling to Florida to Help Get the Lights Back On
Sep 13, 2017 9:05 AM ET

After Hurricane Irma, How Power Gets Restored

By Jessica Wells

Mike Volrich will celebrate 30 years with Duke Energy next week, but he is still finding new opportunities. On Monday, he traveled to Florida to work a hurricane for the first time. 

He has worked countless ice storms and tornadoes in Indiana throughout his career, and although they have different hazards, he approaches them all with the same mindset.

Volrich of Bloomington, Ind., is a damage assessor. He and his team are the ones who forge ahead into the downed trees and power lines ‑ sometimes in darkness with just a flashlight - to determine what lineworkers will require to fix equipment and get the lights back on. The company will deploy its workers and equipment to begin the complex job of power restoration.“Being safe,” Volrich said. “As long as we're vigilant about being safe, it will work out.”

Duke Energy will first restore power to critical infrastructure such as emergency centers, fire stations, hospitals and other public safety and health facilities. Then major power transmission lines, damaged substations and other large-scale electrical equipment are repaired to restore power to the largest number of customers, as quickly and as safely as possible.

Working tornadoes, Volrich has seen devastation. He recalled with watery eyes assessing a property where a tornado destroyed a family’s trailer. When he arrived, the contents of the house were strewn across the yard, and the family was sitting on all that was left of their home -- concrete steps that once led to the front door. 

“We have a duty to the public,” he said. “It's not just a job. We made a commitment to ensure the welfare of the public.”

So when he got the order to pack for two weeks and head to destination unknown, he loaded down his white Ford F-150 in Indiana and headed eight hours south on Saturday with 1,500 other crews from Indiana, Kentucky and Ohio. They are among almost 9,000 workers being deployed by Duke Energy to restore power in Florida.  

For two days they camped at a staging site in Perry, Ga., until it was safe to travel to Florida and disperse to their assigned work locations. 

“Being flexible is the name of the game,” he said, “and we're good at it.”

Volrich has perfected the art of packing a pickup. He has the obvious necessities -- extra shirts because showers are hard to come by, bug spray for walking in swampy rights-of-way, and safety items like reflective vests and first aid kits.

But he has more random items, too, like a tick removal kit (a recent addition to his packing list), trash bags, windshield wiper solution and topical pain relievers for instant relief.

All of his supplies are packed smartly in plastic bins stored in the covered bed of his truck and the extended cab.

“It's a combination of knowing what's required,” he said, “and knowing what makes you comfortable.”

As Hurricane Irma passed over Georgia and power flickered on and off at the staging site Monday, Vorlich and the rest of the crews watched the weather and waited to find out where and when they could get to work. The word finally came about 4 p.m. He and about 30 others were headed to Monticello, Fla., outside Tallahassee.

“The waiting is slow,” he said. “This is a different storm, so you just have to roll with it.”