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Hurricane & Wildfire Season Is Just Getting Started – Are You Ready?

We are only eight weeks into the 2020 hurricane season, and we already have had nine named storms in the Atlantic and four in the Pacific. Hurricane Hanna made landfall in Texas last weekend, and the Hawaiian Islands just barely dodged a direct hit from Hurricane Douglas. Now, weather experts are closely watching Tropical Storm Isaias in the Caribbean that has the mainland United States on alert. The National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration predicted an “above-normal” storm season, and it appears that Mother Nature got the word.

While there is never a good time for a hurricane—or a wildfire or an earthquake for that matter—our nation also is in the midst of the COVID-19 pandemic, which complicates preparations and response. That’s why it’s so important that we all take time to make sure that we are ready to protect ourselves and our families if and when disaster strikes.

While not perfect, the steps we have taken during the pandemic to stay home and to maintain social distancing have saved untold lives and have allowed our essential workers to keep our hospitals open, our grocery stores stocked, and our electricity and natural gas flowing.

Now, we face the potential for major storms and wildfires that could force us from the safety of our homes and challenge our ability to remain apart.

Since the beginning of the pandemic, our nation’s electric companies have worked around the clock to fulfill our responsibility to our customers, our communities, and our country. Our mission-essential workers have worked tirelessly to keep the power on, so that we can stay safe in our homes and our front-line workers can do their jobs.

Our industry quickly adapted our approaches to disaster response to ensure that we can respond effectively while protecting the safety of our customers and our crews. Our mutual assistance network remains the centerpiece of our response to events that cause significant power outages, ensuring that electric companies can help each other by sending workers and equipment from around the country to the communities that need help.

Honoring this commitment required us to implement, evaluate, and constantly update protocols to protect our workforce from COVID-19. We have rewritten our disaster response playbook: Face-to-face briefings now are being done online. Large base camps are being replaced with more, smaller camps. And every step in the process – from how workers travel to where they sleep to what personal protective equipment they wear – has been adapted for this new reality.

Just as we have seen with COVID-19, the only way to reduce the impact of a crisis is to have every person do their part as well. Preparedness is a shared responsibility, and here are two ways that you can get started:

  • Have a plan: If you have an emergency preparedness plan, as many families do, double-check it and make sure it takes COVID-19 into consideration. If you do not have a plan, now is the time to make one, so you will know where to go, how to avoid potential hazards, and how to locate and connect with loved ones. You can visit ready.gov for checklists, tips, and videos to help you develop your plan. Beyond the plan, you also should create an emergency outage kit and stock up on necessary food, water, medications, and other supplies to last for at least three to five days. Make sure to include masks or face coverings, as well as hand sanitizer.
  • Act early: Time and again, people who try to wait out a storm or other natural disaster end up suffering more than those who are ready to act. Leaving your home can be extremely difficult emotionally and physically, especially now. It also can be the difference between life and death. When you follow evacuation orders, you also keep first responders out of harm’s way. When local government officials make an evacuation order, please do not wait. Act early and keep yourself and your family safe. Evacuating can be complicated, even when not facing a global pandemic, which is why it is so important that you have a plan before a disaster strikes.

These past several months have been challenging for all Americans. The prospect of a life-threatening storm or other natural disaster can add to already-high levels of stress. As we have seen all across the country, Americans are capable of doing what it takes to protect themselves and their loved ones. And, our mission-essential workforce is safe, healthy, and ready to go if a hurricane strikes or a natural disaster causes power outages. We are committed to powering through this crisis—and this hurricane and wildfire season—together.

Tom Kuhn is president of the Edison Electric Institute, the association that represents all U.S. investor-owned electric companies, which serve nearly 70 percent of America’s industries, businesses, and residential electricity customers.

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Discussions

Matt Chester's picture
Matt Chester on Aug 3, 2020 11:56 am GMT

Thanks for this, Tom-- it's indeed a more scary season for hurricanes and wildfires given everything else that's going on. What added considerations must utilities take when communicating with customers given the COVID-19 situation? Do you anticipate new strategies will be required to help encourage proactive steps to be taken? Or will there be new challenges arisen from the shift in where people are spending their time (e.g., many more people working from home)?

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