When Hurricane Dorian starts toppling trees and pulling down utility lines, Duke Energy will have about 9,000 people poised to begin working to restore power.
More than 2,000 of those workers are contractors from out of state, from as far away as Texas and Minnesota. As Dorian slowly churned its way up the East Coast, they drove to staging areas in the Triangle and just over the state line in South Carolina.
The largest staging area is at the Coastal Credit Union Music Park at Walnut Creek, where the parking lots are filled with pickups and bucket trucks bearing names such as Atlantic City Electric, Ohio Edison and Jersey Central Power and Light. About 1,500 tree trimmers and line workers will wait here to be pressed into service closer to the coast where Dorian is expected to do the most damage.
“They can be safe here, out of harm’s way,” said Duke Energy spokesman Randy Wheeless. “But in an hour or two, they can be anywhere they need to be in Eastern North Carolina.”
Duke Energy said Wednesday that the storm could cause more than 700,000 homes and businesses to lose power in eastern areas of North and South Carolina and that some of those outages could last several days.
There’s a long tradition of utility companies sending workers to help after a storm; when it looked as if Dorian would cut across Florida, Duke Energy brought 4,300 outside workers into its service area there, including hundreds of its own employees from Ohio and Indiana.
FirstEnergy, a utility based in Akron, Ohio, brought 130 trucks and 250 employees from five states to Raleigh for Dorian. Among them was Brian Kern, a 20-year veteran of Ohio Edison who said there’s a brotherhood among linemen that makes them eager to help.
“I know that if we had a storm up north, they would come for us,” Kern said.
Kern, who lives in Akron, said he has worked hurricanes before, but has only been to North Carolina on vacation. He said he expects to be in the state for as long as 16 days, if necessary, before Ohio Edison would send a relief crew.
While he gets paid for his work, Kern said the way people react when their power comes back on is worth far more.
“I’ve been in places where they haven’t had power for 10 days, and we come in and it’s just cheers,” he said. “Just to help people and actually get the electricity back on, it’s an amazing feeling.”
In addition to hundreds of trucks, the parking lots at Walnut Creek are lined with buses to shuttle workers to and from hotels. There are mobile showers, trailers where workers can sleep if hotels are full and a mess tent.
This small city on wheels will all be gone on Friday, Wheeless said, when country singer Jason Aldean is scheduled to put on a concert Friday night.
To report a power outage to Duke Energy, call 800-419-6356. For online information, including a map of current outages, go to www.duke-energy.com/outages.