For service contractors and utility workers who fix power lines and service drops damaged by hurricanes, the danger starts when the wind and rain stop. For nearly six weeks after Hurricanes Frances and Jeanne — two of four storms that punished Florida over a 44-day stretch last August and September — left millions without electricity, electricians from Port St. Lucie, Fla.-based Elite Electric worked overtime to return power to ravaged neighborhoods. And although storm recovery was a cash cow for the company, president John Pankraz was most concerned for his staff's safety. As the 2005 hurricane season reaches its midpoint, he told us how he kept his employees safe while they faced the fallout from Mother Nature's onslaught.
Staff first — Pankraz's techs have homes, too, so he put their problems at the top of his to-do list — and not just because he wanted to take care of their families. “We needed to make sure they were comfortable,” he says. “If they're thinking about what they need to do at home, they're not going to be safe in the field.”
Coordination is key — As Elite's electricians repaired risers, the utility lifted lines, creating a dangerous situation if the two sides didn't communicate. While working on services in areas without power, Pankraz's crew had to keep an eye out for FPL trucks. “When they hooked up a grid, we could be working on it,” he says. “So you had to know when to get back.”
Assume it's hot, even if it's not — It's the cardinal rule of electrical work, but because homeowners can inadvertently back feed the utility line by plugging generators into dryer outlets and leaving their main breaker on, Pankraz made sure his techs always checked for power before starting work. “You just never know what you're going to find,” he says.