City Electrical Director Jamie Huber and four Pratt city electrical crew members left for Florida on Thursday to help restore power after Hurricane Irma hits.
While most people turn away from a storm, particularly one of the magnitude of Hurricane Irma barreling inland towards southern Florida, a few brave men from the city of Pratt's electrical division gathered up their supplies and headed south Thursday morning.
"We were glad to get the call asking for assistance late Wednesday afternoon," said city manager Rick Eckert. "It was a bit of a short notice, but the is the kind of something our guys do. We help others."
City Electrical Director and four city electrical crew members joined together with volunteers from eight other Kansas electrical units to convoy to Florida. They will be watching the weather closely to determine when and where they enter the state and where they can be most helpful in restoring electrical power after the hurricane and related storms have passed.
"Protocol is that the line crews do not go in until the hurricane's path has been determined," Ekcert said. "A lot of damage occurs from tornadoes which are spawned from the high winds following the hurricane. We don't want to get our crews in harm's way, so my instructions to our men was to wait and watch from at least 100 miles away before going in."
Eckert, who has been part of crews helping restore power and clean-up after hurricanes in the past said that it was highly likely roads into hard-hit areas of Florida would be completely impassible.
"There will be at least a 24-hour downtime after the storm and before we can get in there," he said. "We have to wait until the local crews and get debris cleared from the roads, then each crew will be assigned a specific area to go into to get the power back on."
Pratt lineman are joined by lineman from Moundridge, Wellington, Gardner, Baldwin City, Chanute, Clay Center and Kansas City Board of Public Utilities. The 30 electric linemen will form 12 crews that plan to help Orlando restore damages from Hurricane Irma to the city-owned electric utility system.
The Kansas utilities coordinated by Kansas Municipal Utilities will team up with the municipal electric crews responding from Missouri through the Missouri Public Utilities Association to assist Orlando. Crews are being dispatched to Florida from as far away as Minnesota, Wisconsin, and Ohio as part of a coordinated national response with the American Public Power Association.
“Kansas has a strong tradition of neighbor helping neighbor in time of disaster,” said Colin Hansen, Kansas Municipal Utilities Executive Director. “Mutual aid is an important program for cities needing help in an emergency or disaster situation. We are pleased to have a committed group of cities that are willing to respond to get resources where they are needed and when they are needed.”
Eckert said the Pratt contingent could be gone as long as a week or 10-days, depending on the severity of the storm, extent of damage to electrical power systems and the availability of additional help.
"They take with them everything they will need for that extent of time at least," Eckert said. "Then they also are fed by the local people there who are always so thankful for the help. Everybody really pitches in when it is a time of disaster and tries to help in any way they can. It is a rewarding situation."
Eckert said the local Pratt electrical grid will be well kept while Huber and crew are in Florida, no matter how long it takes.
"Our crews here are great and we have sufficient people to handle any emergencies here, if they should arrive," he said. "We are just glad to be able to send our guys out to help those in need."
As of Friday, weather forecasters continued to predict that Hurricane Irma would hit the southern tip of Florida head-on and churn up the middle of the state, covering the entire state with damaging winds in excess of 155 miles per hour, 20-plus inches of rain in areas and accompanied by storm surges. It could be one of the most damaging weather systems to hit the United States in history.