SOUTHERN INDIANA — As Hurricane Dorian threatens landfall in the Southern United States over the next several days, electrical workers from Southern Indiana are making their way to Florida, ready to assist where needed.
On Monday, 16 linemen and nine trucks departed from Clark County REMC, heading to the Central Florida Electric Cooperative in Chiefland. Of these, two are from Clark County, which has a total of about a dozen linemen on staff. The other workers come from electric coops in Henry, Hendricks, Johnson and Morgan counties in Indiana.
Chuck Tiemann, with the Indiana Electric Cooperative, is traveling with the crews as one of two safety directors. He said when they got the request from Central Florida, the workers stepped up immediately.
"We put an email out and literally had the 16 linemen filled in 12 or 15 minutes," he said Tuesday. "Our guys responded really well."
Brian Omerso, manager of marketing and manager services at Clark County REMC, said the County was first contacted Friday morning, but it wasn't immediately certain when crews should travel South.
"They just didn't know what would happen because the path and speed of the storm was so up in the air," he said. "We didn't want to get down too early and take up hotel rooms while people were trying to evacuate but at the same time we didn't want to be traveling down in the middle of the storm."
The teams were expected to arrive in Florida early Tuesday evening and go over safety rules and voltage of the systems, and Tiemann said it would likely be Wednesday before they knew how much damage they could be looking at.
The National Weather Service reported Tuesday just before 5 p.m. that the storm, which had downgraded a category 2 storm after holding court over the Bahamas as a category 5, still had a potential to touch land in Florida and the Carolinas.
"We'll just have to wait and see," Tiemann said. "Let it hit and pick up the pieces when it's done. That's what we do."
He said if things upgrade and more workers are needed, they could get them rolling out within two to four hours.
Tiemann was also there two years ago, when the coops sent help down South for Hurricane Irma. That year, 60 workers from coops all over the state headed out from Clark County. But he remembers that as being quite a different situation.
"Irma was very unique," he said. "That was a big, big, big hurricane. That certainly took out a lot more electrical systems. This one is not as widespread."
In total there are more than 900 electrical cooperatives across all but a handful of states in the U.S., under the umbrella of the National Rural Electric Cooperative Association. Omerso, with Clark County, said they are always ready to help one another — it's built into the business model of the coops.
"That's the way cooperatives are designed to work," he said. "We're not just driven by the bottom line profit and shareholders; we try to operate for the benefit of our community and all communities.
"Electricity is what powers everything we do. It takes care of our safety, it takes care of our health needs, so the faster we get that back up the better."