Live Oak, Fla. - It’s a cloudy morning in Live Oak, but Ron Ford wakes up determined to cast a ray of sunshine upon the city bearing scars from Hurricane Idalia's fury. He packs a truck with food, water, ice and other essentials as he drives into the battered town where residents are in need of help.
“There’s a lot of devastation right now. This is a very wooded area, and the damage is where the trees are,” Ford explained. “A lot of people got spared, but others not so much and those are the ones we need to focus on.”
For the past 30 years, he’s been a part of Florida Power & Light Company (FPL) where he helps businesses and homeowners address any energy concerns they may have, but when a hurricane strikes his role changes completely.
He joins FPL’s restoration workforce focused entirely on assisting customers affected by hurricanes while troops of lineworkers and other crews work around the clock to get their lights back on. His role in the Customer ActionTeam, also known as CAT Teams, offers residents personalized, face-to-face support in local community centers, shelters, churches or food distribution centers.
Today, he sets up a tent and table in the parking lot of a grocery store where he sees hundreds of people in need of food, water, phone charging, Wi-Fi to contact the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) or just someone to talk to.
“The store was out of ice, so I gave my last bag of ice to someone worried about trying to keep their family member’s medication cool. It was a small thing, but it was so important to him,” he said. “We had a couple stop by who had been out of power since the storm left and they were just happy to have a cold drink of water and a boxed lunch. We forget how much those small things matter.”
Hurricane Idalia made landfall Wednesday morning in Keaton Beach, located along Florida's northern Gulf Coast east of Tallahassee, one hour away from the city of Live Oak. Idalia’s roaring path through Florida and sliced a path directly through Live Oak, plunging thousands of homes and businesses into darkness as power lines lay entangled amidst debris and fallen trees.
Ford sees FPL's CAT Team as an integral part of the company's disaster response dedicated to maintaining communication, support and services to customers facing adverse conditions. His role extends beyond merely restoring power, into giving emotional support and creating an environment of empathy and care for those affected.
“People are always impressed, and it shows we care,” he said. “Although we do tons for communities everywhere year-round, this is the time we can deliver something to them when they need it the most.”