February 21, 2023 L.E. Myers Districts Provide Hurricane Ian Storm Restoration Services in Florida
MYR Group hurricane response relies on preparedness, tireless commitment, an ‘unsung hero’ at the center of it all
Little children play in the street as if it was any other day.
It’s the beauty of kids, to live completely immersed in the present. Yesterday and tomorrow don’t matter, not even the most terrifying experience of their young lives or the total uncertainty lying ahead of them.
For mature eyes, it’s unnerving to witness such a normal sight because everything around these kids paints the story of a terrifying, abnormal reality. Houses leveled. Belongings scattered. Vehicles washed away.
You immediately comprehend what the children playing in the street simply cannot – yesterday was life-altering and tomorrow will never be the same.
“I’ve seen some God-awful things. You go to an area, they didn’t evacuate, and everything is destroyed. People’s whole lives are scattered across the ground,” L.E. Myers Senior Operations Manager RJ Richards said. “And you talk to these kids and ask where they were during the storm and they’ll say, ‘in that house right there.’ You look at the house and are like, ‘holy crap.’ It doesn’t even look like there’s a place to hunker down. There’s just so much physical destruction.
“But the emotional scars a hurricane leaves on people, you can’t see that just driving down the street. People lose their job, lose their house, lose their car all in one day. They’re left with nothing and are evacuated to shelters. It’s hard, man.”
Hurricane Ian made landfall on the west coast of Florida near Fort Myers on Sept. 28, as a Category 4 hurricane, ravaging the state with winds speeds of 155 MPH and becoming the deadliest hurricane to strike Florida since 1935.
Richards, who grew up in the Florida Keys and has lived through many hurricanes, can’t rebuild people’s homes or bring back what was lost, but what he can do is restore power to affected communities across the state. To provide people with at least some sense of normalcy in an otherwise surreal time.
Make no mistake, when it comes to hurricane response for MYR Group, Richards is at the center of it all.
Thanks to his months of preparation, years of networking, and constant communication internally and with utilities across Florida, MYR Group’s storm response was ready and waiting to play its role in the state’s recovery.
Just a day after Hurricane Ian struck Florida, crews of lineworkers from L.E. Myers, Harlan Electric, and Great Southwestern Construction were on the ground to restore power to affected communities. More than 160 MYR Group lineworkers came from around the country and tirelessly worked to repair the damage done by the storm.
“He’s the unsung hero,” L.E. Myers Indianapolis district manager David Boddy says with great appreciation. “He’s the quarterback of all this, and without him, it falls apart and doesn’t work nearly as well.”
Experience has taught Richards that preparation is critical.
Seven months before Ian hit Florida at full force, he made phone calls and coordinated with 20 utilities all over the state to get contracts finalized, ensuring that when hurricane season came (June-November), MYR Group would be ready to respond.
The challenge with hurricanes is that their path is unpredictable, even a day out. So, strong relationships are invaluable because any part of the state could potentially be affected on short notice.
Richards keeps a shop full of tools and equipment prepared and locked all year exclusively for hurricane response so that when the time comes, there are no delays or unexpected inventory problems. He also keeps a robust call list of more than 300 lineworkers he can reach out to for emergency restoration.
He’s even streamlined the hiring paperwork and orientation process so that new lineworkers coming to work the storm are in and out to respond in the field within half a day.
As hurricane season approaches, Richards coordinates with district managers and vice presidents across MYR Group, determining which districts and projects have the flexibility to release lineworkers to respond to storms. This not only aids the emergency response effort but also limits negative impacts across all subsidiaries and districts.
Often, Richards has as many as eight people coming to him for answers – all on the same call.
“He’s the cool operator. He doesn’t freak out or get stressed,” Boddy said. “I was more stressed than he was and I’m not even in the hurricane.”
Thaddeus Laventure, a general foreman with L.E. Myers and Richards’ “right-hand man” for hurricane response, has worked roughly 20 hurricanes in his 12 years as a lineworker. Laventure admires just how calm Richards remains, even as everyone looks to him for guidance.
“RJ’s a lineman first, so he knows everything that has to go into it. He’s a very personable guy and he’s definitely the person you want doing it,” Laventure said. “This was the first time I’ve seen it behind the scenes and it’s a ton of work. But for him, it was just like any other day at the office.”
Richards is friendly and speaks with a subtle Southern drawl, and it doesn’t take long to understand why he’s able to foster so many strong relationships that play a pivotal role at the center of the company’s hurricane response efforts.
He worked 21 straight days without a day off before, during, and in the aftermath of Ian, with a simple philosophy – if his phone rings, he answers. He appreciates the credit others heap on him for his relentless effort but is quick to deflect it elsewhere.
“I draw on the company and how everyone has bought into storm response, from the highest level of management. It’s not just RJ over here, but the whole organization from the top down,” he said. “Leadership always backs me, and I feel the proudest to be an employee at MYR Group during storm time.”
It’s a sentiment shared by all those MYR Group lineworkers and others who witness a hurricane’s destruction firsthand.
For the lineworkers, “storm chasing” is an opportunity to help communities return to life in the aftermath of devastation. But it’s not easy either, living out of a hotel or sometimes a tent for weeks at a time, relying on 4-6 hours of sleep, all while performing the work properly and safely.
Laventure says you just have to “go with the flow” and that the crews he worked with took it in stride. It’s when the work is finished, and the lights come back on when all the sacrifice becomes clear.
“Crews came from all over and they were very grateful for being able to help and restore power,” he said. “Once you turn on the power, we joke it’s a victory lap. You go by and check that everybody has power and that you didn’t miss anybody. You can sense the pride these crews have for the work they do.”
Hazel and Doug Witter of Ormond Beach were among the millions of Floridians who lost power. Hazel sent a thank you note via Facebook to L.E. Myers and their crews for restoring their power sooner than they had expected.
“We appreciate them coming to Florida…leaving their families, to come here to restore our power.” Hazel Witter wrote. “Thank you so much! It doesn’t feel like that’s enough, but it’s from our hearts.”
Restored power won’t erase the terror of yesterday or remove the struggles of tomorrow.
But it’s a start.