Charley. Frances. Jeanne. For most of us those names bring back bad memories. Blue tarps, sweltering days, and long, hot, frustrating lines at the gas station.
That summer of 2004, people waited hours to fill up if they could even find a station that was open.
But in an exclusive investigation, Local 6 uncovered why we may not be any better off than we were in 2004.
Gas pumps cannot run without electricity, so state lawmakers came up with a solution: make sure the pumps can be powered externally.
The law took effect in 2007 and requires anyone who builds a new gas station in Florida to install a transfer switch. The device allows the station to switch to an outside source of electricity, like a generator, in case of an outage.
Amin Gulamali, who owns the Shell at 846 Kirkman Road in Orlando, said the electrical equipment and installation cost him $25,000.
“It allows us to operate the gasoline unit, the dispensing unit, the registers, and I think they have connected the walk-in cooler also. If you plug in a generator to this box," he said.
And it's not just new gas stations that need a transfer switch. Old stations within a half-mile of an evacuation route are also required to install one.
Local 6 obtained statistics from the Florida Department of Agriculture. In Orange County, 70 gas stations are now generator-ready out of all 512 stations county-wide. That means only 14 percent of all pumps in Orange County can be connected to a generator.
Seminole - 9%
Osceola – 33%
Lake - 28%
Brevard – 14%
Flagler – 59%
Volusia – 8%
"That's not good. That's long lines, lots of people trying to get out of town, no way to get out, and not enough gas,” said Mark Duart, who vividly remembers the 2004 hurricane season.
But there's a bigger problem with the lawmakers' solution.
Local 6 could find only one permanent generator in Volusia County at the Love's truck stop off I-95 in Ormond Beach. Manager Bill Volage said Love's is a primary filling station for utility trucks and first responder vehicles.
Local 6 checked with Orange County, where emergency managers say as far they know, none of the gas stations have generators.
Gas station owners said it's like having a plug without an outlet.
“This does nothing without a generator?” Local 6 asked Gulamali.
“You're absolutely right,” said Gulamali. “And you don't have any generators? I don't have any generators. You haven't bought any, you're not storing them somewhere? The law says we don't have to have a generator, all we have to have is a transfer switch."
Gulamali said he has no plans to buy one even if he can find one after a storm. He said he's staying home and won't force his staff to go to work either. Gulamali said it's not worth the risk.
“Mostly I feel this is a waste of money for the small business owners. To spend $25,000, I could have used that money somewhere else. It's just a piece of equipment that will never be used," he said.
Gulamali said he hasn't used his transfer switch in the 7 years that his Shell has been open. If he had to, he said he wouldn't know how, and claims to hook up a generator he'd have to call in an electrician-- if he could find one after a storm.
"If there's a storm, what does the public get out this?” Local 6 asked Gulamali.
“I don't think anything. Because if I don't have a generator, I cannot even use it," he replied.
The Department of Agriculture is tasked with enforcing the transfer switch law. Press Secretary Erin Gillespie told Local 6 that all stations required to comply are in compliance.