ST. PETERSBURG, Fla.-Too many alligators, not enough hotel rooms.

Those are just two of the myriad challenges SECO Energy faced when Hurricane Irma battered its Central Florida service territory last year. But it's important to have friends-especially among your key accounts. And while most of the time it's about what the co-op can do for them, this time help flowed the other way-proving crucial to restoration efforts.

It was hard enough to get contractors, but once the cavalry arrived, all 781 of them needed places to stay. SECO faced the proverbial "no room at the inn" as the co-op competed with evacuees and others for space.

SECO found a church youth camp to house several hundred contractors, but with Irma having blown through, "there was no power, no internet, no water," said Barbie Shaw, SECO's manager of key accounts and energy services.

The camp is served by a municipal utility, and this city is one of SECO's key accounts. But the camp was also impacted by a downed investor-owned utility transmission line.

"We leveraged our relationships with our key contacts and we were able to get service restored to the camp" after a few days, Shaw told a Touchstone Energy® Cooperatives' NET 2018 session. And, she added, had that not happened, it was likely some of the contractors would have left due to the camp conditions. After all, it's the least they could expect to have lights and running water.

"We have loads of pictures and even video where our guys were working on restoration and the alligators were swimming by" in the high water, said Shaw.

Statewide fuel shortages were another problem. At one point, the co-op was down to a day and a half's worth. "I wasn't sure how our trucks were going to fill up," said Shaw.

Until another key account came to SECO's aid.

"The Lake County Board of County Commissioners is also a key account. We have a wonderful relationship with those folks," said Shaw.

The board offered to share the county's fuel with SECO. "They knew the value of keeping our trucks rolling," said Shaw.

The shortage of hotel rooms and fuel was bad enough, but bottled water and ice were nonexistent. The hot days following the storm made these items a necessity. SECO again reached out for help through relationships and was able to meet the needs of its hundreds of crews working tirelessly to restore service to SECO Energy members.

Scott Bialick, Touchstone Energy's senior program manager of business development, said this is why it's crucial for co-ops to be on top of their game managing key accounts relationships.

"You bank that credit," he said, "and when you need it most, people pay it forward."

When bottled water and ice became abundant, SECO chose to give back to its communities.

"We leveraged relationships with service organizations to gain volunteers and set up bottled water and bagged ice distribution centers to help those in need," said Shaw. After feeding crews and staff, remaining food was donated to The Salvation Army.