Preparing for the 2007 hurricane season is a top priority for Florida's largest utility, Florida Power & Light Company. Today, Florida Gov. Charlie Crist looked on as FPL employees tested emergency management processes, technologies and communication.
Gov. Crist said, "Thank you for being prepared and doing what you do to help turn on the lights for Florida after a hurricane."
For the purposes of the exercise, Hurricane Max was originally described as a Category 5 storm as it moved eastward over the Atlantic. As Hurricane Max traveled closer to the state of Florida and Palm Beach County, one of the most densely populated areas in FPL's service territory, it became a Category 4 storm. It arrived in North Palm Beach with Category 3 intensity, crossing the state and exiting as a Category 1 storm through Charlotte Harbor on the West Coast of Florida.
FPL's dry-run exercise simulated all phases of Hurricane Max. According to Geisha Williams, FPL vice president of distribution and the executive in charge of storm restoration, "We take our annual storm preparation very seriously, because we know our customers rely on us to be ready. Today's exercise and all of the days of preparation leading up to it allowed us to test virtually every aspect of what FPL will do in the event we are confronted with a storm like Hurricane Max."
The exercise tested FPL emergency response personnel on pre- and post-hurricane readiness tactics and activities, including storm planning and tracking, damage assessment, customer communication and the company's restoration plan.
"A great deal of planning and preparation goes into this dry-run exercise," said Williams. "This training is so that our storm personnel have the tools and the knowledge to efficiently respond to our customers' needs for power and to provide continuous communication on our progress, in the aftermath of a natural disaster."
FPL uses a proven storm model to predict damage prior to the landfall of a hurricane. This allows FPL to customize the restoration plan and, once the storm hits, to refine the plan to reflect the final path and intensity.
FPL's storm watch countdown
- 72 hours before storm landfall - FPL activates the command center and the storm organization is alerted. The storm logistics team initiates its plans by increasing inventory levels and alerting vendors and suppliers. At this point, staging sites are pre-identified; state and county emergency centers are contacted as well as the external utilities/contractors and resource requirements are forecasted.
- 48 hours before storm landfall - FPL's computer models predict system damage and a restoration plan is developed. Commitments from personnel, materials providers and logistics teams are contacted for additional support. Also, employees begin to prepare their families and homes and travel teams are identified.
- 24 hours before storm landfall - A pre-check of equipment, facilities and systems is conducted. External personnel are pre-staged out of harm's way, mobile inventory and rapid trailers are readied and comments are provided to the media by FPL's spokespeople.
Path, intensity and resources: three critical drivers of the restoration
Each hurricane is different and, as such, the speed of any given restoration varies from one storm to another. The path taken by the storm, the intensity of its winds and the related damage, the amount of rain and restoration resources available all combined will determine the pace of the restoration.
The utility follows a plan that allows first for the restoration of power generation plants, followed by repair activities to get electricity flowing through the high voltage lines. Concurrently, the company starts repairing poles and lines that serve critical infrastructure, such as hospitals, police, fire, communications, water, sanitary and transportation services deemed critical for the well-being of the community as a whole.
Simultaneously, FPL makes repairs to the poles and lines that will return service to the largest number of customers in the shortest amount of time including service to the main lines which carry electricity to facilities, such as supermarkets, gas stations and other crucial community services. This is followed by the next largest number of customers until crews converge in the hardest hit areas and every customer is restored.
FPL's storm restoration organization
FPL's storm structure is divided into three distinct areas.
- Storm command center - From this location, FPL manages the restoration efforts throughout its 35-county service area, working through various FPL service centers and a number of staging sites. The command center is where the restoration and logistics planning takes place and where instruction is provided to staging sites and service centers on how to go about restoring power back to the communities.
- Work bases (staging sites and service centers) - These working sites are in addition to FPL's service centers and house the thousands of restoration crews and support personnel who are executing the restoration plan. These sites are pre-selected before the storm season and arrangements are made beforehand for technology hookups.
- Logistics - The Logistics organization provides support for emergency events to the staging sites, securing services such as materials, food, water and housing.
"Through the Storm Secure efforts, together with a number of on-going preventative activities, the electric system is being strengthened to better withstand the forces of nature, minimizing damage and outages and allowing for a speedier recovery," said Williams. "Being without electricity in the aftermath of a natural disaster is difficult for everyone. Floridians can help by preparing their families and businesses so that we can all better manage the aftermath of a storm."