It’s been almost two and half years since Hurricane Wilma made landfall, the last of seven storms to hit Florida Power & Light Co.’s service territory in a 15-month period. Yet every year the company prepares for storm season as if the next Wilma could arrive tomorrow.
To test its ability to respond before and after a hurricane, FPL management and employees conduct an annual exercise simulating a hurricane landfall somewhere in the company’s service area. The mock drill, known as a “Dry Run” exercise, concludes today and culminates four days of intensive practice by FPL personnel to prepare themselves in the event of a real hurricane this storm season.
“Our annual storm Dry Run exercise is part of our commitment to our customers to be proactive and prepared for the challenge of hurricane season. Dry Run allows us to test every aspect of what FPL will do in the event of a real storm,” said Al Alfonso, FPL’s vice president of distribution.
This year’s mock storm was named “Beta,” an October hurricane that starts its life in the Atlantic and slowly grows to a huge and powerful Category 5 hurricane before slowly making its way to South Florida. “Beta” makes landfall as a strong Category 3 storm between Miami-Dade and Broward Counties, then cuts a curving path through Palm Beach and other communities up the coast before heading out to sea near Port St. Lucie. Similar to some of the hurricanes of the 2004 and 2005 hurricane seasons, Hurricane “Beta” is an urban weather event that tears through some of the company’s most densely populated coastal areas.
Throughout the four days of practice FPL tests its storm plans and tactics, applying “lessons learned" from previous hurricanes and other extreme events such as tornadoes. Dry Run brings together thousands of FPL employees to practice the company’s emergency plan, which includes tracking outages, assessing damage, communicating with customers and employees, and initiating the service restoration plan. To make the exercise as real as possible, FPL computers generate the damage a storm will bring to the electrical system. FPL also considers other factors, such as post-storm weather, elections and school openings to test the ability of the team to remain flexible and focused on the ultimate mission: restoring power to customers safely and as quickly as possible.
In conjunction with Dry Run, FPL begins to make storm preparations months in advance of hurricane season. FPL works with its suppliers to stock up on poles, wires and other electrical equipment that might be needed in the event of a storm. The company reviews its inventory of hotels and food vendors who will be called upon to house and feed the thousands of men and women required in a restoration effort that may last weeks. FPL secures staging sites throughout its 35 county service area from where it can quickly deploy equipment and crews to storm-damaged communities.
FPL follows a process that restores power to the largest number of customers first while taking into consideration the welfare and urgent needs of the community. First, the company repairs damage to power generation plants and lines that carry power from the plants. Concurrently, the company focuses on repairing poles and lines that serve critical infrastructure, such as hospitals, police, fire, communications, water, sanitary and transportation services. Next, the company works to return service to the largest number of customers in the shortest amount of time –- including service to the main thoroughfares that host supermarkets, gas stations and other needed 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.
Estimated Times of Restoration
Immediately after a storm, FPL deploys field teams to conduct neighborhood-by-neighborhood damage assessments. This helps FPL to assign the right resources, crews and materials to each effort and to provide customers an estimate of when repairs will be finished and power restored in their area. Depending on the severity of the storm, FPL will provide a total system Estimated Time of Restoration (ETR) within 24 hours after a storm has passed and no longer poses a safety risk to field teams and restoration crews. County ETRs are provided within 48 hours, and sub-county ETRs within 72 to 96 hours.
FPL does not assign restoration work according to when a customer calls to report an outage, where a customer lives, or the status of an account. FPL begins work in multiple locations wherever storm damage had interrupted service and follows an overall plan that prioritizes groups over individuals.
FPL’s Storm Restoration Organization
FPL’s storm structure is divided into three distinct areas.
“We are preparing ourselves to respond to hurricanes and to restore service as quickly as possible. No electrical system can ever be made 100 percent hurricane-proof, and we encourage our customers to prepare for an extended outage just in case. While we are continuing to strengthen our system to minimize damage, reduce power outages, and restore service more quickly, we recognize that being without electricity after a natural disaster is difficult for everyone. Our customers can help by preparing their families and businesses so that we can all better manage the aftermath of a storm,” said Alfonso.