Despite a massive effort to gird the electrical network, Florida Power & Light concedes that if a hurricane strikes South Florida, thousands will be left in the dark.
“There will absolutely be power outages,” said Irene White, FPL director of operations. “Hurricanes are incredible forces of nature.”
Still, the state’s largest utility says its 4.6 million customers can expect to see a quicker, multi-pronged battle plan to restore power.
FPL says it is prepared to deploy more than 6,500 electrical workers, the result of cooperative agreements with companies across the Southeast. Computer models will be used to predict which areas would suffer the most outages – days before a storm arrives. And numerous staging areas will be set up across the region, allowing repair trucks to be fueled, electrical equipment to be stockpiled and workers to brace for the job ahead.
The utility plans to better communicate when residents can expect their power to come back on. And it will concentrate on immediately opening gas stations, grocery stores and ATMs along major thoroughfares.
“It would help people to cope,” White said. “That’s a key element of our plan.”
Past hurricanes have knocked out power to hundreds of thousands, including Andrew, which in 1992 left almost 2 million in the dark. However, it was after the tumultuous 2004 and 2005 storm seasons – and after Hurricane Wilma left more than 3.2 million without power, some for months – that FPL launched a major improvement program.
Since 2006, it spent almost $1 billion to bolster poles, clear vegetation from about 75,000 miles of lines and place about 40 percent of its network underground, all to prevent massive power outages.
It also has “hardened” the electrical systems of 370 critical public service complexes, including hospitals, emergency operations centers, water treatment plants and police and fire stations.
As part of that process, on Wednesday it installed the first in a series of 116 concrete poles along North Park Road, leading to the Hollywood water treatment plant. Each pole, 55 feet in height, is able to withstand gusts up to 145 mph.
Overall, FPL has strengthened more than 60 main power lines in Broward County and another 60 in Palm Beach County. By the end of this year, FPL plans to strengthen more lines along Miramar Parkway in Miramar, Hiatus Road in Sunrise, Andrews Avenue in Wilton Manors and Jog Road in Lake Worth.
FPL spokesman Dave McDermitt said the utility works with emergency officials to determine which thoroughfares should be given priority.
“These are areas that they feel are the most important to getting communities back on their feet faster,” he said.
FPL, which serves a 35-county area, also annually inspects 140,000 power poles. In the past year, it strengthened electrical connections to acute care facilities, 911 dispatch centers, major highway crossings and other public service complexes.
For instance, in the Hollywood area, FPL has upgraded and strengthened the main power line serving Memorial Regional Hospital, Hollywood Medical Center, Kindred Hospital and Port Everglades.
It is not just hurricanes that can result in widespread outages. In August 2008, a wet, sloppy Tropical Storm Fay left 95,750 without power across the southern third of Florida – almost 16,000 in Broward and Palm Beach counties.
Despite all its preparations, FPL urges residents to brace for potential blackouts after a storm.
“People have gotten a little complacent because we haven’t had a storm in seven years,” White said.Copyright © 2014, Los Angeles Times