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FPL holds annual hurricane drill

In this handout satellite image provided by National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA), Hurricane Isaac moves toward the Gulf Coast on August 28, 2012 in the Atlantic Ocean.
In this handout satellite image provided by National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA), Hurricane Isaac moves toward the Gulf Coast on August 28, 2012 in the Atlantic Ocean. Getty Images

Hurricane Falcon — a computer-simulated, Category 3 hurricane — made landfall in North Miami on Thursday as Florida Power & Light held its annual storm drill.

Meteorologists, power grid specialists and other employees of the state’s largest electric utility manned a command center in Riviera Beach as they responded to the threat of the test storm’s flood waters and 129-mile-per-hour winds.

“It’s not really a matter of if we’re going to get hit in this state by a hurricane,” said Eric Silagy, president and CEO of FPL, during a press conference. “It’s a question of when and of where in the state it will hit.”

During the drill, the company tested new technology that executives say will lead to a faster and more coordinated responses to emergencies during hurricane season.

The new tools include smart phones and tablets. Field workers will be able to use the devices to send real-time data on power outages and other problems back to headquarters. In the past, employees recorded such incidents with pen and paper.

Also being rolled out this year: a high-tech truck that will act as a field headquarters in the most damaged areas after a storm hits. The truck is equipped with satellite and other communication systems, a powerful, long-range camera and computers that can analyze data from the field.

Silagy said that in the 10 years since Hurricanes Wilma and Katrina hit the state, FPL has invested about $2 billion in new technology and more traditional storm-protection measures, such as replacing wooden power-line poles with concrete ones.

Elizabeth Sherwood-Randall, the deputy secretary of the U.S. Department of Energy, also spoke at the event, stressing the importance of cooperation between government and industry in storm planning.

“Increasingly, we’re focused on the vulnerability of our nation’s infrastructure and none is more vital than the energy grid,” Sherwood-Randall said.

FPL received a $200 million grant from the Department of Energy for its technological upgrades, which Sherwood-Randall called “cutting edge.”

“The kind of sensors you have in the field, the kind of smart grid technology that you’ve deployed that allows you to get real-time information about what’s happening to your citizens and then prioritize how you will respond and restore power is making you an exemplar for a lot of the country,” Sherwood-Randall told FPL employees.

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