By Susan SalisburyPalm Beach Post Staff Writer
Updated: 9:52 p.m. Friday, May 11, 2012
Posted: 1:56 p.m. Friday, May 11, 2012
RIVIERA BEACH With fictitious Category 3 Hurricane Marina having made landfall in South Florida the night before, Florida Power & Light Co.’s new Command Center was abuzz Friday with 140 employees practicing for a real storm.
The unveiling of the $3.8 million Category 5-hardened Command Center off Military Trail, north of 45th Street, was the culmination of the company’s annual weeklong hurricane preparedness drill, which involved 3,000 employees.
Hurricane season begins June 1.
During the last round of hurricanes in 2004 and 2005, FPL’s Command Center was in its general office building in Miami. Now the center – the response hub that coordinates the overall storm response – is on the same property as its Physical Distribution Center. The distribution center houses equipment and a storm-planning center for 100 restoration workers.
“We work on the infrastructure each and every day,” said Irene White, senior director of operations support. “If we have a hurricane, there will be outages. We can’t make anything 100 percent hurricane proof.”
Since October 2005’s Wilma, the last hurricane to devastate Florida, there are more than 1.2 million more people living in the state, and Juno Beach-based FPL has roughly 230,000 more customers.
“We prepare. We hope all our customers and all Floridians will prepare,” said FPL President Eric Silagy, who during the last round of hurricanes worked as vice president/development for FPL’s sister company, NextEra Energy Resources.
“We’ve spent a lot of time, money and effort on storm hardening.”
Prior to fake Marina making landfall in Lantana, employees began “watching it like a hawk” determining how strong it was and what its winds were. Based on information about past Category 3 storms, data was entered into computer systems to determine the potential damage.
During the simulation, employees played such roles as tracking outages, assessing damage, communicating with customers and employees, and initiating service restoration.
Others worked on the logistics that might be needed for as many as 13,000 restoration workers, many from out of town, who will need hotel rooms, water, ice, meals and re-fueling 7,000 to 8,000 trucks each night, said Keith White, senior director of logistics.
FPL’s plan includes restoring hospitals, police and fire stations, 911 facilities and others, then on to restoring large blocks of customers including grocery stores and gas stations.
Neighborhoods are the next priority, with the goal of restoring as many people’s power in the shortest possible time.
“Everybody wants to know, when am I going to get my power back on,” Irene White said.
In the past seven years, the technology FPL uses before, during and after a hurricane has become more advanced. For example, now trucks are equipped with SMobile Technology, a Google-based application that allows workers to track outages and repair progress in real time.
The same technology is at the 10,000-square-foot command center, which is equipped with redundant systems.
Despite such state-of-the-art advances as an interactive online power tracker map – www.fplmaps.com – that allows customers to view where outages have been reported, the
bottom line is that customers need to contact FPL when they lose power.
FPL doesn’t automatically know where power is out unless something major occurs, such as an equipment failure at a substation, Irene White said.