Florida Power & Light demonstrated its storm response system a month before the start of hurricane season. The company was hoping to reassure the community that it has a sound system for restoring power as quickly as possible to residents and businesses in the event of a storm.
The centerpiece of the May 8 demonstration was the company’s mobile command center.
“The main role of the command center is to communicate damage information out to the field as quickly as possible’’ during a storm, said Steve Palmieri, 42, an FPL operations supervisor.
Palmieri said FPL would park the truck at what is called a work base – a large field or parking lot such as the one at the BankAtlantic Center in Sunrise or the Miami Fair Grounds in Miami-Dade County.
There, he said, FPL would assemble workers who have come to help from out of state, including some who have traveled from as far away as Canada in recent years.
During the 2004 and 2005 hurricane seasons, when Florida was hit with several major storms each year – Charlie, Jeanne and Frances in 2004 and Katrina, Wilma, Rita and Dennis in 2005, – nearly 92,000 workers traveled to the state to help clear downed trees and restore power to millions of affected homes and businesses.
The large truck is fitted with a satellite dish that allows FPL workers inside to communicate with the computers at the company’s Miami headquarters. The rows of computer systems and TV monitors are matched to those at FPL, allowing workers to operate in the field much as they would at the hub.
Using the command center, Palmieri says FPL can distribute duties to its field workers, and even communicate with customers. In the case of a smaller storm, tornado or major power outage, the command center can be dispatched directly to the affected neighborhood.
The company demonstrated a typical response, reacting to a fictional Category 4 hurricane named “Beta’’ that made “landfall’’ off the Atlantic coast.
Palmieri said rapid communication is key to responding effectively to a real-life storm.
“We know that through experience," Palmieri said. “And what this truck lets us do is communicate to the field much faster than we ever could in the past.’’
FPL spent $300,000 on the vehicle in 2001. It’s part of a larger fleet that includes five trailers also affixed with satellite trucks, plus FPL’s other emergency response equipment. The company services 4.5 million customers throughout the state, and operates 15 power plants, 573 substations and more than 6,600 miles of electrical transmission lines, plus another 25,000 miles of buried lines. During a hurricane, Palmieri said roughly 2,000 workers are on duty, on 16-hour rotating shifts, including managers, field crews and customer service agents.
Despite the bells and whistles available to FPL, Palmieri cautions customers to do their part to prepare for a storm.
“Do your normal preparation; shutter your house, get your supplies. Be prepared to be without electricity for at least a couple of days,’’ he said. “We’ve gone through huge efforts to fortify our systems, to harden our systems, but the fact is you’re dealing with a hurricane, and hurricanes are a horrible, horrible storm, so the best thing I can tell a customer is be prepared, we are doing everything we can so you don’t lose your electricity, and if you do, we’re doing everything we can to turn it back on.’’
Photo by Elgin Jones. SFT Staff. FPL’s Mobile Command Center provides the capability to make decisions from the field, enhancing restoration efforts following a storm.