FPL shows off new storm center, technology

Florida Power & Light Co. unveiled its new $3.8 million storm "command center" on Friday, along with new technology to monitor conditions if a severe storm heads our way.

FPL completed a week-long simulation of a virtual Category 3 storm, "Hurricane Marina." The drill is an annual exercise to prepare for the hurricane season, which starts June 1.

Employees left their regular jobs to track outages, assess damage, communicate with customers and begin restoring power.

The command center, near the Rapid Water Park in Riviera Beach, will centralize operations in South Florida to monitor a tropical storm's damage and manage power restoration. A team of 140 emergency operations leaders will work from the concrete center, which is built to withstand a Category 5 hurricane, with winds of 157 mph or higher.

FPL's previous emergency operations center in Miami was damaged in the last major storm, Hurricane Wilma, in 2005.

Another 100 FPL workers will work in the nearby distribution center to track supplies, arrange food and water for workers; and book hotel rooms for those coming in from other states to help restore power.

After Wilma struck, killing 25 and cutting power to 3.2 million Florida homes and businesses,

FPL spent $900 million on electrical grid upgrades. With improved technology, the state's largest utility now can better monitor transmission lines and electrical substations for problems.

In 2011, FPL strengthened 40 main power line systems for critical customers including hospitals, 911 emergency dispatch centers, fire rescue stations. The utility also bolstered power lines on major roads where there are pharmacies, gas stations and grocery stores.

Still, residents should know they will be out of power for days or even weeks, company officials warned.

"No matter how much we drill....Mother Nature still can pack a punch," said Eric Silagy, FPL's president at the drill. "There's no silver bullet."

The utility is working to deploy resources earlier to restore service faster, said Irene White, FPL's senior vice president of operations.

Using Google maps technology, FPL can monitor distribution lines and see restoration work as it happens. Repair trucks have the same technology to increase response time in the field,

FPL customers who have Internet access will be able to check restoration progress online at http://www.fplmaps.com . If the power is out, that information could be accessed on a smart phone, FPL points out.

Silagy said the utility has been looking for new ways to add outside linemen to fix damaged poles and power lines. Normally, contractors come from other utilities in the Southeast, but if a storm were to head north, FPL would have to turn to other parts of the country for help.

FPL is prepared to fly in 120 linemen from California, for example.

mpounds@tribune.com , 561-243-6650

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