With less than a month to go before the start of hurricane season, Florida Power and Light (FPL) held its annual storm drill. On May 2 , more than three thousand employees and regional emergency managers and first responders throughout its coverage area came to the FPL facility in West Palm Beach. This year’s drill featured hypothetical Hurricane Haley, a category one hurricane, which impacts south Florida, moves into the Gulf of Mexico, and makes a second impact on the Florida Panhandle coast.
“The key to being prepared is to drill as realistically as you can,” said FPL CEO Eric Silagy. He added as he described how the company continues to plan for not what may occur, but will occur. Flanked by emergency managers from Dade, Broward, and Palm Beach County as well as other first responders, Silagy told reporters that the drill incorporates “all the lessons learned from previous storms that have hit as us here as well as other places around the county.”
A main criticism of FPL following Hurricane Irma in 2017 was the lack of communication the company had to those who evacuated but wanted to return to their homes after the storm. “We learned that there is a lot of traffic in mediums that didn’t exist decades ago,” said Silagy referring to the significant investment the company has made in those mediums to get that information to customers. These new systems are tested during the drill to make sure that all agencies, from federal, to state, and local are as prepared as they can be to communicate and react to a storm scenario as efficiently as possible.
A look inside the command center shows how in-depth the scenario is. A hurricane track map is not only displayed, but incorporated into a staged newscast that shows a weathercast and what looks like storm damage video from the scene. Rows of desks, each occupied by a certain agency, are given different scenarios which they have to react to and work around. Observers monitor the response and look at ways it can be improved.
Tracy Jackson is the Emergency Services Director of Broward County and has attended the drill in the past. “They ask us for feedback.,” Jackson said. “Every year there is a cycle of getting better and better with every response.”
New to the drill this year was a demonstration by safety employees of Asplundh of the dangers associated with power lines and improperly connected generators. Wires were energized and then typical objects you may find following a storm were added to the circuit. The result was designed to show the dangers present following a storm and the fact that it may take time to asses and begin to repair the damage.
“We spend a lot of time and effort to drill like this because we know the importance of preparation,” Silagy said. “But it is also important to have a hurricane plan and kit individually.”
The Atlantic Hurricane season begins June 1st and runs through to the end of November.