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Florida – after Wilma: Trust Us, We’re Ready for the Next Hurricane

Posted by Lindy on September 14, 2010


Think back to October 24th, 2005, when Hurricane Wilma blew into South Florida. It wasn’t the strongest storm we’ve ever had, but it turned the lights out for a record number of people: 3.2 million Florida Power and Light (FPL) customers were in the dark, left without power, many for more than a week.

In Wilma’s aftermath, the utility company started a major effort to beef up the whole electrical grid. Crews installed new, heavy-duty poles for main transmission lines, and they hardened feeder lines (made the electricity cables stronger) concentrating on critical facilities, like hospitals.

“These lines can withstand wind gusts up to 240km/hr,” said FPL spokesman Mayco Villefana, standing in front of Aventura Medical Centre.

The idea is if they don’t have to worry about hospitals, fire, and police stations, the power company can concentrate on fixing outages (loss of electricity) in residential neighbourhoods after a hurricane. Part of that involves burying power lines whenever possible. Villefana told us FPL has increased the number of underground transmission lines since 2005, up to about 40 percent of its total installations, and not just to hospitals. Gas (petrol) stations and supermarkets are also considered critical needs, so FPL has been giving them priority in strengthening feeder lines. Remember after Wilma, living through the nightmare of trying to gas up your car when hardly any gas stations had electricity? (put petrol in your car when the pumps had no electricity to make them work)

Since 2006, FPL has spent about $100 million a year on improvements. This involves checking cables and polls and cutting back trees from the cables so that they will not be so easily damaged by falling debris.

But they can’t promise no downed power lines, no power-cuts after a hurricane, but Florida Power and Light can promise the grid is in much better shape now than it was in October of 2005

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