Keeping the power on and Internet working with a Hurricane
When Hurricane Andrew hit Florida in 1992, the World Wide Web was just a kid and not that many media companies were online. Cells phones weren’t “smart” yet. With Harvey, we were on top of the storm every minute as it came ashore because of technology.
Looking back on Hurricane Andrew, and the scientific tools available in the 1990s for accurately predicting and tracking hurricanes, and then comparing them with the advanced technology and instrumentation being used today, it is amazing to realize what has been accomplished in 25 years.
Advanced computer algorithms make modeling easier and more accurate in predicting and tracking hurricanes and storm surge, while improved and more advanced radar and weather satellite systems give us better accuracy in reporting rainfall amounts and wind speeds so that officials can get warnings out to the public faster.
Today, experts get the lights back on, cell phones ringing and Internet connections restored with the help of COWS (Cell on Wheels), drones and other innovative technologies used to pinpoint problems and speed recovery. Just remember, it wasn’t always this way.
Twenty-five years ago in Florida
Craig Fugate lived in Florida 25-years ago when Andrew hit the state. He later went on to become the Director of FEMA. He spoke with NPR’s Robert Siegel a few days ago about the Category 5 storm that inspired the changes and innovations in computer modeling and other technologies.
Over 700,000 people evacuated South Florida, but because of a lack of preparedness, food and water were in short supply in many shelters. Insurance companies weren’t prepared for the devastation and many companies went bankrupt. Twenty-five thousand homes in the state were destroyed, while over 100,000 were damaged.
Hurricane Andrew changed many things for the better — the science behind forecasting, how America’s coasts are managed, and how the federal government responds to disasters. Fugate remembers how fast the storm intensified, saying, “I remember that the Friday before Andrew made landfall it was barely a Category 1 hurricane.” Everyone was astounded when the storm hit on Monday as a Category 5 because the computer models didn’t pick up on how fast the storm was building
But the biggest thing was the devastation created in Miami-Dade County, the biggest population center in south Florida. Back then, the only way news of the severity of the destruction was passed on was by using 911 calls. But the storm was so bad that very few phone circuits survived.
“So the lack of 911 calls turned out not to be an indicator it wasn’t that bad. It was a harbinger of how much devastation had actually occurred.,” Fugate said.
Power company technology in use with Hurricane Harvey
Let’s take a quick look at some of the advances being seen today in hurricane responses. One of the comforts everyone depends on is electricity. We don’t think too much about it until the power goes out. Today, 250,000 households in Texas are without power. Getting the power back on will be a lot easier than it was in 1992 due to the “smart devices” in use today and our “eyes in the sky.”
“The difference is night and day,” Florida Power and Light (FPL) spokesman Bill Orlove said, according to the Miami Herald. “By the end of this year, we will have installed 66,000 smart devices on the grid. These are devices that help isolate an issue so our line workers and restorations specialists can see where the issue is. That didn’t exist 25 years ago; it didn’t exist during Hurricane Wilma.”
During Hurricane Matthew in 2016, FPL flew 130 drone flights in areas of Northern Florida where it was too unsafe for crews to go in. “During Wilma in 2005, FPL had to contract a helicopter, which took hours to survey an area. Now a drone can be deployed in 10 minutes and transmit a live feed to command centers, Orlove said. “Our drones were our eyes in the sky.”
And where before, crews would have to return to a staging area to enter information, now with the advent of smart phones and tablets, the information is entered immediately. And as crews restore power in a particular area, updated technology communicates with every meter, so crews can verify the lights are back on.