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FPL's Pandemic-altered Response Plan Got a Workout as Isaias Brushed By

image credit: Credit: FPL

Florida Power & Light Company said in early August that it had restored service to all customers affected by Tropical Storm Isaias and credited the company’s smart grid technology with helping avoid roughly 18,000 outages.

The leading cause of the 40,000 outages that did occur was vegetation and debris blowing into power lines.

The storm marked the first time that Florida had faced two state of emergency declarations at the same time for the pandemic and tropical story.

Eric Silagy, president and CEO, said in a statement that the utility had been implementing additional safeguards into its restoration preparations for months. The service restoration process has been altered this year to add new safety measures to help protect customers and FPL personnel from Covid-19.

The peak number of outages was just over 5,000 at any given time during Tropical Storm Isaias. The average customer had service restored in around 85 minutes. Around 50 drones were deployed to help crews visualize damage in hard-to-access or flooded areas.

The utility’s field response was tested in June, when FPL drilled more than 3,000 employees on response tactics to a simulated Category 1 hurricane in the middle of the coronavirus pandemic. The company delayed the storm drill, which typically occurs in early May, to train under this Covid-19-challenged scenario.

In the drill, the simulated storm made landfall near Naples as a Category 1 hurricane then moved north across the Gulf of Mexico where it made a second landfall near Pensacola. The simulated storm spawned tornadoes and micro-bursts that resulted in widespread vegetation debris. Around  1.1 million customers were left in the dark across the utility’s service territory.

Employees responded to a number of hypothetical challenges that may occur during a hurricane restoration, including tornadoes damaging power plants and a port, fallen trees blocking access to roads and key facilities, and challenges with bringing out-of-state crews to support restoration efforts due to COVID-19 concerns and restrictions.

The drill also tested the use of so-called Alpha and Bravo employee teams in separate locations to reduce the chance of a COVID-19 infection disrupting restoration oversight and coordination.

FPL also brought in several vendors that have supplied resources during previous storms to give them an opportunity to see firsthand the company’s pandemic storm plan.

The week-long drill followed a processing and staging site drill at that incorporated pandemic preparations. Processing sites are locations where out-of-state crews check in with FPL and are given an orientation of the restoration process and the areas they will pre-stage before or work after a storm.

Staging sites provide lodging, parking, tools and electrical supplies, as well as food and showers for out-of-state crews. During the staging site drill, FPL studied various social-distancing practices and completed detailed time studies for different methods of conducting daily temperature screenings to determine the most effective way to check thousands of restoration personnel before they go to work.

Days after restoration work from Tropical Storm Isaias was completed, FPL deployed more than 600 employees and contractors to New Jersey to help restore power. The workforce began its more than 1,200-mile journey Wednesday morning to Red Bank, NJ. FPL crews will remain on the job for as long as their assistance is needed.

Crews followed Covid-19 safety guidelines, including social distancing, increased sanitation measures and wearing masks where appropriate. Signs on trucks reminded the public to honor the 6-foot social distancing requirements.

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