State Officials Prepare For Hurricane Season

Mar 31, 2016

With hurricane season on the horizon, state officials say they’re ready to weather the storms.

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Florida has been dodging bullets for over ten years. Though tropical storms have caused significant flooding, a hurricane has not made landfall since Wilma in 2005. But if that lucky streak is broken this year, the state has some 16.5 billion dollars on hand for disaster response. Ash Williams oversees Florida’s hurricane catastrophe fund.

“If we were hit by a single event the magnitude of Hurricane Andrew in the current season, we could literally write a check, from where we are,” he said.

Over 2004 and 2005, eight hurricanes battered the state from the Keys to the Panhandle. Williams says the state has been replenishing the catastrophe fund ever since.

“So I think you can practically say we’re fully funded for the coming season,” he said.

Meanwhile, Florida’s utilities companies are bracing for hurricanes as well. Florida Power and Light, Duke Energy and others are running elaborate storm drills, with hundreds of employees responding to areas knocked out by pseudo storms. Ed Devarona with FPL says the training is designed to simulate a real hurricane.

“And a staging site is basically a center of operation that we set up, it’s like a hub or a mini-city where we set up incident command and all of our restoration processes from. It allows us to park the vast number of vehicles from each of the assistance crews, materials, resources to affect the restoration effort following a storm,” he said.

Today’s mobile technology and social media enables companies to reach out to affected communities in ways they couldn’t in 2005. But as Paul Talley of Gulf Power says, many employees have never experienced a hurricane.

“Half our employees were not here in 2004 and experienced that type of an event. So training them, making sure they understand their assignments, their locations, their responsibilities and things like that is very critical for our plan,” he said.

The utilities companies say they’re as ready as they can be, but there are always concerns: the need for more resources, more personnel. As Ash Williams says, no one has a crystal ball.

“We do everything you possibly could reasonably do to model everything, but net of that, it’s like predicting interest rates or stock prices or anything else. You can have all the king’s horses and all the king’s men and still get it wrong. Because you’re talking about nature and forces beyond humanity,” he said.

But if a storm does hit, the companies come to each other’s aid: sending workers, trucks and equipment across the state and across the country. In the meantime, they’ll continue trimming trees, fortifying power poles and stockpiling supplies. Hurricane season runs from June 1st through November 30th.