Keeping the power on and Internet working with a Hurricane

Posted Aug 26, 2017 by Karen Graham
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.
Energy Smart Florida initiative is funding enhancements to FPL’s Performance and Diagnostic Center...
Energy Smart Florida initiative is funding enhancements to FPL’s Performance and Diagnostic Centers to help shorten and reduce the impact of power outages, and prevent many potential outages before they occur
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.
Nextel Cell-on-wheels (COW) at the 2005 Rose Bowl. Photo by and uploaded by Jonathan Kramer  Cellula...
Nextel Cell-on-wheels (COW) at the 2005 Rose Bowl. Photo by and uploaded by Jonathan Kramer, Creative Commons Attribution-ShareAlike 3.0 License.
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.
Hurricane Andrew - Uneven damage pattern in Lakes by the Bay development in the Miami area.
Hurricane Andrew - Uneven damage pattern in Lakes by the Bay development in the Miami area.
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."
In combination with other technologies in the smart grid  smart meters make it possible for FPL to d...
In combination with other technologies in the smart grid, smart meters make it possible for FPL to deliver a variety of benefits its customers, including better reliability and more information and control over energy bills.
Florida Power and Light
“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.
Screen shot from AT&T video of the company s Flying Cell on Wings (COW) drone as it transmits and re...
Screen shot from AT&T video of the company's Flying Cell on Wings (COW) drone as it transmits and receives high speed data above a field outside Atlanta in 2016.
Cellular and Internet service technology
You may be thinking, 'But what about cell service?.' This is where mobility is needed. All cellular carriers are prepared to ready cell sites and mobile command centers. AT&T plans to have over 700 pieces of equipment, including its Cell on Wheels (COWs), Cell on Light Trucks (COLTs), trailers and generators available to get cell phones turned on.
“Our deployables and equipment can help [first responders] stay connected during emergencies and operate faster, safer and more effectively when lives are on the line,” said Kelly Starling, AT&T’s South Florida spokeswoman. Flying COWs (Cell on Wings or drones may soon be added to AT&T's corral of deployables.
“We could one day send a Flying COW into areas where flooded roadways might prevent a traditional COW (Cell on Wheels) from being deployed,” she said.
Comcast has the Internet covered, even while crews are working to get it back online. Comcast customers can access the Internet through its network of Xfinity WiFi Hotspots. During disasters like the one in Texas, the "hotspots" are opened to everyone, regardless of if they are a customer or not, Comcast spokeswoman Cynthia Arco said.
Cloud storage is beginning to replace filing cabinets with many  business people.
Cloud storage is beginning to replace filing cabinets with many business people.
A natural or man-made disaster makes the "Cloud" so appealing today. There was no "cloud" in 1992, and company records and private family records were lost. With Cloud services available from Interest companies, that problem is answered using Cloud storage.
Speaking of the Internet, the birth of Facebook and Twitter marshaled social media into the forefront of people's lives in ways that can't be imagined. During Hurricane Sandy, social media allowed families to keep track of each other, while emergency updates kept everyone in the know about what was going on.
Fake news reared its head during Hurricane Sandy, with a story getting started about the flooding of the Wall Street stock market trading floor. The story went viral, causing the stock market to fall. A website was created to track what was true and what was fake, according to Nancy Richmond, who teaches social media at Florida International University.
But even with the possibility of some fool trying to get his moment of fame by posting a fake news story, Facebook and other websites will likely act as massive information exchanges for everything from where to get water and supplies to rallying help in the hurricane aftermath, bringing real-time information faster than ever, and that is what is needed.