Sidebar: Technology Moves Close to Crews

To help it respond to the hurricane-induced power outages in the Sunshine State, Florida Power & Light has set up "staging sites" at empty fairgrounds and parking lots and is using IT-equipped trailers to coordinate the distribution of work orders and supplies to hundreds of repair workers.

The staging sites are also being used to find hotel rooms for transient workers, said Dennis Klinger, the utility's CIO. The sites typically consist of four to eight trailers that are outfitted with workstations, copiers and fax machines, Klinger said. Diesel generators and satellite dishes are brought in if there's no power or communications service in the area.

Sometimes the utility installs multiple T1 lines to support an individual staging site and facilitate communication about power restoration efforts with FP&L's central command center. "Satellite communications has really helped us, since the telecommunications providers are typically hit just as badly as we are," Klinger said.

Both FP&L and Progress Energy use modeling tools to estimate the number of customers who are likely to lose power during a storm and the number of repair crews that will be needed to restore electricity. The tools gather data about the damage caused by hurricanes, as well as the track of approaching storms.

FP&L relies on a combination of Unix and Windows systems to do the modeling, while Progress Energy has developed a set of homegrown applications in Visual Basic.

The modeling applications aren't completely accurate, said Becky Harrison, director of distribution services at Progress Energy's operations in North Carolina and Florida. But, she added, "they give us a relative range and a scaling factor that we can use to start acquiring external resources to help us."

Copyright © 2004 IDG Communications, Inc.

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