Naples Daily News – Hurricane Ian was one of the worst hurricanes in Florida’s history, and the damage it caused continues to reveal itself. The loss of life is heartbreaking, the debris removal will likely top a billion dollars, and rebuilding will take years.
However, decades-long investment in Florida’s infrastructure has allowed power companies like Florida Power & Light and Lee County Electric Cooperative (LCEC) to restore power faster than they were able to in response to Hurricane Charley, for example, which impacted similar areas 18 years ago.
Moving forward, the utilities will use this as an opportunity to continue to reinforce their structures as they rebuild their networks. Long-term disaster management depends on constant evolution and adjustment. Florida’s commitment to stronger building codes and investment in mitigation projects meant that towns like Punta Gorda and Port Charlotte suffered far less than they did during Charley.
Additionally, improvements in our hurricane forecasting technology helped prepare better for the unprecedented storm surge Ian brought. In emergency management, the results may not always be immediate, but we are making continual progress. Ian should serve as a reminder that there is still much work to do.
LCEC, for example, made every effort to be prepared leading up to the storm and was able to restore service to the hardest hit areas including Sanibel Island. Leveraging ongoing relationships with utility contractors such as Pike, MasTec, and Southeast Power, LCEC was able to have more than 600 lineworkers on its system before the storm made landfall.
Electric cooperatives, or co-ops, are locally owned by customers who are member-owners that share equal individual authority. Co-ops tend to serve less populated areas but in Southwest Florida, LCEC serves some of the most populated communities in the region such as Cape Coral, Marco Island and North Fort Myers. More than 400 LCEC employees are involved in power restoration during an emergency. After the destruction from Hurricane Ian, LCEC accepted aid from more than 50 electric cooperatives and neighboring investor-owned utilities FPL and Duke Energy which sent needed crews to the impacted areas. This example of mutual aid in power restoration to restore power to as many customers as soon as possible is a model for post-disaster power restoration efforts.
Future storms will be bigger and stronger. Rising sea levels mean that storm surge will be starting from a higher level and impacts in areas like Tampa Bay could be cataclysmic.
What can we do to be better prepared?
Use Ian as an opportunity to further strengthen our building codes, invest more in mitigation projects, and further harden our electrical infrastructure
Consider how and where we rebuild, and the future costs of maintaining insurance on those properties.
Evaluate how we will get residents to a place of safety, and how it is that they receive and act on those messages.
Increase our investment in the tools that meteorologists need to improve their forecasts.
Finally, we need to continue to educate Floridians and visitors that while Florida is a great place to live, work and play, it does come with perils that they need to take seriously. I am confident that with the right focus and leadership all of these are possible, and that we can continue our readiness for nature’s wrath and protect our neighbors and loved ones.