For epic-sized Hurricane Irma restoration, utilities give customers a wider view

By Russ Henderson, Research Manager –

After it made landfall on Sept. 8, it appears that Hurricane Irma caused twice as many power outages as Hurricane Katrina in 2005, and nearly as many as Hurricane Sandy in 2012. As of Friday, Sept. 15, FPL had already restored more customers than the total number who lost power due to Katrina.

Not so long ago, utilities principally relied on conventional media outlets to communicate the size of such a storm, and the resulting restoration effort, to the public. Knowing the epic size of such a grueling, long-term restoration is especially important when customers are sitting in the heat and the dark for many days in a row.

Today, it’s largely up to utilities themselves to keep these customers informed, to allay their fears, and to encourage their patience. It’s not only good customer service – it’s a public duty.

Utilities in Florida, Georgia and South Carolina leveraged old, new and smart ways of communicating with customers during Irma, many of which did not exist or at least were not as available in the days of Katrina and Sandy.

FPL did a particularly good job of leveraging eye-popping drone video footage to show both the size of the restoration effort and the extent of the damage.

Man-on-the-street interviews, formerly the domain of local television reporters, were also featured by FPL and others.

FPL’s web page has carried a large, red banner since the storm began that provided vital context to customers, the media and others. The banner has been frequently updated with global ETRs for the utility’s service territories.

Duke also leveraged its website and social media to provide both a wide view of the outage and area-specific restoration information.

Hurricane Katrina left about 3 million without power. For Sandy, it was around 8 million. Hurricane Irma left about 7.4 million people without power, from current estimates.

After Hurricane Katrina, the national discussion was about how the coast would recover from flooding, devastation and civil disorder. The dialogue after Hurricane Sandy was largely about making the power grid more resilient and creating better lines of communication between utilities and their customers, regulators and municipalities.

The conversation after Hurricane Irma may take shape in a variety of ways, but a major topic of discussion undoubtedly will be how utilities can cut through the noise of media and social media chatter to provide a clearer picture of what’s really going on. And utilities like FPL are already showing the way forward for the industry.

Chartwell’s 2018 Outage Conference will explore examples of excellence in outage communications as well as outstanding innovations in power restoration. The agenda for the conference, which will take place on June 6-7, 2018, is taking shape, now. If you are interested in attending, please contact Collen Yekeh. If you would like to present at the conference or sponsor, contact me at

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