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September 19, 2017

Andrew vs. Irma – The Evolution of Utility Storm Response

On Sunday, September 10, Hurricane Irma struck the U.S. mainland as a Category 4 storm. After smashing through the Caribbean Islands earlier that week, the hurricane moved through Florida, Georgia, and the Carolinas, leaving overwhelming loss in its wake. The heavy financial cost and community displacement caused by Irma is decidedly similar to that of Hurricane Andrew, the Category 5 storm that hit the same coast in the summer of 1992, 25 years before Irma. Experts have compared the storms and note that both hurricanes created wind speeds over 145 mph, caused over 65 storm-related deaths, and generated record-breaking financial costs for the impacted areas.¹

While there are a number of similarities, Hurricane Andrew differed from Irma in the amount of information available both in preparation and response to the storm.² While hurricane warnings are now issued by the National Hurricane Center at least five days before landfall, in 1992 victims were given a mere 24 hours to ready themselves and their belongings for Andrew. Service providers were also unable to provide any graphical products or wind speed probabilities, leaving citizens without any clear idea of what was headed their way. The information from utility companies was limited as well: outage maps were not available until the early 2000s and smartphones did not achieve wide public use until 2007. This means utility customers endured Andrew without access to automated alerts, up-to-date estimated restoration times, or interactive visual tools.

While Hurricane Irma also proved catastrophic for the southeastern United States, the last 25 years of technological advancement did much to mitigate the communication issues experienced during Andrew. Victims of Hurricane Irma were able to track the storm throughout its course via desktop browsers or on their mobile devices and could report and view outages as needed. Between September 9 and September 13, an estimated 6.2 million people lost power due to the hurricane.³ Throughout the storm, utility customers visited KUBRA Storm Center outage maps 3.6 million times and received 1.3 million Notifi® alerts from their utilities. As the storm receded and recovery began, victims relied on their utilities to efficiently communicate outage updates and estimated restoration times.

Sunday, September 10 at 9:00 pm, Duke Energy Outage Map

Hurricanes have an undeniable power to cause destruction and chaos. Clear and convenient communication from utilities before, during, and after storms can help alleviate customer distress. While hurricanes Andrew and Irma shared some similarities in location and impact, the resources that have evolved since Andrew have significantly increased utility transparency and customer knowledge and service. The recovery process post-Irma has only just begun, and our hearts go out to those affected.

For more information on KUBRA Storm Center™ outage maps, click here.





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