Protecting power grid focus of this year's hurricane preparation at University of Houston conference


On September 13, 2008, the costliest storm ever to make landfall in Texas struck near Galveston. Today, almost five years later at a conference at University of Houston, Hurricane Ike still has people discussing lessons learned.

UTMB in Galveston was devastated. Not only where their services not available for people in surrounding counties, patients in the crippled hospital had to be evacuated to hospitals around the state.

"It took out all of our primary utilities systems, flooded a million square feet of our space and so basically, it took us out of business for a rather extended period of time. Hospital was shutdown, trauma center was shutdown," said Marcel Blanchard, assistant VP of utility operation at UTMB.

Now, as the peak of this hurricane season nears, their new mantra is elevate, protect and have energy security.

"Critical services will be elevated. We will be non-reliant on municipal utilities," Blanchard said.

And from a community perspective, cities and counties are now focusing on rapid response. Dr. Vipu of the Texas Hurricane Center for Innovative Technology is helping to shape how municipalities respond in the first hours after a storm.

"To do right coordination to clear the streets to get the essential services in place; this includes power," Vipu said.

Yes, getting our area somewhat mobile as soon as possible, so people can receive and seek assistance.

"Get to the needed places, including medical centers and also the food centers and evacuation centers. So clearance of the streets is very critical," Vipu said.

To help mitigate loss of power to homes, new regulations are also on the way to keep tree limbs free of power lines. Downed trees and limbs played a huge role in power outages during Hurricane Ike.

So with all the damage it brought, Ike also has residents and companies better prepared for the next big one.

"We may still have to evacuate, but we'll be able to restore out services much more quickly than we were during Ike," Blanchard said.

The University of Houston has now received a grant from the National Science Foundation to further study rapid recovery. It entails software that will use planes armed with lasers to map an area before the storm and then once again after the storm to see the areas most seriously affected and get resources to those areas as quick as possible. The research begins in September.

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