Large-scale damage to the power infrastructure from hurricanes and high-wind events can have devastating ripple effects on infrastructure, the broader economy, households, communities, and regions. Using Hurricane Irma’s impact on Florida as a case study, we examined: (1) differences in electric power outages and restoration rates between urban and rural counties; (2) the duration of electric power outages in counties exposed to tropical storm force winds versus hurricane Category 1 force winds; and (3) the relationship between the duration of power outage and socioeconomic vulnerability. We used power outage data for the period September 9, 2017–September 29, 2017. At the peak of the power outages following Hurricane Irma, over 36% of all accounts in Florida were without electricity. We found that the rural counties, predominantly served by rural electric cooperatives and municipally owned utilities, experienced longer power outages and much slower and uneven restoration times. Results of three spatial lag models show that large percentages of customers served by rural electric cooperatives and municipally owned utilities were a strong predictor of the duration of extended power outages. There was also a strong positive association across all three models between power outage duration and urban/rural county designation. Finally, there is positive spatial dependence between power outages and several social vulnerability indicators. Three socioeconomic variables found to be statistically significant highlight three different aspects of vulnerability to power outages: minority groups, population with sensory, physical and mental disability, and economic vulnerability expressed as unemployment rate. The findings from our study have broader planning and policy relevance beyond our case study area, and highlight the need for additional research to deepen our understanding of how power restoration after hurricanes contributes to and is impacted by the socioeconomic vulnerabilities of communities.
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The six-level urban–rural classification scheme:
Large central metro counties in MSA of 1 million population that: (1) contain the entire population of the largest principal city of the MSA, or (2) are completely contained within the largest principal city of the MSA, or (3) contain at least 250,000 residents of any principal city in the MSA.
Large fringe metro counties in MSA of 1 million or more population that do not qualify as large central.
Medium metro counties in MSA of 250,000–999,999 population.
Small metro counties are counties in MSAs of less than 250,000 population.
Nonmetropolitan counties: Micropolitan counties in micropolitan statistical area.
Noncore counties not in micropolitan statistical areas.
The 2012-2016 ACS 5-year estimates are based on data collected from January 1, 2012 to December 31, 2016, released by the US Census Bureau on December 7, 2017 (https://www.census.gov/programs-surveys/acs/news/data-releases/2016/release.html).
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This article is based on research supported by two US National Science Foundation Grants (CMMI#1541089 and CMMI#1634234). This manuscript would not have been possible with the archived power outage data from the Florida Division of Emergency Management. Any opinions, findings, conclusions, or recommendations expressed here are those of the authors and do not necessarily reflect the views of the National Science Foundation. We also wish to acknowledge Natasha Malmin for her assistance with collecting, formatting the power outage data and the Census data, with creating maps and with preliminary statistical analysis.
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Mitsova, D., Esnard, A., Sapat, A. et al. Socioeconomic vulnerability and electric power restoration timelines in Florida: the case of Hurricane Irma. Nat Hazards 94, 689–709 (2018). https://doi.org/10.1007/s11069-018-3413-x
- Hurricane Irma
- Power outages
- Restoration curves
- Spatial lag models
- Socioeconomic vulnerability
- Electric utilities