Monthly Archives: October 2017

A month after Irma, and several rounds of City, FPL and homeowner tree trimming, cleanup and more, the piles are not picked up.  So besides rats, cockroaches, palmetto bug, composted breakdown( smells) and other ills, take a look closely at these photos.


There is a stop sign there

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There is a fire hydrant in there

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There might be a car coming down the road.

Now when  the inevitable problem occurs – is the City going to be responsible for this?  I stopped smoke testing in Hallandale Beach until the piles were gone (they are making huge progress), but in the City with these pipes, how do the fire department staff access the hydrant?  Accidents?  This is why communities need to have their guys to do work.  The contractors and subcontractors are looking for the highest dollar.  you aren’t it, you fall down the list.  Right?  no.  Do they have contract?  Sure.  Are they following them?  No.  Recourse?  Sue them.  The courts might get to it next summer.  Meanwhile the piles survive.  Maybe privatization was not the answer here.


During Hurricane Irma, I lost power by 2 pm on September 10 at my residence above.  I called and notified FPL of the outage.  It was not unexpected and FPL did a good job at addressing the power outage issues – mostly caused by vegetation.  I have been very supportive of FPL as a company because they have done a good job in addressing power, resiliency and reducing carbon impacts.

However, I was very displeased to learn that someone had closed my account at the house I own, and put it in their name.  I received both texts and emails from FPL notifying me of the issue and advising me to call if this was incorrect.  The first call I made was 9/18.  I have made at least 6 calls and talked to a customer service agent.  Each assured me FPL would address this immediately.

What is more disconcerting is that the change was apparently made on 9/11 – during the hurricane on a house that was reported to be without power 24 hours before.  No one thought this was odd.

Note my power was not restored until 9/24 and I was living at a condo in Tamarac temporarily although here daily doing cleanup and meeting various workers (including FPL crews).  Once back in my house I noted that this was not an accident with an incorrect address.  The unknown people went to Comcast and set up an account (my electrician sent them away), and attempted to get service switched by the City of Plantation and AT&T.  Both declined for not having verification they were going to live on the premises.  The City reported that they brought a fake lease (unsigned by the landlord).  ADT and People’s gas require far more data to prove residency.  The Postal Inspector’s Office launched an investigation for mail fraud.  Comcast is waiting for the City of Plantation’s police report to pursue fraud charges.

These people were/are trying to move into my house fraudulently as squatters.  This has occurred in the neighborhood previously according to my neighbors.  It takes months to get them out.  They use utility bills.  The courts have to sort it out.  FPL is the easy bill to use because you require no verification that the people applying for service have a legitimate reason to make the change.  This facilitates the fraud.

I brought this to the attention of a customer service rep, nice guy but could not tell me why on October 2, the change of the account back into my name was still not made, and his supervisor kept telling me it was FPL’s policy not to deny anyone service and the r was some legal precedent for this.  This is both incorrect and unhelpful.

There is no reason FPL should not require some proof that a person applying for service has a legitimate reason to do so.  That should be a fully executed deed or lease.  Failing to do this make FPL complicit in the fraud these people are enacting because they are using FPL bills to verify their residency.  That puts the legitimate residents at a major disadvantage against the criminal element.  Other utilities do it.  Other power companies do it.  There is no legal or legitimate reason FPL does not do this.

FPL needs to alter this policy immediately and perhaps the PSC should be the entity that forces them to do so.  On-line service availability is great, but when a change in service is requested some form of verification is needed that the person will be living there or be responsible (like an elderly parent).  Their customer service supervisor said there “was nothing to worry about because a social security number is required.”  Entering a social security number from stolen identity is too easy, and does not address the problem – anyone can change any account fraudulently and leave FPL and the homeowners stuck with a bill.

Their customer service person also said there was no way to flag an account for fraud – but all the other utilities I talked to that were contacted or impacted by this activity has made a note that criminals were attempting to squat on the property and not to change the accounts without contacting the homeowner (me).  There is no reason FPL cannot enact a means and policy to do this immediately as well.

Hopefully by the time you read this, my account and the legal issues have been resolved for now.  I do not want this to occur again in the future for me or any other customer.  There are therefore two policy changes that will help protect the next person – require verification of residency or responsibility and note accounts that have had nefarious activity attempted against them.

I am hopeful that all water and sewer utilities have safeguards like Plantation.  If not, let’s get on it.

irma2In the aftermath of the 4 hurricanes (adding Nate) that hi the US or its territories this summer, there are a couple aftermath action items.  Each of these storms has lessons, and show how fragile our build environment may be.  It also shows areas of resilience – people, plants, building in some cases….  We also need to understand the utility issues for each.  So the action items communities and utilities can address:

Backup power is a must.  Test it (your voltage meter may fail).  Water and sewer systems mostly have backup power.  Check it.  Make sure it feeds everything.  Remote systems need backup power.  Lift stations need to have or have the capability for backup power.  It is not acceptable to leave out backup power for cost reasons.  The paradigm has changed – this is no longer an acceptable argument.

Nursing homes, hospitals, schools, grocery stores, gas stations, assisted living facilities, group homes, police and fire stations and crisis centers are among the additional places that need to have power.  Again, cost is not an acceptable consideration.  They need to have backup power.  One ALF in Hollywood, FL killed 12 helpless residents because while they had backup power, it did not feed the AC system.  Dehydration and death followed.  There is absolutely no reason this should have occurred.  It is negligent that we do not have laws requiring essential facilities to have backup power that includes AC systems.  Gas stations and grocery stores are included because it is essential that people have access to fuel and food.

185 mph winds exceed those many facilities are designed for.  Water and sewer utilities often have planned for Category 5 storms.  If not, we need to rethink that and strengthen facilities.  People depend on having water and sewer.  Southeast Florida only had one utility that “failed” during Irma.  A testament to the resilience of these systems.  But we only had a Cat 1 or 2 winds.

Which leads to the final lesson – clearing vegetation from above water and sewer lines, and away from power lines must occur.  Residents need to understand that the trees are a hazard to them.  I like trees, but in the right place.  Landscape codes must be revised to reflect the right tree, right place, no tree above a utility.  These guidelines exist.  They are not followed because people argue for having much greener communities, starting with the right-of-way.  We need to rethink and re-educate.  Trees in yards is great.  One might keep them trimmed so they do not fall on the house.  Trees in the right-of-way, not so much.

Let’s get on it.


irma1.pngIt’s been 4 weeks.  Hurricane Irma, and here evil twin sister Maria, and her brother Harvey, were a wakeup call to residents in the southeast, Caribbean and Gulf of Mexico, in some ways, for different reasons.  The fact that they occurred within a couple weeks should create a concern in the event that more populated areas get impacted by combined effects.

With Harvey, the hurricane was primarily a water event.  The rains just kept coming because the storm moved so slowly (and then stopped before moving again).  There is no infrastructure system designed for 60 inches of rain.  Not even close.  Not even 12 inches of rain.  Among Harvey ‘s lessons should be that huge rainfall can, and will occur in the future.  For populated area with low lying buildings and infrastructure, this is catastrophic.  We need to move facilities, businesses and houses out of low lying areas.  Stormwater systems need not only be maintained, but that the volumes of water we design for may need to be rethought.  The damage to buildings was significant – the piles of trash will take months to clean up.  And that was before Irma.

Irma was a huge storm that developed very rapidly.  It reached category 5 quickly and maintained it for a longer time than any storm previously.  The winds were 185 mph.  It was a wind and storm surge event.  It overwhelmed the islands and devastated many of them.  Southeast Florida got very lucky.  Lack of power was an issue, but it was restored relatively quickly.  Trees created most of the problems.  When one looks at lessons from Irma, the first is that we do not design for 185 mph winds with gusts over 200 mph.  We may need to rethink codes in light of this storm.  Second, the size of the storm made the exposure to these winds last for hours.  I was “luckily” note in the area of the eye, but we had winds for nearly 40 hours.  Trees, poles and structures are not designed to be rocked for 40 hours by wind.  It weakens joints, connections, (and tree roots).  The time of exposure vs wind speed may be an area for further investigation.  Codes do not necessarily take time of exposure into account.  Storm surge was significant.  6 ft of water flowed quickly down Brickell Avenue in downtown Miami.  We do not design infrastructure for this.  Clearly these conditions should be a consideration.  The whole state was affected.  Transportation and mail service were disrupted.  Getting electrical parts was a challenge given the needs throughout the region.  Not trimming vegetation around power lines, and planting vegetation over utilities or under power lines, as many municipal landscape ordinances suggest, is a HUGE problem.  In fact most of the issues in southeast Florida were vegetation related!  We can easily fix this, and burying power lines won’t solve any problems unless the trees are removed from the right of way.  Oh, and the piles of debris are still around 4 weeks later, and we hear they may be here past Halloween, and maybe Thanksgiving.  And we clearly need laws that require hospitals, assisted living facilities, nursing homes, group homes, etc. to have backup power systems for air conditioning.  Cost doesn’t matter when you kill helpless people because you lack AC!

Then there was Maria.  Wind rain, storm surge.  But fortunately for Florida, it stayed away.  Unfortunately for Puerto Rico it did not.  And Puerto Rico is a great case study in what can really go wrong.  The island’s power grid was wiped out.  The need to upgrade and maintain power infrastructure is essential.  Water and sewer are related to power.  The island doesn’t have good access to either.  The failure of infrastructure was exposed.  Strom surge created heavy damage.  If you are low, you need to build on stilts like the Keys did.  The aftermath is a logistical problem.  You can’t fly into damaged airports.  You cannot mount recovery crews without access.  Drones were a huge help in finding out routes to get from place to place.  One person suggested that the hurricane pushed Puerto Rico back 20+ years.  And they had already defaulted on loans.  The debris will be there for……???  Who knows?.

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