Ellen Perlman was a GOVERNING staff writer and technology columnist.E-mail: email@example.com
When a hurricane strikes Florida, the first concern of residents is to protect their homes and evacuate if necessary. The Florida Turnpike Enterprise, part of the Florida Department of Transportation, sees its job as providing a safe haven as evacuees travel the road. The authority has, accordingly, purchased 11 huge diesel generators to be installed at turnpike plazas and operation centers to help cope with a disaster.
Turnpike plazas have long been viewed as islands of refuge for evacuees. Since the Florida Turnpike is one of the few north-south roads in the state, it is extremely busy during evacuations and a refueling point for those heading away from a storm. Small generators have been able to keep gas pumps working when hurricanes downed power, but the plazas did not have the capacity to keep other services, such as restaurants and retail outlets, open. The super-generators will be able to deliver enough power to keep turnpike plazas and their services open for 72 hours after a storm hits--including enough electricity to run air-conditioning and serve prepared meals.
There are eight service plazas on the 312-mile road, about one every 45 miles. They are open 24 hours a day and offer ATMs, public phones, Internet access, news broadcasts, travel information and restrooms. The turnpike authority hopes to have most if not all of the huge generators in place before the heaviest part of the hurricane season hits. "People are gun-shy; they're weathered," says Chad Huff, spokesman for the enterprise. "We feel an obligation to make their journey as safe and as pleasant as possible."