By Suzanne Haggerty, Research Manager –
In the throes of a natural disaster, does your utility have what it takes to efficiently prepare your customers for outages and get them through those outages?
It’s the kind of thing you don’t really want to find out, but that doesn’t mean you shouldn’t be confident you can pass the test.
When Hurricane Harvey made landfall near Port Aransas, Texas, on Aug. 25, 2017, it unleashed a series of events that would hold millions of Texans hostage for nearly a week. The storm unleashed more than 42,000 lightning strikes and multiple tornadoes. Then, it did the unthinkable, stalling over the greater Houston area as it dropped 52 inches of rain and caused massive flooding.
CenterPoint Energy, it turns out, was ready.
Drawing on their experience during Hurricane Ike in 2008, and their observation of other disasters such as Hurricane Sandy and Hurricane Matthew, CenterPoint Energy had an omni-channel emergency communications strategy at the ready, designed to give customers timely information to manage and satisfy expectations, promote safety and minimize impacts on the company’s crews and contact center.
The storm – and CenterPoint Energy’s efforts – were quite impressive.
Seventeen of CenterPoint Energy’s substations either were put out of service by the deluge or were inaccessible due to high water. In addition, seven transmission lines, 293 circuits and 4,494 line fuses were knocked out. High water impacted natural gas service for 240,000 customers, with 53,000 meters submerged.
CenterPoint Energy deployed 2,200 electric emergency responders, working 352,000 hours from five staging sites, plus 1,500 contractors and 800 mutual assistance personnel from seven states. More than 1,050 natural gas responders were joined by more than 150 internal and contract personnel from Louisiana, Arkansas, Oklahoma and north Texas.
Within 24 hours, crews restored power to 175,000 customers. In three days, they restored 350,000 customers, and within a week, more than 1.2 million customers. To restore 9,000 customers impacted by one flooded substation, they erected a mobile substation in a church parking lot within a week.
And the communications … oh, the communications. Through innovative use of digital channels, targeted and personalized engagement, customer feedback and empowered advocates, CenterPoint Energy delivered more than 10 million messages before, during and after the storm.
They reached out through the usual channels, such as Facebook, Twitter and the storm center, and also piloted a new social channel, Nextdoor.com, where about 10 employees shared restoration information and photos with thousands of neighbors in dozens of communities. Hundreds of employees were empowered as advocates to share company messages on social media as families and industry peers raised support for crews and understanding of the restoration process.
Of course, let’s not forget to mention CenterPoint Energy’s Power Alert Service, which took home Chartwell’s Silver Best Practices Award in Outage Communications in 2015. The company sent 352,629 messages via text, email or phone during Harvey, targeting customers with pertinent outage and restoration information. CenterPoint got 22,257 new PAS signups, and enrollment for the alerts now exceeds 1 million.
Does that sound like a lot? It’s definitely a lot. And that’s not nearly all of it.
Luckily, you have the chance to hear all of it at Chartwell’s 12th Annual Outage Communications Conference, coming up June 6-7 in New Orleans. There, CenterPoint Energy will take home the Gold Outage Communications Award in the Large Utilities category for its Hurricane Harvey outage restoration and communications efforts and describe those efforts in detail during a presentation.
Of course, given last year’s outbreak of extreme weather, including multiple hurricanes, floods, wildfires and even a “cyclone bomb,” Harvey won’t be the only natural disaster you’ll hear about. But you also won’t only be hearing about weather-related outages – the agenda is packed full of best practices and lessons learned on everything from targeting customers who experience multiple outages to new tools, channels and technologies for outage communications.
This conference is the first of its kind to bring together utility professionals to focus exclusively on high-priority issues such as ETRs, customer contact, emerging technologies, the evolving regulatory environment and more.
If you’re interested in learning about effective customer outreach strategies for planned and unplanned outages and networking with utility professionals responsible for outage communications, consider joining us in the Big Easy. Make your plans soon, though: Early-bird rates for the Hyatt Centric French Quarter expire on Friday, May 4.
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