What if another ice storm hits tomorrow?

By Andy Balaskovitz

The BWL is moving quickly to address restoration and communications issues that would have improved its response to the ice storm outages.

Already, press communications from the BWL have improved. Responding to heavy snowfall and frigid temperatures earlier this week, the BWL was even tracking when it had as few as two outages.

Based on Tuesday’s presentation, Lark and BWL management are already preparing should a similar ice storm hit Lansing tomorrow.

It announced new retainer agreements with contractors that “immediately triple the number of line crews in an emergency,” BWL GM J. Peter Lark said. It’s hiring additional line workers and a dispatcher; it tripled the number of tree-trimming crews. Within a week, the BWL will have an online outage map;

“problems” within its outage management system have been identified, Lark reported. The BWL adopted a temporary crisis communication plan and hired PR firm Martin Waymire to finalize it and offer additional assistance during an emergency. The BWL is also hiring a “social media manager” to improve communications.

George Stojic, the BWL’s executive director of strategic planning and development, spent time Tuesday night comparing the BWL’s storm response to similarly hit areas throughout the country.

His research took him to the East Coast and the South, areas devastated at various times in the past 10 years from ice and hurricanes. His research showed the BWL’s restoration time was comparable to other publicly owned utilities that lost as many customers — 40 percent, according to Lark.

“Our response time was very typical of what you’d expect, even though we don’t have a lot of experience with it,” Stojic concluded, though he set up Lark for the next response.

“There have been people seated behind me (whose) service did not come back as timely as they would have liked it. To those, showing a graph that says we are where everyone else is is not going to be satisfactory,” Lark said.

“We’ve already undertaken steps today and tomorrow morning to make it better.”