Hurricane Sandy, and rapid response to the effects of that storm, demonstrated that the delivery of effective public safety messages remains a critical element of utilities’ emergency communication and preparedness process today.
Hurricane Sandy confronted utilities with the enormous task of restoring power safely to the hundreds of thousands of customers it left in the dark. Not only were the needs of their customers overwhelming, the utilities involved were under unrelenting pressure to do repairs quickly and to communicate extensively with the public about them. The infrastructure was severely damaged by flooding and debris from the storm, and repairs needed at commercial and residential sites represented potential safety hazards to contractors and residents.
Beyond system problems, third party contractors doing repairs to private property (plumbers, electricians, and other contractors engaged in the repair of storm damaged furnaces, other appliances, and service connections) were at greater risk than normal.
We executed an immediate public safety outreach campaign on behalf of a large New York utility that reached many thousands of contractors in under a week. Since then, we have conducted interviews with the outreach recipients following the delivery of the safety materials to determine their effectiveness and identify areas of concern and opportunities for improvement. Documentation of all aspects of the safety initiative will be delivered to the utility this month.
The enormity of the destruction from storms has always been a challenge for utilities; increasingly, the way utilities communicate about these events affects their relationships with public officials and regulatory agencies. Today utilities are asked to take greater responsibility for communicating with the public and for ensuring safety inside and outside the home. Delivery of effective public safety messaging, and documentation, are tools to help meet these demands, especially in difficult times like those created by Hurricane Sandy.