Communications and operations work together to keep members up-to-date
EnergyLines July 2020
When an outage occurs, operations crews focus on getting the power back on safely. While they’re doing that, co-op communicators work to keep member-consumers updated with timely information. This requires a collaboration between the communications and operations teams – a relationship Henry County REMC’s Lara Sullivan has been building for several years.
“Being a communicator, I want to get this information out there. I want to explain it the best way I can and use photos and video footage if I can,” says Sullivan, Manager of Marketing and Member Services, explaining that not being on the frontline can cause communication delays.
Sullivan gets help from her co-op’s operations team, managed by Adam Warwas, who has bridged the gap between her and the line crews during power outages. “They are intent on getting the power on and don’t always realize the urgency of letting our members know what’s going on,” she says. “We have to have information out in the timeliest manner. When we post to social media, we need facts, and we want it to be correct. Our members crave the information.”
Sullivan doesn’t expect crews to stop what they are doing to communicate with her, which is why the intermediary work by Warwas and his team of on-call supervisors is so valuable. The crews report back to the on-call supervisor on their progress and he relays the information to Sullivan, who then updates members.
When not in a crisis situation, Sullivan builds rapport with the management, operations and administrative teams by coordinating regular meetings and dropping into the crew room to say hello and find out about upcoming projects.
“Staying in touch has helped me know when they’re out doing something I can share,” she says. “I just keep myself present for everyone, so that they think about me when anything is going on.”
Sullivan has started getting photos from line crews with messages like, “Just for you.” In the past, she might have saved those photos in her files for future communication needs, but now she shares them in the internal employee newsletter.
Sullivan says an example of how the operations and communications teams worked at optimal performance was during a power outage on April 8, a few weeks after the COVID-19 pandemic broke out. Members were already stressed by the novel coronavirus, and then a big storm rolled through the area, leveling trees and poles and leaving members in the dark for hours.
“During that event, I ended up posting about every 20 to 30 minutes instead of my normal report every hour,” Sullivan recalls. “I was answering instant message questions more than I’d ever done before. It was constant.”
Sullivan says she and the on-call supervisor were in continuous communication. He was able to provide progress updates to help Sullivan keep members informed.
“Even if we didn’t know when power would be back on, we could tell members that crews were headed that way,” she says. “Although this was one of the most demanding and stressful times for information, it was one of our most successful communication efforts.”