Irene’s hurricane force winds extended 90 miles outward, and its tropical storm force winds extended 290 miles. (NOAA photo) to their difficulties getting crews safely out, some co-op storm centers had no landline telephone service.
The communication Communicating to consumers was of utmost importance to co-op storm center staff. Soon after people lose their electricity, they want to know when they will get it back. Co-op communication professionals, like management and line crews, worked day and night, even when their own homes and families had suffered. They posted on websites, Facebook and online maps continual updates on where crews were working and where power had been restored. They talked with news reporters, radio hosts who collaborated in non-stop regional broadcasts, local government officials and with individual members who called or sent e-mail asking for help and information. Roanoke Electric, Carteret Craven Electric, Cape Hatteras Electric, South River EMC and Albemarle EMC gave up-to-the-hour information to their Facebook followers, as well as directly to those who posted questions and comments. Communication staff did their best to explain progress and thank members for being patient. Members heaped praise on the line crews. At midday Sunday, August 28, Roanoke Electric member Linda Taylor posted on the co-op’s Facebook: “Still in the dark. Still 10 OCTOBER 2011 Carolina Country
waiting for a straight answer. I’m not going away.” And the co-op replied right away: “Ms. Taylor, our crews are continuing to work the major circuits in your area and working back toward services on secondary lines on those circuits. Based on progress our crews are making today, the projected restoration in your area and others on this circuit will be tomorrow.” Carteret-Craven’s active Facebook, run by communication director Lisa Taylor-Galizia, drew much praise, including this from Jeremy Buseman: “This was fantastic work with beyond great turnaround time! . . . I’ve been through some bigger past hurricanes with another electric company and they never moved this quick or kept us this well informed.” And one of the co-op’s board members, Thom Styron of Beaufort, said, “I wish to commend all of the employees. During the hurricane, I thought of what the crews would face and I recalled the years of service by our friends David Chadwick and other directors who have passed and how their leadership in being prepared helps keep our system in good condition today.” Chris Powell, public relations manager at Albemarle EMC, said, “Facebook immediately emerged as the frontrunner for crisis communication. In the world we live in now, members not only expect real-time
information, they expect it to come to them and they expect to be able to respond back to it…We found it a useful tool to address member concerns, and nip them in the bud. One member asked why our yard had many line trucks in it that weren’t out working. We replied that crews were coming in all morning from all parts of the Southeast, and it took a little time to get the crews processed and loaded and into the field.” Judging from comments co-op staff and management received during the storm’s aftermath, most members by far appreciated their work. Noel Council, a Tideland EMC member in his 70s, said it was the worst storm he’s seen since 1954. Safe in Garner, he sent his neighbors in the South Creek community of southern Beaufort County a panoramic photo he made of the serene waterfront they all enjoyed because “It will never look that way again.” Mr. Council also sent an e-mail message to Tideland’s communications manager Heidi Jernigan Smith: “Irene completely destroyed our place on Betts Lane. We will not be rebuilding. Thank you for the great service you gave us over the past 15 years. You have a great task before you in restoring power to so many. I pray for the safety of your workers as they go about their tasks.”
With help from Renee Gannon in the Raleigh office.