LANSING - The Lansing Board of Water and Light has completed its internal review of the events surround the ice storm of December 21-22. The BWL calls the report it's "Top-to-Bottom Review."
In a statement to the media Tuesday afternoon, BWL's General Manager Peter Lark emphasized that the power outage resulting from the ice storm was the most catastrophic event in the BWL's history. He said the BWL's losses were greater by percentage than the much larger power companies of Consumers Energy and DTE.
The statement highlights what the BWL has done to prepare for any potential future crisis.
Lark will present the internal review findings to the BWL Board of Commissioners at a meeting Tuesday night. News 10 will have a reporter at that meeting. Commissioner Dennis Louney has seen a rough draft and tells News 10 he already has several questions about the review.
The presentation starts at 5:30 p.m. at the BWL Reo Town Depot. Watch News 10 at 6 for a preview of tonight's meeting.
BELOW IS THE STATEMENT THE LANSING BOARD OF WATER AND LIGHT SENT TO NEWS 10 TUESDAY AFTERNOON.
For Immediate Release
Date: Tuesday, February 18, 2014
BWL Releases Ice Storm Outage Top to Bottom Review
Benchmark analysis shows BWL response to catastrophic ice storm was comparable to other utilities in similar incidents
Technology and communication failures led to inaccurate information and customer anger
Report highlights improvements in operational readiness, customer communications and community engagement
LANSING, MI - Lansing Board of Water & Light General Manager J. Peter Lark announced the findings of the BWL's "top to bottom" review of its December ice storm response, and identified 54 actions that the BWL has undertaken, is in the process of undertaking, or will undertake in the near future to improve future power restoration efforts, customer communications and community engagement.
"The top to bottom review identified how the BWL was overwhelmed by the scale of the catastrophic ice storm outage. There has not been a comparable loss of service experienced by a Michigan utility," said Lark.
The review concluded that the ice storm was "the most catastrophic event to ever hit the BWL electric service territory" and resulted in "unprecedented" restoration work. Approximately 40 percent of BWL customers lost power for up to 10 days. The BWL sustained over 2,400 downed power lines during the restoration period from Dec. 22 - Dec 31. In comparison, approximately 23 percent of Consumers Energy customers and 10 percent of DTE Energy customers lost power in the same storm.
A benchmark analysis of similar restoration efforts across the country found that the duration of the BWL's ice storm restoration effort was comparable to those efforts. The BWL restored 90 percent of its customers within four days. However, the review acknowledged "significant hardship and suffering for customers who were out of service during the holiday season. The combination of disrupted holiday plans, the duration of outages and the cold weather was particularly difficult for the BWL's customers," the review concluded.
Lark said that key findings of the review concluded that several technology and communication errors led to inaccurate information and customer anger.
"The BWL's outage response was complicated by our customers not being able reach us due to extreme call volume and technical failures with our phone system," said Lark. "Due the breakdown of our Outage Management System, we were not able to provide accurate outage information or restoration times. This caused tremendous anger and frustration for our customers, especially during the holiday season."
The BWL should have been more diligent in assuring this issue was resolved sooner, the review concluded. Lark noted that these failures have been aggressively addressed to ensure that the BWL is fully prepared for any catastrophic incident in the future.
"We have already taken a number of steps to improve our operational readiness, customer communications and community engagement so that in the event of another catastrophic storm, our customers will once again have faith and confidence that the BWL is up to the task of restoring power as quickly as possible, and more importantly, communicating those efforts in an effective and appropriate way. My hope is that these findings and actions will begin rebuilding customer trust and confidence in the BWL," said Lark.
Key actions already taken by the BWL to improve power restoration efforts include the:
* Tripling of contractor line crews that would be immediately available to deploy during an emergency outage.
* Tripling of tree crews already deployed to make sure power lines are clear of tree limbs and vegetation.
* BWL's Outage Management System (OMS) has been restored to full capabilities. The failure of this system resulted in inaccurate and contradictory information being provided to customers, and also failed to provide estimated restoration times for customers.
* The capacity of the BWL's "877" outage line has been increased to meet the demands of high call volume during a crisis.
* The BWL has an interim crisis communication plan in place and has hired a local communications firm to help develop a permanent crisis plan to ensure that officials and other organizations are able to receive timely information on restoration progress and times.
* The BWL will work to determine how to make local officials aware of vulnerable populations, such as seniors and customers with medical alerts, during extended outages.
"During a crisis, the BWL should be able to respond promptly and accurately to different audiences with information specific to their needs. We recognize that communications with local officials and other organizations was lacking during the ice storm outage and we have taken action to ensure that we'll do better next time," said Lark.
Additional actions to improve restoration efforts and customer communications include: increasing secondary roles for employees and retirees such as spotters for downed lines; increase the number of mutual aid agreements including out-of-state crews; hired three line workers and an additional dispatcher; hiring additional call center staff; taking action to improve the speed and accuracy of customer inquiries; creation of an outage map; establishing a list of qualified electricians for customers to contact for repairs to service masts; allowing customers to finance the cost of mast repairs by allowing them to pay it off on their bill over a one year period without interest; improved and more frequent storm updates to traditional media and social media before a storm hits and during an outage; hired a social media specialist; and, more robust community engagement, such as participating in work by The Power of We and others to help empower neighborhoods to react to any type of emergency.
The 76 page internal review, "BWL December 2013 Ice Storm Outage Report," and accompanying 236 page "Appendix" (which can be found at 5 p.m. today at www.lbwl.com
The review, which was presented at the BWL Board of Commissioners Committee of the Whole meeting tonight and will be given to the Community Review Team and the Michigan Public Service Commission, examined BWL's storm preparations, outage restoration, customer communications, management of storm response and external communications.
"This has been a traumatic experience for our customers, our community and for the BWL itself. We have learned important lessons and undertaken comprehensive efforts to improve our performance so that the BWL can continue to provide safe, reliable and affordable power to our customers for decades to come," Lark said.