Coping with a Crisis Preview: Social Storm Savvy

Posted on Aug 22, 2019

Are you ready to respond to a crisis?

In August, the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration increased the chances of an above-normal hurricane season between now and October.

One of the best features of public power utilities is the way we share best practices and tools. To help you prepare for hurricanes, wildfires, snowstorms and other types of extended outages, we’re working on a new eBook, Coping with a Crisis.

The publication offers insights from two battle-tested communicators who survived losing critical communication channels during 2018’s Hurricane Michael. It also features crisis communication plans from Oregon, Nevada and Florida, with handy tools to strengthen your plan. Here’s a preview.


Social Storm Savvy

Gulf Coast Electric Cooperative Vice President of Communications Kristin Evans shares storm communication tips during a recent training conference in Alabama. Photo by Megan McKoy-Noe

Pioneer member Kristin Evans, vice president of communications at Florida’s Gulf Coast Electric Cooperative, had to cope with all 20,000 members losing power. There was no cellphone service for a week; it took three weeks to regain internet access. But she still had to get her message out. Facebook became her communication hub.

In Pioneer’s upcoming Coping with a Crisis eBook, Kristin shares three things to keep in mind when sharing updates on social media:

  1. Avoid Prep-Pay Panic
  2. Caution Proactive Members
  3. Follow Social Cues


1. Avoid Pre-Pay Panic

About half of the nation’s public power utilities—including Gulf Coast Electric—offer a pre-pay payment option.

“If you have pre-pay, members come to your office daily paying two or three dollars,” Kristin says. “That’s their budgeting system. We started seeing people begin to panic. It was important to communicate we were not doing disconnects for non-pay. They did not understand the magnitude of the storm or what the outage situation would look like.”

Kristin recommends sharing this message early to reduce call volume, and both private messages and public comments on Facebook.


2. Caution Proactive Members

After a week or two without power, some enterprising members may try to take matters into their own hands.

“You nicely have to remind members that restoring power takes a certain level of training and skill, because they are going to want to chip in and help,” Kristin says.

One member decided to dig his own underground service. He put in conduit, then emailed the co-op pictures of the project, declaring, “Alert your crews: we’re going underground.”

“Educate your members,” Kristin says. “Tell them you know they are desperate for power and want to help, but power restoration is something the utility must handle.”


3. Follow Social Cues

Despite internet and cell service challenges, Facebook was a lifeline throughout the storm. Follow these social messaging tips to help your members during an extended outage:

    • Tell members to check Facebook for outage updates.
    • Explain you have an emergency plan in place, and you are prepared to get power back on as soon as possible.
    • Schedule safety content on generators and downed power lines.
    • Highlight the training required to restore power.
    • Share when crews are coming from other utilities to help.
    • Explain the order of power restoration.
    • Share what’s going on, even if it’s not big news.
    • Post pictures and drone footage to show storm damage and crews working to restore power.
    • Caution members not to talk to crews. It is a safety issue and slows restoration efforts.

Need more ideas? Use Pioneer Utility Resources’ Social Media During a Crisis checklist  before, during and after an extended outage.


Cover of the eBook, Coping with a Crisis

Coming soon: Coping with a Crisis

More crisis communication tips and resources are on the way. Coping with a Crisis will be released in early September.

Since we work best when we share best practices, take a moment to think about what worked for you during your last extended outage. Share your tips below, or email us. Thank you! Your advice strengthens us all.

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