Approximately 15,000 Orange & Rockland customers had their service interrupted during last Thursday’s storm.
The storm allowed O&R to try out a new caller response system to deal with the outages and get updated information out the public.
“We put the system on the test it and experienced no busy signals,” said Frank Peverly, vice president of operations for O&R. “Now, this system allows our customers to contact and give us information, and to provide it to what we call an interactive voice response unit.”
Peverly was speaking Tuesday night at the Rockland County Legislature Public Safety Committee meeting to give an update on O&R’s response to Tropical Storm Irene and the October snowstorm last year.
He said O&R has added next generation web- and mobile web-based outage management applications that feature visually-displayed information on outages down to the single service level. They’ve also set up new models and support systems to provide analysis that should better allow them to project more accurate restoration times. He said they have a new storm response blueprint based on emergency services and Incident Command Structure principals to better manage any sized incident.
“These programs do not mean customers won’t have another power outage,” Peverly said. “However, these programs do mean that when a natural disaster strikes, O&R customers can better communicate with us, we can better communicate with them, including giving them a clearer idea of when power will be restored and our overall restoration process will be more efficient.”
Legislator Ed Day was one of the lawmakerrs who wanted O&R to come in and talk about what they’ve done since the two storms last year. He said one big issue during both storms last year was the public’s inability to reach O&R for information.
Peverly said O&R has teamed with Twenty First Century Communications (TFCC), a company to assists with high call volume solutions. He added that on Thursday, they felt that initially about 70-to-75 percent of customers who called O&R during the storm were comfortable talking to a machine.
“However, we also know that customers, at times, want to talk to a live rep. In addition to adding additional supplemental representatives into our call center, for major events we’ve added three additional new sources,” Peverly said. “We’ve trained and provided access to our systems to 100 customer service representatives at our sister company at Con Ed. Those employees have the capability to immediately respond to any of our customers with the exact same information that our representatives in Spring Valley have. Second, we’ve signed on with TFCC, our high call volume answering solution, with what they call their ‘Mars Service,’ or their mutual aid service.”
The last is a third party vendor that can provide live representatives who have access to the same systems O&R has.
“We’ve rebuilt the pipeline between our call center and our outage management systems so we can more efficiently prepare proper work orders to dispatch our crew efficiently,” Peverly said. “During the snowstorm and Irene, we probably had about 12,000 calls an hour. We had about 218,000 to 220,000 calls during Irene. We had about 275,000 calls during the snowstorm. On an annual basis, we only have 800,000 calls coming into our call center, so we had well over 50 percent of our annual volume coming during these storms.”
Day also said that O&R needed to better let people know when crews would be going around. He said it caused a “near panic” last year.
“People had no idea when help was going to come,” Day said.
Peverly said that after not being able to get through to the call center, probably the second biggest issue people had with O&R during the storms was they didn’t feel O&R was giving out accurate restoration times. He said they’ve rebuilt their models to create more accurate restoration times based on four elements of the new storm plan.
The first is a new global or system restoration time that gives the general public the magnitude and severity of the event. As O&R provides more information to their engineers, they provide a regional restoration time, which is about a county-level restoration time.
“We take it one step further as more information comes in and we deploy more damage assessment assessments and that’s at the local level,” he said.
O&R plans to add a text messaging service this summer to help send out more information. They’ve also expanded their social media presence on Twitter and Facebook.
The next part of O&R's plan is a modified outage web map that includes additional information the map didn’t have last year. The additional info includes the cause of the outage and outages down the single service level.
The last element is a new storm blueprint with a rebuilt restoration that matrix focuses on road closures and wires down in high pedestrian areas.
“It’s more than just getting the lights on." Peverly said. "It’s about getting the communities back to some form of function, getting the communities to where they can begin to service themselves."