A year after Irene, Pa. power companies have improved communication skills

    A year after a one-two punch from massive storms caused power outages throughout Pennsylvania, utility officials are tallying up the lessons learned.

    The high winds and heavy rains due to Hurricane Irene and Tropical Storm Lee last August caused more than 1 million people in eastern Pennsylvania to lose power at some point.

    The state Public Utility Commission spent a year going over power companies’ response to the outages.

    Agency spokeswoman Jennifer Kocher says one of the major faults was that customers had such a hard time getting information.

    “Either they got a busy signal, they got dropped calls, hung up on-kind-of-thing, and so that was one of the biggest frustrations,” she said. “People understood that these weather were unprecedented, it was just an inability of the utilities to handle the call volume that we received.”

    In the event of another large storm, Kocher says the main thing customers will notice is the power companies’ improved communication.

    “Communication with the utility should be improved significantly,” she said. “Utilities have worked to upgrade their call centers, people will be able to get through, and we’ve worked to make sure that the information the utility is providing is better information and people can get it in more ways through social media and other avenues.”

    Kocher says the PUC found the biggest failing of power companies last year was in getting information to customers who had lost service.

    The agency’s year-long review also recommends things such as infrastructure upgrades to allow utilities to get automatic alerts when part of their system is down.

    Kocher says in the wake of such dismal customer service, utility representatives have been learning how to handle a torrent of calls. Some of them have even met with QVC, the television shopping channel, to learn how to deal with sudden spikes in calls.

    The larger power companies also have complied with a PUC suggestion they get on Facebook and Twitter, and adjust their websites to be easily accessible on cell phones.

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