Staying true to the Cooperative Difference, electric co-operatives in Virginia, Maryland and Delaware proved their concern for the community by thoughtfully communicating the various steps taken to protect members and employees, as well as others in the communities they serve.
While most, if not all, electric co-ops have a crisis communications plan in place, some provisions were likely needed to accommodate this unexpected type of event.
“Recognizing that perhaps the only thing worse than being forced to stay at home, is doing so without electricity, especially if you are continuing your education or working from home,” said Mecklenburg Electric Cooperative President and CEO John Lee Jr. “MEC and EMPOWER Broadband employees continue to come to work and get the job done.”
MEC is taking a wide variety of precautions. Lee said employees can be counted on to make wise decisions when away from the job, knowing that whatever the circumstances, they’ll need to answer the call, and that their communities are counting on them to keep the electrons flowing.
Co-op leaders in all three states recognize the importance of reliable electric service at such a time.
According to Lee, all MEC employee and director travel has been canceled, while interaction among the co-op’s three districts has been restricted. Gatherings of no more than five employees in any one place, as well as limited personal contact and interaction with others while on the job, has been mandated by MEC leadership. Frequency and intensity of facility cleaning have also doubled.
“REC [Rappahannock Electric Cooperative] is an essential service to our member-owners across the Commonwealth,” said Casey Hollins, REC director of communications and public relations “and as such we have enacted Business Continuity Plans to ensure reliable service continues to be provided while protecting our workforce and our communities. We are committed to assisting all of our members, especially the businesses that support our communities.”
Co-ops such as Shenandoah Valley Electric Cooperative have closed lobbies but continue to serve members at drive-up windows. Employees wear gloves during transactions and sanitize areas regularly.
In accordance with state and national recommendations for “social distancing,” the buzz phrase of 2020, many employees are telecommuting from their homes. the staff of the Virginia, Maryland & Delaware Association of Electric Cooperatives is also working remotely to ensure Cooperative Living stays on schedule and the needs of our member co-ops are adequately met in a timely manner.
NOVEC reminded members through media releases and social media posts about various payment methods available, such as its levelized billing option. The co-op also provided energy-saving tips to help members use as little energy as possible during this time when many households are much fuller during the day.
Northern Neck Electric Cooperative President and CEO Greg White says, “Our workers provide an essential service to our community. We want to continue to do all we can to keep everyone as safe and healthy as possible, while working to keep the lights on for our members.”
Similarly in Delaware, “We have closed our lobby, instituted telework for as many associates as possible and are passing on critical preventative guidance to employees who may still come into contact with the public,” says Delaware Electric Cooperative President and CEO Bill Andrew.
DEC has also laid out plans to protect employees and maintain business continuity, should one or more employees test positive for the virus.
“DEC is a family, and we’ll get through this crisis by working together,” he said.
At Southside Electric Cooperative, President and CEO Jeff Edwards and his team have also proactively responded. “We are giving our operations personnel their job assignments in the parking lot, rather than have them gather in the office to facilitate social distancing,” he says.
“When in the field, they are to avoid close contact with members, coming no closer to them than six feet. We have supplied bottled water, so they aren’t subject to repeated touching of the water cooler. All work data entry that can be done at home is taking place there rather than in the office.”
MEC’s Lee reminds us that “Never before has the light of attention shown more brightly on the digital divide. Our members are paying a painful price for that technology gap, and additionally, it hampers any efforts of area businesses to try and work from home. And of course, there are hundreds of students who are home now and need access to the internet to keep from falling behind.”
With so much uncertainty about COVID-19 floating around, one thing remains certain — the commitment of the nation’s electric cooperatives to continue to provide our members with the safest and most reliable electric service possible. Please continue to take all suggested preventative measures to keep your families healthy. Life will be back to normal again soon.