Cooperation Among Cooperatives: A Helping Hand for Fielding Post-Hurricane Phone Calls

Beauregard Electric Cooperative’s Kay Fox is running two co-op member services operations from her desk in Deridder, Louisiana. (Photo By: BECI)

As Hurricane Ida knocked out power to more than 1 million consumers in two states, it also tore down telephone lines, disrupted cellphone service and ruined wireless data transmission services in southwest Louisiana.

An electric cooperative that faced similar communications problems after Hurricane Laura struck last September has stepped up to help another Louisiana co-op and the statewide association maintain contact with members, contractors and other co-ops. They are answering phones as hurricane recovery takes place more than 200 miles away.

“Last year, our phone lines were down, so Central Electric Membership Corp. out of North Carolina offered their services to us because they had been through the same scenario,” said Kay Fox, vice president of marketing and member services at Beauregard Electric Cooperative. “We wanted to pay it forward and do something for our sister co-ops in the state of Louisiana, so that’s what we’ve done.”

Communications have been a challenge for South Louisiana Electric Cooperative Association in Houma and for the Association of Louisiana Electric Cooperatives in Baton Rouge. Landline and cellular telephone service have been out or sporadic since the hurricane made landfall Sunday.

“Our IT department coordinated with SLECA’s and got their phones rerouted to our member services department,” said Fox. “I briefed my people and provided them with a fact sheet of basic member services information they’d need to productively handle calls from SLECA’s members. For the routine calls, we’re filling out spreadsheets and relaying them back to SLECA twice a day.”

While BECI’s 20 customer service reps can’t offer a timetable for SLECA’s power restoration, they are answering basic questions and, more importantly, taking in detailed information to help meet the needs of members displaced by the hurricane.

Since BECI began fielding calls Tuesday, SLECA members whose homes have been heavily damaged or destroyed have called to have their service suspended. They’ve also reported poles and power lines down, which could pose serious hazards in the aftermath of Ida.

“When we get calls about downed lines, I email SLECA right away,” said Fox. “Joe Ticheli, their CEO, and their operations chief, Ben Adams, have given us a list of the information they need, so we are providing them the details that can help them handle the problems.”

SLECA has also provided BECI with basic information they would be offering themselves if their offices were able to field calls.

“Our customer service reps have enough details to discuss the damage to SLECA’s system,” said Fox. “We can tell callers that more than 500 lineworkers are on the ground in their area working to restore power safely and let them know it could take several weeks to fully restore power.”

And the only modification BECI had to do to its own telephone intake system was designate a number for callers to press in order to direct their calls to a SLECA queue. BECI calls are being handled normally.

BECI is also supporting the work of the Association of Louisiana Electric Cooperatives, which has been forced to relocate from its Baton Rouge offices because of storm damage in their area.

“We’re serving as a backup call center for contractors and field crews that are available to help with restoration wherever they are needed in Louisiana,” said Fox.

“This has been a big help for crews that may not be on our co-ops’ list for their emergency work plans. I got a call yesterday from a contractor who said ‘I have 38 men, 13 bucket trucks,’ and then they named off different track machines and things like that, and said ‘we’re available if you need us.’ I’m directing all those calls to the statewide office.”

Derrill Holly is a staff writer for NRECA.

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Hurricane Ida: Tracking the Co-op Response