Lightning, Ice, COVID-19: Ready to Respond

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By Tom Lambert

 Our Consumers Energy team has extensive experience dealing with devastating storms and other utility-related emergencies.

But sometimes we’re faced with a crisis that has never happened before – like COVID-19. Thanks to our commitment to emergency preparedness, we were ready and able to do what was necessary to protect our co-workers and customers while continuing operations.

Much like storm situations, our team continues to coordinate efforts with first responders and emergency officials to ensure we’re prepared for whatever is thrown at us in the months ahead.

While we have suspended some on-call storm roles during COVID-19, that doesn’t mean we won’t be ready when the next major storm hits. We will mobilize our crews and dole out assignments; customer service representatives, forestry and others behind the scenes will be ready – all while ensuring social distancing precautions.Bucket_Grand-Rapids_Summer-Storm_07-16-2019-007

“We have established a culture where we are proactive in our efforts in getting ready for storms and other emergencies, including the recent pandemic,” said Lisa Douglas, Director of Emergency Management and Public Safety. “We are constantly pushing ourselves and working with our many allies to put into place the best possible practices to keep the public and our colleagues safe during an emergency while stabilizing the incident.”

During an emergency, we follow the nationally recognized Incident Command System(ICS), which is also used by emergency first responders. Using the same system during emergencies allows for streamlined communication flow between the many stakeholders.

“Staying organized in response to an incident that is rapidly changing and involves the entire company is extremely critical. Since COVID-19, the ICS team has used some of the preparedness tools including the company’s pandemic plan and over 60 departmental business continuity plans to protect life safety, help stabilize the incident and protect property,” said Douglas.

First Responders Answer the Call

Douglas said throughout the year, our team educates first responders in our service territory on how to safely respond to emergencies on our system and shares resources like our Natural Gas Pipeline Safety Information for Emergency Officials.

Clearing-Lines_Grand-Rapids_Summer-Storm_07-16-2019-040

“The goal around the training is to help keep co-workers safe as well as the public,” said Douglas. “In addition to working with our first responders in times of crisis, we also stay connected in our everyday work.”

Throughout the year we meet and coordinate with Michigan State Police, Emergency Management and Homeland Security Division, local and county emergency managers and central dispatch centers on potential emergencies.

Lt. Gabe Covey of the Michigan State Police said he and the more than 1,200 troopers are thankful for the great relationship they have with Consumers Energy.

“We are in constant communication,” said Lt. Covey. “We try to relay information that we have to them and they do the same for us. It’s important to keep the lines of communication open, especially during a storm or emergency.”

‘We Will Be Ready’

“It’s critical to build these relationships prior to any emergency happening,” Douglas said. “Emergency preparedness is about being ready for anything that comes our way well before it happens.”

The recent COVID-19 pandemic has launched a unified front between emergency and public officials, healthcare workers, and the communities they serve.

Michigan State Police and other first responders are doing their best to protect all Michiganders during these uncertain times.

“In times of crisis, it’s important that all Michiganders have the necessary supplies and action plans,” Lt. Covey said. “Many families were reminded of this in the first days of the Stay Home, Stay Safe order.”

It’s important for families to not only have an emergency kit – with flashlights, bottled water, batteries, food, etc. – on hand, but also have an emergency plan in place, he added.

“And really it’s no different than us working with other emergency responders and Consumers Energy, everyone has to be on the same page,” said Lt. Covey. “Mom and dad shouldn’t just know the plan, every person in the house needs to know.”

Knowing roles and responsibilities is essential in the days and months ahead, Douglas added.

“We want to make sure everyone is aligned, so when that critical moment hits everyone is working together.”

Lt. Covey said the next few months will no doubt be a difficult challenge, with first responders having a laser focus on protecting Michigan from COVID-19 while being able to pivot to storms and other emergencies.

“As the old saying goes, you dig the well before you need the water,” Lt. Covey said. “COVID-19 has proven, we never really know what can come our way. That’s why we do extensive training and have alignment and partnership with Consumer Energy. Whether it’s a vicious storm that Mother Nature sends our way or something else – we are ready on the front lines.”

 

 

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