Comprehensive continuity of operations planning is crucial for cities and towns of all sizes. Residents will appreciate two-way communication through any severe weather.

Massachusetts utility companies improve storm response times

When communities have lackluster plans for responses to natural disasters, the effects could be far-reaching and long-lasting. The East Coast has been put to the test over the last few months in terms of continuity of operations planning. An important aspect, though, is learning from past mistakes and ensuring that comprehensive preparation makes future evacuations or clean-ups run smoother.

After Winter Storm Nemo made landfall, Massachusetts utility companies NStar and National Grid gathered 3,000 crews to replace fallen utility poles, rehang wire cables and repair blown transformers that left more than 600,000 customers without power. Nemo brought over two feet of snow to some areas in the Bay State and officials did not want another lackluster response.

Communication was at the center of repairs, according to The Boston Globe. During repairs, utilities broadcast their progress via social media sites and by text messaging services. While customers were still quick to critique, the response times as fast or faster than they promised in emergency response plans filed with the state.

"Communications between the utilities, us, and customers, and cities and towns is orders of magnitude better than it was five years ago," Ann Berwick, chairwoman of the state Department of Public Utilities, told The Globe. Her department is the one that will review the utilities' response in the coming months.

Attorney General Martha Coakley recommended the imposition of hefty fines following Hurricane Irene, which left more than 1 million residents without power – some for more than one week. However, Coakley said that early reports showed that utility companies were more prepared and that communications with customers were much improved.

A key aspect to a continuity of operations plan is two-way communication. Residents and business owners must understand where they need to go in case of evacuations and officials must ensure that emergency response teams are fully prepared. Working with business continuity consultants can help towns create comprehensive preparedness plans.