Traverse City Record-Eagle

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March 5, 2014

Another View: BWL review first step in reputation fix

The Lansing Board of Water & Light’s internal review of its response to the Dec. 21 ice storm is 80 pages of worthwhile reading. In it, BWL goes into great detail in assessing how its systems and procedures failed. It offers 54 steps it has taken, is taking or will take to perform better in the future.

The report is candid in exposing serious lapses, including that a new outage management system installed in February had significant software problems still awaiting fixes at the time of the ice storm. A critical glitch had developed in May with its “conductor cut function,” which is key in tracking outages.

A needed repair was only part way through testing at the time of the storm. The BWL made the fix live on its system several days into the restoration period, but doing so caused some outage areas to show as repaired and some repaired areas to show as still out. The report says: “To correct for these discrepancies, the BWL dropped all outages in the OMS. So when customers who had called in an outage earlier called again to check on the status of their outage, the BWL did not recognize the customer as being out of service. This caused confusion and anger among customers.” Indeed.

The report also notes capacity problems with the BWL’s phone systems, issues with tree trimming, and cites the need for better communication with local government officials.

Yet a key gap was caught by BWL Vice Chairman Dennis Louney, who noted the lack of “an analysis of management, what they did and didn’t do.”

Another lapse (not mentioned in the report, but known due to Freedom of Information requests) is that general manager J. Peter Lark deleted his emails, which eliminated one tool for assessing his performance.

Evaluating management’s role now becomes crucial for Brig. Gen. Michael McDaniel’s independent review team. Insight they might consider comes from the Institute for Crisis Management in Louisville, Ky., which specializes in crisis communications. Its 20 years of analyzing business crises produced data showing that the majority “smolder” first: “In other words management knows or should know about them before they go public. Another fallacy is that most crises are caused by employee errors or natural disasters. The reality is that most newsworthy business crises are the results of management decisions, actions or inaction.”

While BWL takes steps to improve its performance, customers will look to McDaniel’s team to assess why there were 54 areas needing improvement.

Lansing State Journal

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