PSC creates task force for utilities and cable providers to create uniform procedures for outage notifications

MORGANTOWN — The state Public Service Commission has created a task force for utilities and cable service providers to recommend best practices and universal procedures for notifications regarding utility and cable service outages.

The creation of the task force follows the PSC’s April 8 opening of a general investigation into such notifications by 14 regulated utilities. The PSC ordered them to address how they notify their individual customers when they are affected by service outages.

The companies named were Hope Gas, Cardinal Natural Gas, Mon Power and Potomac Edison, Morgantown Utility Board, Mountaineer Gas, Consumers Gas Utility, Union Oil & Gas, West Virginia-American Water, Beckley Water Co., Appalachian Power and Wheeling Power, Frontier West Virginia and Optimum.

They were instructed to explain how they notify their individual affected customers of service outages; what plans they have, if any, to add, expand, modify, or improve notification systems; describe any technical or physical barriers that exist to providing electronic notifications by email or text message; and describe procedures in place to notify mass communication media of outages.

The companies responded on April 29, and in Wednesday’s order creating the task force, the PSC noted that the companies have differing practices and procedures — such as door hangers, telephone calls, emails, text messages, website and social media posts.

The task force must hold its first meeting no later than June 14, and report recommended practices and procedures within 60 days of Wednesday’s order. Members then have 30 days from the filing of the report to file comments.

Local provider procedures

Mon Power and its FirstEnergy sister Potomac Edison use emails and auto-dialer phone calls for planned outages, with an option for text alerts. For unplanned outages, customers who call in can receive text and email updates. They also provide 24/7 website updates. For routine outage updates, they employ media advisories.

The companies are upgrading their text and email alert system this month to allow them to send out 500 notifications per second. They noted several technical barriers, including spotty phone and email service, and that customers must opt-in to alerts and call in unplanned outages.

For anticipated weather-related outages, they email customers in the affected areas.

Cardinal Natural Gas told the PSC it has a small customer base and visits each customer to leave door hangers. If an event requires mass communication, it notifies the media.

Hope Gas uses a campaign management application to target alerts to the specific area and phones customers. It also has an outage notification page on its website.

MUB, for planned outages, issues notifications at least 24 hours in advance. For unplanned outages, it issues boil water advisories within six hours of the outage.

MUB told the PSC it has a proprietary software program — MUB Connect — to alert customers via text messages and phone calls to the affected area. Notifications also go out when the outage has ended.

MUB also uses social media, its website and door hangers to issue alerts. It also places notices of planned outages in The Dominion Post.

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