Over the past several months, Avista has worked with our community partners to distribute 6,500 outage preparedness kits to our most vulnerable customers across eastern Washington and North Idaho. The kits contain battery back-up LED lights, preparedness information and other items intended to build customer and community resilience as we head into the winter months.
Avista also recently convened a group of Spokane-area non-profit and emergency response organizations that have a role in providing support to vulnerable individuals and groups during extended service outages. Our goal is to establish a coordinated response for vulnerable customers during energy-related events.
“During my tenure with the company, rarely have we had so many weather-related outages as we have in the past few years,” said Ana Matthews, Avista’s Consumer Affairs Manager. “Every time we have a weather event, we collaborate with our community partners to respond. Proactively bringing this group together is intended to bring structure and formality to our collective emergency response, building on the strengths and roles of each organization.”
Over a dozen partners that provide individual and/or community support in emergencies are included in the group including the Red Cross, the Department of Emergency Management, the City of Spokane and Spokane Transit.
The group set out to better understand power outage experiences and preparedness among Avista’s more vulnerable customers. More than 400 phone surveys yielded a rich set of findings about our customers including one in five reporting that they rely on electricity for medical needs or equipment. The survey also found that customers with medical needs tend to be more prepared for outages than others. The survey shows that there is an opportunity to increase preparedness and that Avista communications may help customers prepare, as well as educate customers about other emergency resources such as warming or cooling centers and free transportation to shelters.
“We are encouraged with the progress we’ve made so far,” said Matthews. “Our ultimate intent is to learn from our work in Spokane County and then to expand and replicate the model in communities across our service territory.”
The community readiness planning and process effort led by Matthews is part of a larger initiative launched by Avista last year. In response to the growing number of weather impacts on our system, Avista assembled a cross-department team to better understand customer expectations and set out to improve customer experience during outages.
A number of additional internal improvements have been made and the team will continue to identify improvements in process and strategy, while also working externally to strengthen community resilience through preparedness, leveraging resources and a coordinated response to power outages.