National Grid Uses Liaisons To Work With Communities After Storm

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They spent their fourth night in the dark Tuesday night, and 220,000 homes and businesses are still without power across Massachusetts after the weekend storm. Not surprisingly, as a result of no heat or water, there is some frustration with the utility companies.

Town officials in communities such as Southbridge are criticizing the utilities for their perceived slow restoration pace and lack of communication with local leaders.

But in the town of Grafton on Tuesday, where 40 percent of residents were still without power, National Grid was making an effort to head off those criticisms.

We met up with Bill Jones, who is usually behind a desk for the utility company, but on this day was out at the downed power lines behind the sprawling Cummings School of Veterinary Medicine at Tufts University, coordinating with a National Grid field supervisor in his temporary role as community and customer liaison.

"There's a tree on wire right next to the municipal center. So it really needs to come down," he called out the window of his truck. "You picked that tree off? Alright, I'll swing by and just make sure, because I've got to report to the town how we're making out."

The veterinary school has been running all its operations, including its animal hospitals, on generators since the storm. So getting it back on the grid is a priority for Jones.

This liaison position — a live person working in a community — hasn't always been a major part of National Grid's response. The company has been operating a municipal relations center, where local officials can call in and let them know their priorities for restoring power.

But National Grid said it learned a lesson from Tropical Storm Irene, when many utilities were criticized for a lack of communication. So increasingly, National Grid is sending liaisons, such as Jones, out into towns to work closely alongside local officials.

National Grid says they now have liaisons like Jones in 90 of the 170 towns the company serves.

This program aired on November 2, 2011.


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