Inside Con Ed’s Herculean response to Hurricane Sandy

The mega-storm ended up being bigger and more destructive than anyone had expected. To keep the public and employees informed, the electric utility had to use every tool it had.

“The best-laid plans didn’t quite live up to the ferocity of this storm,” says Ann Cameron, Con Ed’s director of creative services. “We had an astounding number of outages.”

Con Ed is an organization of “contingency people,” she says, but Sandy’s storm surge exceeded even the most-dire forecasts. The utility lost 78 percent of its overhead electrical system, and the underground networks in Lower Manhattan also went down.

“Our lights went out here, too,” Cameron says. “We were all working.”

In the face of a crisis of that scope, Con Ed’s communicators had a huge task in getting timely material out to the public and to employees. They did so through online and traditional means, and they learned a few lessons in the process.

Informing the public

Regulations on electric utilities stipulate that electricity providers provide customers an estimated time of restoration (ETR) within 48 hours of an outage. Con Ed offered one—the utility promised to get 90 percent of customers back up within two weeks—through several venues.

“Most of the communications during the storm were carried through the media,” Cameron says.

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