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October 17, 2010 (All day)
Fitchburg Sentinel & Enterprise

 

October is a great month. There's beautiful foliage, playoff baseball on TV, warm days and cool, crisp nights, fairs, apple picking and Halloween. Fall in New England is a special treat for all of us who live here, a time of year that drives home why we choose to make this particular part of the country our home..

I'm Carol Valianti, and this October marks my first full year as vice president of communications and public affairs at Unitil. It's been quite a year, and I wanted to share with you some of the things I've learned about trust, Unitil and the nature of storm preparedness over the last 12 months.

First, trust. When it comes to earning trust, there are no shortcuts. There is no magic wand, no one action or speech or presentation that can restore confidence overnight. The only way to truly earn trust, real trust, is over time, by backing up words with actions and by doing the right thing over and over. I recognize that for many within the community, Unitil still has work to do to earn that trust.

Thankfully, I've also learned that Unitil is a company brimming with people filled with the energy needed to earn your trust. Those employees, myself included, are passionate about what we do, which is providing for the necessities of life to you, our customers. We are local, as local as the 65 employees who live next door to you and work tirelessly every day to keep their neighbors' lights on and their homes warm throughout the year.

As a company, Unitil has recognized that to earn your trust it had to improve, and it has. Our team has been reaching out to local elected officials and media outlets to talk about those improvements. We've been talking about how Unitil has instituted the Incident Command Structure used by all emergency responders to provide a centralized response to emergencies. How all Unitil employees now have a "storm assignment" during any major event to help with the response effort. How we've enhanced our customer service operations to ensure customers will always be able to report their own personal outage. We talk about how we've created dedicated municipal rooms to communicate directly with emergency responders and how we've created an information team dedicated to getting timely, accurate information out to the public through all media outlets, including our own website.

In some cases, our talks have been met with cautious optimism. When we presented to the Lunenburg selectmen this summer, Fire Chief Scott Glenny said the plan looks good and that he's seen an improvement in our response. That said, our plan has also met with a healthy amount of skepticism. We understand why some people in the area are taking the news of our improved plans with a grain of salt: They need proof. Unfortunately, the only way to provide real proof will be if a major storm passes through the area, something we all hope doesn't happen.

However, we seem to be living in a time when extreme "100-year storms" are happening more and more frequently. Our emergency response plan has already been put to the test. Back in February a wind storm with top winds exceeding 90 mph knocked out power to more than 300,000 customers in New England, including 83 percent of all Unitil customers, Fitchburg included. We used all of our new procedures, and after what is now being called the second most destructive storm in New Hampshire's history, it was Unitil that restored power to all of its customers first, then helped out other utilities with restoration. According to customers, elected officials, regulators and the media, our communication efforts proved (their word, not ours) very effective. That's the Unitil I know and the one I want you to see.

Let's all enjoy October. It really is one of the gems the calendar gives us every year. At the same time, everyone here at Unitil is mindful that winter is only a few months away. We do not want another major event in Massachusetts, but I am here to tell you that if one comes, we are prepared. If you are skeptical of that, I understand.

Should there be a storm, we'll be ready. The trust will follow.

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