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December 4, 2014 - 11:36
Concord Monitor

At 3:04 p.m. Tuesday, Public Service of New Hampshire tweeted: “We’re getting ready for the season’s 1st snowstorm.” The advisory included a phone number to call for outages.

At 10:10 a.m. the following day, shortly before the snow started to fall, Unitil posted a link about a winter storm advisory, with “#stormprep #safety.”

By yesterday afternoon, the utilities had sent more than a combined 175 tweets. That number doesn’t include Facebook posts, customer calls, text messages, press releases or other means of communication with customers.

This level of outreach was unheard of during the state’s largest outage ever – the December 2008 ice storm that knocked out power for more than 400,000 people, many for up to two weeks. Three days after the state’s fourth-largest power outage Wednesday evening, Unitil predicted its customers would be online by last night. PSNH announced yesterday most of its customers would have lights on again by today, almost 24 hours ahead of schedule.

So only a handful customers could still be in the dark tomorrow, from the fourth-largest outage New Hampshire has ever experienced. Both utility companies and local officials said technology and experience have improved the response to a major storm event like this one.

“Our philosophy as an organization is to learn from every single storm,” Unitil spokesman Alec O’Meara said. “So every one of those weather events, our goal is to take something away from it and add to our restoration efforts to try and continue to grow and improve.”

After the 2008 ice storm, for example, O’Meara said the company hired a director who would work specifically on large-scale restoration efforts like that one.

When a February 2010 wind storm took out power for more than 340,000 people across the state, Unitil redesigned its website with a real-time outage map. “Snowtober” of October 2011 knocked out power for more than 300,000 people, and that storm was Unitil’s first experiment with Twitter.

This year, more than 200,000 customers from both major utilities lost their power in the hours before Thanksgiving Day. This year was also the inaugural storm event for Unitil’s Facebook page.

In an age of smart phones, O’Meara said the company has relied heavily on social media and the internet to get out information.

“It’s not just things we’ve done, it’s kind of how communication has changed over the past six years,” O’Meara said.

To read the full story, click here.

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