BWL Preparing Now For Future Storms

LANSING, MI (WLNS) – Monday marked one year since the ice storm that knocked out power to many in Lansing for days.

Since then the Lansing Board of Water and Light has made some changes, thanks to the Community Review Team.

In this special report, 6 News finds out if BWL is ready for the next big storm.

“Frankly we’ve learned some painful lessons,” said Peter Lark, General Manager/CEO, Board of Water and Light.

Lessons that were painfully obvious during last year’s December ice storm.

Communicating with customers during an outage is a big deal.

“The emergency number to the Board of Water and Light is a joke, we never ever were able to get through, not one time in eight days.”

General Manager Peter Lark says BWL has measures in place to make sure that doesn’t happen again.

“I want to make sure we get information to our customers, correct information to them, but perhaps more importantly, I wanted to make sure they could get information to us,” said Lark.

Lark says BWL is now among a select group of utilities to have four ways of communication, from a smart phone app to a call center to their website and latest to the mix, text messaging.

“With the general’s blueprint I think the board has made great strides, I mean he really provided that road map,” said Virg Bernero, Mayor of Lansing.

“I think I’m gratified that so much has been done since that point in time.”

Before the ice storm BWL had roughly five crews working on trees, but following McDaniel’s review team recommendations they’ve increased and they’re up to 30.

“We are getting more people trimming and we are being a little bit more aggressive in our tree trimming.”

In areas where they might second guess cutting down limbs, they’re coming down now in advance of storms and they’ve brought in an emergency manager, former Assistant Chief Trent Adkins.

All moves General McDaniel applauds, but he says BWL’s work is far from over.

If there is any recommendation in our report that has been overlooked, it’s probably where we specifically said there should be an operation auditor,” said General Mike McDaniel, Chair of the Community Review Team.

Someone McDaniel says would help increase frequency of communication between the general manager and board.

“It still seems that the general manager makes reports to the board rather than the board asking for certain information.”

Mayor Bernero sings to a similar tune. He’d like to see the board and the general manager report directly to him, but that would require a change in the entire utility system.

“The charter says that the board is accountable to me for best practices and I intend to insist on that accountability.”

Mayor Bernero hopes the additional three non-voting members coming to the utility board in January will help bring fresh perspectives to the BWL.

”When we have the very next outage, we’re going to go back and do a postmortem and is there a way to make it better.”

But Peter Lark says customers can rest assured, they aren’t the same utility they were last December.

Officials at the utility say within the next two – three years they want to have smart meters installed for all of their customer’s meters.

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