Case Study: BWL Ice Storm

In Case Studies, Issue Management, Media Relations, Strategic Communications by Martin Waymire

In late December 2013, an historic ice storm knocked out power to hundreds of thousands of Mid-Michigan customers. The storm affected 100% of the service territory of the Lansing Board of Water and Light (BWL), a municipally owned utility with a stellar reputation — up until the ice storm. The BWL’s response to the storm — including how the utility communicated vital information to customers — was strongly and loudly criticized.

The BWL retained Martin Waymire to (1) help improve the utility’s communications technologies and systems, and (2) develop clear crisis communications processes and protocols. The BWL implemented all of Martin Waymire’s recommended improvements, including implementing multiple new technologies (text messaging and an interactive web-based outage reporting/restoration map, creating an “Outage Center” on its website) the utility can use to communicate with customers, and customers can communicate with the BWL, during routine and emergency situations. Survey research conducted in July 2015 found 74% of BWL customers gave the utility a positive rating for its post-ice storm communications and operational improvements.