Chris Ray and Brent Wilson, employees of the North Little Rock Electric Department, Monday night received recognition from Mayor Joe Smith for their efforts in helping the city recover from the Christmas snowstorm. Smith said both men helped the city tremendously to recover as well as the other employees of the department. (Photo by Greg Rayburn)
Interim North Little Rock Electric General Manager Jason Carter Monday provided a progress report on how the department fared during the Christmas snowstorm. Carter said department personnel faced some real challenges but did a good job.
“We were hit with a storm that we did not see coming,” Carter said. “It was predicted one inch of snow and an inch of ice but we got an inch of ice and eight inches of snow. It was very challenging.”
Carter said the department had many people on vacation when the storm hit because it was a holiday week.
The department received its first reports of damage at 2:22 a.m. on Christmas Day with power restored to a substantial number of customers by 11:35 p.m. on Dec. 26.
As of Dec. 30, about 99 percent of customers had their power restored, according to Carter.
The storm resulted in 18,750 customers losing power and trees caused 100 percent of the outages.
The department had 23,000 phone calls made to its call center. One problem that needs fixed in the near future is that 47 percent of the phone numbers used by customers were not the numbered in the electric department’s system. Carter said almost half of people reporting outages were calling from phone numbers not listed as the official phone number from the residence that had an outage.
“We are still restoring a substantial number of street lights,” Carter said. “You (council members) will receive a lot of calls. It is a process, like the process of cleaning up branches on the side of the road. We have crews out doing that right now.”
The department has conducted two sessions since the storm to assess what the department did right and wrong.
Carter said numerous department employees spent many hours working to get the lights working again.
“Our employees were out at 2-3 in the morning in the cold in the sleet and snow,” Carter said. “They showed a lot of dedication.”
Carter said the department wants to move more swiftly to install Smart Meters, which provide the department the ability to know if a home has a power outage even when the resident is not home.
Carter said about 20 percent of the customers have Smart meters but the department wants to move as swiftly as possible to bring that number to 100 percent.
Once Smart meters are installed at the sites of all customers, people will not need to report power outages any longer, Carter said.
Mayor Joe Smith said it would be helpful if the utility customers called the department to make sure the city has an updated phone number. Carter said people should use as the electric department phone number a number that would be used in the event of a power outage.
Carter added that the department’s Facebook page became an invaluable venue of communication between customers and the department so they could get the latest up-to-date information.
Carter said he sees the use of the Facebook page as a major communication tool in the future. In the first 24 hours after the storm hit Central Arkansas, the number of the department’s Facebook friends increased substantially so people could get information on how the recovery effort was progressing.