Even though most Hastings Utilities customers who lost power during the storm that occurred overnight June 20-21 were back on quickly, there is room for improvement in emergency response.

That was the message HU Manager Kevin Johnson shared during a post mortem update about the effects of that storm as part of the Hastings Utility Board meeting Thursday.

“I thought we did a really good job,” he said.

Johnson said while about 3,500 HU customers lost power, about 3,300 of those were back on “fairly quick.”

“Because we knew where to go and what feeders to hit when we got to the service lines,” he said.

Staff members assembled for a quick response.

“I feel like there’s always opportunity for us to look back in hindsight and see where can we get better,” Johnson said.

Hastings Utilities is still too paper-based when it comes to storm response, Johnson said.

He said HU director of operations Lee Vrooman, HU manager of customer accounts Brian Strom, HU director of marketing and energy supply Derek Zeisler, as well as Kevin Schawang, who is information technology director for the city of Hastings, are looking at automated systems that could provide customer portals.

“Not just automate for automation purposes, but to automate so we understand and we can show customers where they’re out, or if we’re aware they are out because I think that’s what they really want to know,” Johnson said. “I know they want their electricity back on. I do too. But if we can provide a little more opportunity to let people know they’re out and we have people responding I think it would reduce the phone calls.”

Past utility organizations that serviced the communities where Johnson worked provide similar services. For instance at the Omaha Public Power District customers could go online and see what areas were without power during an outage.

“We’re already talking about an opportunity to pinpoint even homes as an option,” he said.

Board member Shawn Hartmann agreed with Johnson’s assessment of the situation.

Providing information online about what areas of town are without power — and the HU response — would cut down on customer calls to Hastings Utilities.

“I think the automation is almost something that is a necessity moving forward in the day and age we’re at,” Hartmann said. “It’s a safety issue.”

Johnson said such a service for Hastings Utilities is long overdue and would be money well spent.

He hopes HU staff members eventually will have the opportunity to visit larger utility and energy companies to see what services are available.

“Not that we could afford to put in everything they do, but we should be able to scale it back,” he said.

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