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As I write this, our members and staff, along with the rest of the nation, are dealing with the new realities brought on by the coronavirus, or COVID-19. I can’t say what will be happening when you read this in May. Will we still be restricting our movements and practicing social distancing? It is impossible to know: Things are changing by the hour.
Here is what I do know: Your cooperative has always had an emergency operations plan. We review it each year. The EOP covers various scenarios that could impact our members and our system. It outlines what steps we would need to take in a variety of situations, like hurricanes, ice storms, tornadoes, cyber-attacks and, yes, even pandemics. Our staff began reviewing that pandemic plan the first week in March with a special emphasis on ensuring we were prepared to continue to provide the reliable electric service you have come to expect. Keeping power flowing is important to maintain some sense of normalcy as we hunker down in our homes.
Our employees recognize the important role they play in that. We worked quickly and made internal changes in early March to keep them healthy and power flowing. These decisions were not made out of fear but out of an abundance of caution for the safety of our members and our employees. All disconnects for nonpayment and late fees were suspended. We understand the financial strain this event is likely to put on many of the families we serve. We want to work with our members and help as best we can.
As I write this, many of our employees are working from home. Member calls are being answered just as they would normally be. However, if you called and noticed some different background noise than usual, that is why.
Our linemen have been divided into shifts and come in at different times, so they can practice social distancing. Trucks are being taken home so that lineworkers can head to locations without coming into the office, and we are working to limit one staff person per truck as best we are able.
New routines and processes are in place for all contractors and visitors, restricting their access to our facilities.
Key staff is continuing to meet weekly, using technology to hold video conferences. Because the COVID-19 situation has been so fluid, there are new scenarios constantly being discussed and new processes being developed.
So far, it is working well and everyone has adapted to the new norm. I appreciate the flexibility of our employees and their recognition that we owe it to our members to continue with our best work, even in uncertain times. It is nice to see all that we have practiced and planned with the EOP working.
Our entire staff would also like to say thank you to the many people that are on the front lines: the healthcare workers, the grocery store employees, the teachers, the cleaning staff and the truck drivers. I know I am failing to mention groups that have been integral to so many operations, but we want to thank all who have made this event run more smoothly than it would have without them.
We have also seen members step up and begin sewing masks, delivering groceries to the elderly and more. As we always do in times of crisis, we have seen so many people come together, and that is a wonderful thing.
The cooperative way of business has brought us this far over the last 80-plus years, and the cooperative way will help us through this crisis. Our focus here is to do our part to keep your life as normal as possible through this situation and beyond.
Stay healthy, stay home and wash your hands. Follow the recommendations from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention and Texas Department of State Health Services. We will all get thorugh this together with cooperation.