Every age faces events that help define them. The response to the COVID-19 pandemic is such an event for this age. While we are physically distancing ourselves from one another, we are coming together in countless other ways.
Health care workers and first responders are heroes. We all value the people who make it possible to buy groceries, fill prescriptions, get the mail, read the paper, communicate online or by phone, and carry on with life in countless ways.
Energy infrastructure workers are critical to all of this, whether at NorthWestern Energy, MDU, Energy West or one of Montana’s rural cooperatives. Without them and the systems they build, maintain and operate, nothing else works.
President Eisenhower famously said, “Plans are worthless, but planning is everything.” At NorthWestern, we plan and train for all kinds of possibilities, from cyber-attacks to floods. The pandemic is unique in its physical scope; its duration; and the complexity of effects. Planning and preparation have paid off.
On March 5 we activated our internal Incident Command Structure, part of our continuity of operations planning. Within days most employees who could work remotely were doing so. That created space in our facilities for social distancing. We opened backup control centers to allow greater distancing and to provide redundancy in case a COVID-19 exposure occurred. Our crews are working in small groups. Our supply chain managers are ensuring our people have what they need.
A lineman now works with Bucky the Bucket Bear, a stuffed animal from his daughter to help keep him safe. A gas foreman has a photo of his granddaughters hugging the gas meter outside their home, because they can’t hug their grandpa. Folks are sharing photos of their home offices, and their new assistants (toddlers, pets). If you speak to a customer service representative, there’s a good chance she or he is helping you from a corner of their home.
We all appreciate the kind words received by our employees over the phone and the friendly waves to our folks in the field, from an appropriate distance.
COVID-19 hits rural areas and small communities as well as large, and stresses limited resources. A coworker and friend moved into his parents’ basement, caring for his mother while she recovered from the virus. His father, who also had COVID-19, had been transported to a hospital in a larger community, where he died, with his family unable to visit. Now our coworker is generously telling a story he says will “define the rest of my life,” so that we can all learn from his experience.
NorthWestern immediately announced that we will not disconnect service customers for nonpayment. Late fees are waived. We are working with customers to help them get through. We announced $300,000 in additional aid to help customers, including small businesses, and to support the organizations that make our communities strong. As we often do, we are also matching employee contributions to key organizations.
Learning from experience in other parts of the country through multiple weekly phone calls, we are prepared in case the situation gets worse, or lasts longer, or if we have major events such as storms, on top of COVID-19.
We are stewards of the critical infrastructure and essential service on which we all depend. Our employees are fulfilling that mission during the pandemic, and are prepared to serve when we begin to emerge and turn our attention to economic as well as community recovery. My parents remembered the hardships of the Great Depression, but what they talked about most was how families, neighbors and the community came together in ways small and large. I know that’s one thing we will remember and learn from now.
Physical distancing hasn’t prevented the communities we love and care about from pulling together. On behalf of everyone I have the privilege of working with at NorthWestern Energy, thank you!
Robert C. Rowe
President and Chief Executive Officer, NorthWestern Energy
11 East Park St. I Butte, MT 59701-1711
Executive Assistant: Corinne B. Dede I Office: (605) 978-2827
Catch the latest in Opinion
Get opinion pieces, letters and editorials sent directly to your inbox weekly!