A Storm Like No Other – But We Will Get Through It If We Keep The Faith And Keep Working Together
By South River EMC Executive Vice President & CEO Chris M. Spears
I do not believe anyone expected that COVID-19 would have the impact on the world and the United States that it is having. Saying that a lot has happened in America in the last three weeks in response to COVID-19 is an understatement. Who would have believed a month ago that local schools, colleges and universities would close buildings and campuses and make an effort to move to online instruction; that restaurants would be limited to carry-out only; that gatherings of more than 10 people would be banned, that churches would cancel their in-person worship services, that barbershops and hair salons would have to close, that the federal government would pass a $2 trillion emergency coronavirus spending bill and the list goes on. This is an unprecedented pandemic, which requires unprecedented actions to protect the precious gift of life.
Your local electric cooperative has been responding too as we seek to keep everyone safe, healthy and well. On March 11, the Board of Directors approved postponing the South River EMC Annual Meeting. It has been rescheduled for October 8 and arrangements have been made to conduct the director election in May via online voting and voting by mail. At the same time and in less than a week, we made it possible for most, if not all of our office employees, to work from home. Servicemen, Field Service Representatives and Staking Engineers were asked to work remotely. Once the majority of our Member Service Representatives (MSR’s) were able to work from home, we closed the lobbies to help minimize exposure to COVID-19. Thankfully, the drive through windows were reopened in January at both offices and were fully operational. As of this writing, they remain open and we are rotating MSR’s at the drive-through windows. We have encouraged members to take advantage of online options for conducting business or to call the office.
In regard to Line Crews, steps have been taken to separate them for their protection. If one member of a crew became infected with COVID-19 or maybe a crew member had a family member infected with the virus, all the members on the crew would most likely need to be quarantined. I hope and pray that no one becomes infected with COVID-19 but it would be better to quarantine one crew as opposed to multiple crews. Therefore, keeping them separated seems to be a good option. Here is how it works: One crew reports to the Dunn office, another crew reports to the Fayetteville office and the others are reporting to substations. They work independently of one another and material is delivered to the substations as much as possible. Even those on call who work power outages in the evenings and on weekends are limited to working only with the crew to which they are assigned.
Employees have been instructed not to report to work if they are not feeling well. CDC guidelines have been shared with all employees. Social distancing has been encouraged along with cleaning hands often, avoiding the touching of the face with unwashed hands and more. Additionally, employees have been asked to check temperatures before coming to work. Disposable thermometers are available and non-contact thermometers are being obtained to also check temperatures at work. In person meetings have been cancelled as well. Hand sanitizer has been provided along with rubber gloves and door handles are being wiped down daily. It truly is a team effort and I want to commend our outstanding team of employees for making major adjustments, in a short amount of time. Everyone is working together as we know that we are better and stronger together, which is critical in a crisis.
As of this writing, Governor Cooper has already issued a “Stay at Home” order, which will be effective through the end of April and President Trump has extended social distancing guidelines through April 30. While we pray for a miracle and ask for protection, it is prudent that we be proactive and be prepared to operate in ways that are very different from the norm.
We understand that this situation is extremely hard on so many of our members. As I like to say, it is all about the member because it really is. We are here to serve you. Consequently, in an effort to assist our members who have been or soon will be directly impacted financially by COVID-19, late fees were waived early on and then a decision was made on March 20 to stop making service disconnects for non-payment, at this time. We know that a number of members are, or will be, struggling to pay an electric bill and will need more time to pay bills. We do encourage members to pay what they can at this time to avoid a harder to manage situation down the road. We have a “Helping Hands” fund that was established last year to provide assistance to those in need. I would encourage you to contact the office for more information about Helping Hands. We will seek other opportunities to assist our membership in this unprecedented time. If ever there was an opportunity to demonstrate our Concern for Community, which is one of our cooperative principles, it is now and we are. To begin with, knowing that the need for assistance in our communities will be increased as a result of COVID-19, South River EMC’s Operation Round Up program, just last week, approved emergency contributions available to the following - $10,000 to the Second Harvest Food Bank, $10,000 to Action Pathways, $10,000 to Lee-Harnett-Johnston Community Action and $4,800 to CommWell Health to purchase a generator for their mobile COVID-19 test unit. Furthermore, South River EMC donated N95 masks to two local hospitals last week. I expect more actions will follow in the days ahead.
While this is a difficult time, I would like to encourage you to keep the faith and to focus on that which is positive. I am amazed at how rapidly businesses, organizations, schools, churches and others are adjusting. Restaurants that have not offered carry-out or drive-through services are now doing so, which is a real blessing to so many. While online instruction has been around for years, it has not been prevalent but it is now. Various medical providers are offering virtual medical visits. Churches are using technology such as Zoom and YouTube to stay connected and we are beginning to see things like virtual Rotary Club meetings taking place. People are resilient and find new ways to adapt.
We read in the headlines about organizations such as Samaritan’s Purse, which is based in Boone, N.C., setting up an emergency field hospital in New York City but there are also various organizations and individuals all around our local area that are making a positive difference as we go through this storm together and they are to be applauded as well. Neighbors are picking up groceries and/or providing meals for those that should not be going out, stores are offering special hours for senior citizens and others who are high risk, people out of work are volunteering their time to help others, while others are making masks for health care workers in their spare time. The list goes on and I anticipate more and more people will be reaching out to help and seeking ways to make a positive difference. It is encouraging to see the difference that people are making in this time of crisis. I hope you see it too and agree.
As I conclude, I just want to emphasize that your local electric cooperative is here for you and we do sincerely care about you. We will do everything we can to safely provide reliable electric service and to assist you as you conduct your business with us. We are operating in new and different ways and there could be some glitches. Nonetheless, we will strive to provide the best service possible. It is an honor and a privilege to serve you and we are grateful for the opportunity. If you will, please join me in praying for a miracle. May God protect each and every one of you, our employees, our families and everyone around us and all over the world as we face a pandemic unknown to us and a storm like no other. May God encourage us all as we go through uncertain times together.
On a personal note, while I realize and respect the fact that not everyone celebrates Easter, I know that many of you do. If you do, I hope and pray that you have a Blessed Easter.