OPPD customers typically see the utility’s bucket trucks and line techs out and about in the community, doing the day-to-day work of delivering reliable power. But behind the scenes, others are doing noble work as well.
For every storm that knocks out power, there are OPPD operations clerks behind the scenes, doing their jobs to make sure that work in the field goes off without a hitch.
“OPPD’s operations clerks support our Transmission & Distribution workers, Work Management and our Claims department, and they also provide customer service,” said Diana Benson, supervisor of T&D Administration.
OPPD has 18 operations clerks employed around the District. They work in the metro and in south and north rural areas.
And clerks handle a variety of duties in addition to their normal day-to-day responsibilities.
Below, meet a few of those operations clerks, who provide some insights about their jobs and what they do:
Amy Lawler has been with OPPD for 22 years and been working as an operations clerk for the past 19 years. She, like a number of others, started as a Customer Care representative, and she is now a senior clerk.
“I’ve been asked several times if I’d ever like to move to a different role or different area, but I love where I’m at and love what I do,” said Lawler. “No day is ever the same as any other day.”
Lawler said that she enjoys working with the crews in the field and added that most people don’t realize the sheer number of hours those crew members put in during storm restoration. The same is true for operations clerks.
Lawler and the other clerks don’t find joy in storms and outages, but the pace when handling them is definitely different, something that challenges the entire utility and makes people bring their “A game.”
In 19 years in the role, Lawler has seen everything from tornadoes to derechos to blizzards, and everything in between. One storm stands out for her.
“The day the June tornadoes hit Bellevue and Papillion was interesting, to say the least,” she said. “I was on my way in to work driving on Highway 370 and came across downed lines on the highway. There were no police there yet or anything, so I had to get into the office and get someone out there.”
Lawler said each storm restoration is different, but they are all run the same way when it comes to the restoration efforts.
Storms were something Ryan Taylor learned about quickly. As in his first week on the job. Taylor has been with OPPD just over a year, having worked previously for the Omaha Police Department. Just days into his new job in July 2021, he was thrown into the deep end, so to speak, during the most damaging storm in OPPD’s history in terms of outages.
“I went into it not knowing much and came out of it knowing a whole lot,” Taylor said.
Lawler confirmed that. “We needed Ryan to hit the ground running, no time to sit this one out, and he did just that,” she said.
Taylor said what surprised him most about the job, and particularly the storm restoration, was everyone’s attitudes.
“No one slept and no one really got grumpy with each other, especially on the downed wires side, which I was on. From the first day to the last day, everyone had really good attitudes.”
Kelly Deitering works as an operations clerk at the Elkhorn Service Center and, like Lawler, started as a Customer Care Center rep. She said she loves many things about her job, whether it is working with internal customers (other OPPD employees) or external customers such as the City of Omaha Public Works Department or the utility service locators OPPD contracts with.
“It’s true, no day is the same here,” Deitering said. “You are involved in so many different aspects of what is going on in our utility. I learn every day. This is one of those roles where we are continuing to learn constantly. Today, as a matter of fact, we had a pole that was hit by a car, it was a “dip pole” – just a pole with a streetlight on it, so we can change that out.”
One of Deitering’s favorite things about the job is picking the brains of the field workers and learning more about their roles. She said the daily interaction with those workers in the field can include ordering dumpsters and porta potties or securing rental barricades for a job site or calling the fire department when a gas line is struck.
Clerks often spend the afternoons creating job and work orders or managing the automated callout system, which tracks who is sick or on vacation and who is available if extra crews or workers need be dispatched to an outage during off hours.
“You have to want to be a helpful hand, that’s the key,” Deitering said. “We have different personality types on our group and that makes it work, we have a great group and lot of flexibility.”
Nicole McWilliams and Maci Niedermeyer are among the group of operations clerks who work in the rural areas. They both work out of the Syracuse Service Center but sometimes fill in at other centers as needed.
They do the same work as clerks in the metro area, with the added responsibility of also working with OPPD customers who may drop in at the rural service centers.
McWilliams has been with the utility for 15 years and started out working in Records Management and then moved to the Tecumseh Service Center for about six years before transferring to Syracuse. Niedermeyer had worked in the hospital in Syracuse before coming to OPPD five years ago.
They also dispatch calls during the daytime, sending crews out, and take a number of customer bill payments and questions in the office for those who prefer to handle such matters in person. Of course, dealing face-to-face with customers can sometimes mean helping upset customers with their frustrations after a storm knocks out power. Customers don’t always realize how widespread the storm damage may be or hard it can be sometimes to get vehicles out on minimum maintenance roads to make repairs.
The rural part of OPPD’s service territory is widespread. Restoring a circuit in the metro area may restore power to 1,000 customers; the rural customer base is much more spread out.
“This is a job that takes a lot of patience as well as time management skills,” said McWilliams.
“And attention to detail,” said Niedermeyer. “There is a lot of multi-tasking that goes on in our roles.”
Not only do they dispatch calls to the crews and handle walk-in customers, they answer customer service phone calls, balance department timesheets, work with contracts and purchase orders, and create and close work orders, among other things.
The learning curve for an operations clerk is big, Benson said. Another role they take on in large-scale storms is assuming the responsibility of dispatching calls. They must also know the different OPPD unions’ handbooks and regulations, since they are working with line techs and craftspeople and other trades who belong to separate unions.
“It’s a job that takes a long time to get really comfortable in the role, but it’s also one of the most rewarding jobs in our utility, in my opinion,” Benson said.
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