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Powering Through the Pandemic: Safety never rests

May 26, 2020 | Laura King-Homan | OPPD employees

Over the past several months, OPPD employees have worked behind the scenes in a variety of ways to keep customers connected during the coronavirus pandemic.

In the coming weeks we will showcase some of the employees doing this behind-the-scenes work, and actions they are taking to help friends and neighbors during this difficult time. Together, OPPD’s employees are where the light starts, and the work they do every day helps your utility power through the pandemic.


Arlo Christensen, Safety

At an electric utility that employs hundreds of people doing dangerous jobs every day, safety is always at the forefront. So when the coronavirus pandemic struck, OPPD’s safety department took the new challenge head-on.

The mission of the department is that “safety matters” at work, at home and on the road for all employees. This spring, safety included more than just the daily dangers of working around electricity.

Safety now included protecting employees against miniscule microbes.

Arlo Christensen, director of Safety and Health at OPPD, said the amount of time he has spent dealing with COVID-19 in recent weeks has lessened, but it is still a huge focus.

“When this first started, it made up 90 percent of my time,” said Christensen. “We were dealing with the health side of this around the clock. Now, Traci Schuette (OPPD’s manager of Safety Analytics & Administration) and I rotate as our health officer for week-long shifts.”

Christensen said they see OPPD having to deal with the virus for months. But they remain determined to offer the right support and guidance for the utility and its employees.

Like many OPPD employees, Christensen can do much of his work from home. When he does have to go work sites, he is vigilant about monitoring his health and adhering to social distancing guidelines.

“I’m kind of a social butterfly, so this has been difficult,” he said. “But it’s especially important we aren’t bringing anything in to the power plants. In fact, we have the same person supporting the same plant rather than the rotation we typically do.”

He said in the last few weeks his job has started to resemble the job he did pre-COVID.

“Our goal is still reducing injuries and keeping everyone safe, regardless of where they work,” Christensen said. “And that’s not just OPPD employees. We want to make sure our contractors are safe and adhering to our safety standards and keep our customers safe.

“It’s not about the cost of injuries, though even small injuries can add up and being a public entity, those costs are reflected on a customer’s bill. But a lot of our customers have family that work at OPPD and a lot of our employees are rate payers too. We want them safe, whether it be from workplace injuries or a virus.”

Where the Light Starts: OPPD crew stops for goodwill

Customer Amanda Purdham recently emailed OPPD CEO Tim Burke to share her gratitude towards a crew. The crew members, working in her neighborhood, noticed her son was celebrating his birthday and made the most of the current conditions. Here was her message:

“You have a crew out here this morning, May 14th… in Papillion. My home sits just across the street from where your crew is currently working. We have giant, albeit slightly obnoxious, signs in the yard for my son’s 10th birthday today and we just went out to see the signs and take some pictures.

Brecken birthday_CROPPED

One of your crew members must have read the name on the signs earlier because when we went outside, the gentleman started calling my son’s name, “Brecken?! Brecken! Hey, Brecken! Are you Brecken? HAPPY BIRTHDAY BRECKEN!”

I know it seems like such a simple thing to say, but honestly he could have just gone about his business and made no mind of us. It was a very kind gesture and my son was surprised and smiling ear to ear. I think this rainy, ‘quarantine’ birthday is off to a pretty great start.

I hope you are able to find out who the gentleman is, by the address above, and make sure he gets some kind of recognition. It’s important to have great employees who also make a difference in the community, no matter how small. We appreciate everything you all do!”

That crew was Nick Wigle, Jarod Buckley and Rod Smith, who helped Brecken celebrate that milestone birthday and lived OPPD’s core value of honoring our community.

Brecken birthday_Jarod and Nick_CROPPED
Jarod Buckley and Nick Wigle work on OPPD equipment in a Papillion neighborhood.

As their manager, Eli Schiessler, put it, “We are lucky to have guys like Rod, Nick and Jarod representing OPPD in our community.”

Enterprise Risk Management

When you’re leading a utility through a pandemic, there are a lot of decisions to make and information to gather.

That’s where OPPD’s Enterprise Risk Management (ERM) team comes in. The four-person team gathers data and statistics and creates short-term forecasts around coronavirus (COVID-19). They present them daily to the utility’s Business Continuity (BCP) team so they can make data-driven decisions.

They start with information from a variety of sources regarding cases, deaths and growth rates. Then they put the information into several graphs and charts to build a comprehensive presentation for BCP to evaluate during their daily discussions around operations, said Charlie Schoenkin, enterprise risk analyst. He added that ERM is looking beyond the raw data and constantly refining what to include based on what leadership needs.

Having the ERM team analyze and compile this information allows the larger group to discuss issues using the same set of information.

“We’re putting the information into a format that’s easy to understand,” said Dan Laskowsky, director of Enterprise Risk Management. “And it gives BCP the opportunity to be as proactive as possible.”

There are many different sources of information on COVID-19, and models projecting the virus’s next turn. For ERM, filtering through the information comes down to a simple mantra: trust but verify.

They recommend customers do the same thing when they read or watch the news.

“It’s a healthy habit to have multiple sources on a topic you’re reading about,” said Sean Frazier, enterprise risk analyst.

In their day-to-day role, the ERM team works to gather operational and strategic risks, assess them and help prioritize actions. Their goal is to maximize the customer dollar by preventing negative outcomes and optimizing good outcomes.

During this pandemic, their work allows OPPD’s leadership to make sound decisions to keep employees safe. When employees are safe they can continue to provide energy to customers and keep them connected when they need it most.

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About Laura King-Homan

Laura King-Homan is the managing editor of The Wire and a brand journalism strategist at Omaha Public Power District. She has nearly 20 years of print journalism and design experience, including the Omaha World-Herald.

View all posts by Laura King-Homan >

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