We have a strong safety culture at Holland Board of Public Works. As one of our core values, we want our employees to feel safe while they work. Keeping everyone safe and healthy is pertinent to the continuity of our operations. One of HBPW’s first safety measures in response to the pandemic was having people work from home who could. Those who are remote, conduct their responsibilities in the safety of their homes. They are protected and the quantity of people on site is reduced, allowing for better social distancing at all of HBPW’s locations.
On the other hand, some roles simply must be on site or work in the field. Keeping everyone safe at the plants and the Service Center is critical. The technical and skilled nature of utility work takes training, experience and knowledge. There is no surplus of talent that we can draw on if a large number of our workers get sick or exposed all at once. HBPW emphasizes diligence in prevention measures like social distancing, mask wearing and sanitation. We adjusted work schedules and location assignments to limit the number of people working in proximity to one another. For example, some electric line crews are based out of substations rather than gathering in a large group at the Service Center each day. Limiting the number of people in each location reduces risks of exposure by making social distancing easier to maintain. Operations at all of our plants were thought through to find the best accommodations for protecting our workforce while maintaining reliability of our services.
During the statewide shutdown, the HBPW Service Center lobby was closed to the public for eight weeks. In order for that to happen, telecommunications upgrades were needed to enable customer service representatives to receive calls at home. The transition was smooth and the technology is in place if it is needed again in the future. Closing the Service Center led more customers to utilize HBPW’s electronic services like online bill pay, direct payment and the MyHBPW customer portal. The shift occurred naturally. Many customers enjoy the extra conveniences of our online services and continue to use them after the Service Center reopened on July 6th. “Being closed to the public for eight weeks is something that we never imagined. The willingness of our team to be innovative and flexible was extremely valuable and allowed the transition to go well,” said Amy Yost, Customer Solutions Senior Manager.
The effects of the crisis are not limited to the biology of the pandemic. On one hand the health and safety concerns required efforts to slow the spread of the virus. On the other hand, businesses and people struggled as economic challenges arose. To help customers with financial hardships that occurred during the shutdown, temporary policy changes were put in place to help residents and businesses. We extended the annual non-shut off period through July 15, which normally resumes on April 15, after the winter months. We also work with customers on a case-by-case basis to create payment plans and connect them to financial resources. Information about assistance resources is also listed on hollandbpw.com. Individuals are directed to the Michigan Department of Health and Human Services for utility assistance. Holland Board of Public Works is part of a communications system through Lakeshore Advantage and the West Coast Chamber of Commerce. With these networks, we are able to lead businesses to connections that could offer support.
Holland Board of Public Works continues to face the pandemic with diligence to keep our community and workface safe. Our emphasis on safety protects our employees who are essential to maintaining reliable operations that keep our services going strong. We adapted swiftly to ensure continuity of our services. HBPW remains dedicated to being a source of information and community support throughout these unprecedented times. We are committed to staying the course, while being agile in our response to current conditions. Our services play a vital role in our community. Know that we are here with an unwavering pursuit of our mission to provide essential, economical and innovative utility services for the Holland community.