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The utility industry has faced a tumultuous few years, with extreme weather-related crises causing significant disruptions. According to the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA), the U.S. witnessed 20 separate billion-dollar weather and climate disasters in 2021 alone. This has led to a heightened focus on the importance of crisis communications in defining the relationship between energy utilities and their communities. 

“It has been no picnic for affected consumers either,” says Jeff Conklin, Vice President of Utilities Intelligence and Technology, Media, & Telecom Intelligence at J.D. Power. “The more fortunate consumers faced the consequences of merely dealing with service interruptions. Many others have been forced to abandon their homes and seek refuge—often in the coldest days of winter or the hottest segments of summer—until some sense of normalcy could be reinstated in their communities.” 

The Imperative of Customer-Centricity 

The utility sector, once a beacon of stability, now grapples with unprecedented challenges. Customers demand transparency, empathy, and proactive communication. The stakes are high; a poorly managed crisis can erode customer trust, which takes years to rebuild. Therefore, the objective is clear: to inform, guide, and reassure customers before, during, and after an energy shortage. 

The Blueprint for Success 

Pre-Emergency Phase 


The planning phase is the cornerstone of any effective emergency communication strategy. It involves a multi-disciplinary approach that includes risk assessments, resource allocation, and the formation of an emergency communication team. According to J.D. Power, the most successful utilities have comprehensive engagement strategies rooted in ongoing conversations with key constituents. This means not just preparing for a crisis but actively building relationships with communities to establish trust. 

Message Development 

In this phase, utility providers must proactively address customer concerns. With the rise of remote work and home-based activities, residential energy consumption is likely to increase. This scenario offers a perfect opportunity to provide customers with innovative energy-saving tips. The messaging should be clear, actionable, and tailored to the audience’s needs. It should also be tested and refined to ensure it resonates with customers. 

During-Emergency Phase 

Activation and Ongoing Communication 

Once the emergency plan is activated, triggered by predefined conditions such as extreme weather events or technical failures, multi-channel notifications should be sent out immediately. Email, SMS, social media, and even local news outlets can be leveraged for this purpose. Consistency is key; conflicting information can lead to confusion and erode trust. 

The Power of Empathy 

During a crisis, utility providers must lead with empathy. The messaging should strike a balance between being informative and compassionate. Silence is not an option; it can be interpreted as indifference or even negligence. Utility providers should be the first to communicate, framing the narrative in a way that reassures customers and reinforces trust. Transparency and a humble, honest tone are critical, as demonstrated by Consumers Energy during a major crisis. 

Protecting Customers 
Scams and fraudulent activities often spike during crises. Utility providers must protect their customers by issuing targeted communications that outline the steps being taken to ensure both customer and employee safety. This includes warning customers about potential scams and providing guidelines on how to verify the identity of utility workers.  

Post-Emergency Phase 

Evaluation and Revision 

The aftermath of a crisis offers a valuable learning opportunity. Customer surveys, data analysis, and debriefing sessions can provide insights into the effectiveness of the communication plan. Based on these findings, the plan should be revised and updated. Training sessions can then be conducted to prepare the team for future emergencies. 

Rethinking Channel Strategy 

Media consumption habits can shift dramatically, especially during a crisis. Utility providers may need to reassess their channel strategies to align with current trends. Platforms like Facebook, and communications tools such as SMS, email and chatbots have proven to be particularly effective in times of crisis. The utility should also consider conducting tabletop exercises and training sessions with local authorities and first responders to hone the effectiveness of crisis communication operations. 


Crafting a customer-centric emergency communication plan for energy shortages is not just a regulatory requirement but a social responsibility. By focusing on transparency, empathy, and proactive communication, utility providers can navigate the complexities of a crisis while maintaining customer trust. The lessons learned from each crisis should not be seen as isolated incidents but as steppingstones towards a more resilient and customer-focused future. 

In the end, it’s not just about keeping the lights on; it’s about illuminating the path forward in the darkest of times. 

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