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In August 2023, the Maui wildfires caused extensive damage across the Hawaiian island, resulting in significant loss of life and property. As the fire spread through Lahaina, utility companies faced dual challenges: protecting critical infrastructure and maintaining communication with customers during a rapidly evolving emergency.  

This event highlights the increasing intensity of wildfire seasons and their impact on energy and utility providers across the US. In the context of heightened risk, effective emergency communication has become an essential tool for informing customers and supporting their safety during wildfire events. 

The Growing Threat to Energy and Utility Infrastructure 

Wildfires present significant risks to power grids, substations, and other critical utility infrastructure. The high temperatures and unpredictable nature of these fires can damage or destroy power lines, transformers, and generation facilities. This vulnerability often results in widespread power outages and service disruptions, potentially leaving customers without essential services during emergencies. 

For example, the 2021 Dixie Fire in California affected over 960,000 acres and caused damage to numerous power lines and substations. The resulting outages impacted tens of thousands of customers, with some experiencing extended periods without power. Such incidents underscore the importance of clear, timely, and effective communication between utility providers and their customers.  

Harnessing the Power of Proactive Communication 

In the face of wildfire threats, proactive communication is an invaluable asset for utility companies. Modern communication channels such as SMS, email, voice messages, and chat offer distinct advantages in emergency situations: 

  • Immediate reach: These digital channels allow for rapid dissemination of critical information to large customer bases. 
  • Targeted messaging: Utilities can segment their audience, sending location-specific alerts and instructions. 
  • Multi-channel approach: By utilizing multiple platforms, companies increase the likelihood of reaching customers regardless of their preferred communication method. 

Omnichannel communications platforms play a crucial role in maintaining consistent and effective communication during emergencies. By integrating multiple communication channels into a single platform, utility companies can ensure that important information reaches customers through their preferred methods of communication. This seamless integration enhances the overall customer experience and ensures no message goes unnoticed. 

Leveraging Communication Channels During Active Wildfires 

During an active wildfire event, utility companies can utilize their communication channels strategically to ensure effective information dissemination.  

SMS can be used for critical alerts, delivering time-sensitive information such as evacuation orders or imminent power shutoffs directly to customers’ mobile devices.  

Email is ideal for providing more detailed updates, including maps, resource links, and long-term plans, offering customers comprehensive information to help them stay informed and prepared.  

Pre-recorded voice messages deliver critical updates quickly to a wide audience, ensuring that all customers receive the same accurate information simultaneously. These messages can be used to inform customers about power outages, safety precautions, and evacuation procedures, providing a reliable source of information when it is needed most. 

Chatbots can handle a large volume of inquiries simultaneously. They are programmed to answer frequently asked questions, guide users through troubleshooting steps, and provide real-time updates about wildfire situations. This instant support not only ensures that customers receive timely information but also reduces the burden on human customer service agents, allowing them to focus on more complex and sensitive inquiries. 

Automated email responses are also a feature of omnichannel platforms. These can be tailored to specific scenarios, such as updates on power restoration efforts or detailed safety guidelines during a wildfire. Automated emails ensure customers have a written record of important information, which they can refer to as needed. 

Moreover, omnichannel platforms can segment communication based on customer location, preferences, and needs. For instance, customers in evacuation zones can receive more urgent and detailed instructions, while those in less affected areas might receive general safety tips and updates.

This targeted communication approach ensures that the right message reaches the right people at the right time. 

By utilizing communications platforms and channels, utility companies can maintain a high level of customer engagement and trust during emergencies. This provides a scalable and efficient way to disseminate information, ensuring that all customers stay informed and can take appropriate actions to stay safe. 

Building Long-Term Customer Resilience

Effective wildfire communication extends beyond active emergencies. Utility companies can leverage their communication channels year-round to build customer resilience. Educational campaigns are essential, offering wildfire preparedness tips that focus on creating defensible space around homes and preparing emergency kits.  

Regularly prompting customers to verify and update their contact details ensures they receive timely emergency alerts. Additionally, promoting alert sign-ups and encouraging customers to opt into emergency notification systems enhances their readiness and safety during wildfire events.  

By maintaining these proactive communication efforts, utility companies can significantly bolster their customers’ long-term resilience. 

A Call for Communication Readiness 

Energy and utility managers should regularly review and refine their emergency communication plans to ensure effectiveness during wildfire events. Key steps include assessing current communication capabilities to identify any gaps and developing or updating message templates for various wildfire scenarios.  

Training staff on emergency communication protocols and tools is crucial, as is conducting regular drills to test and improve communication systems. By taking these proactive measures, managers can enhance their preparedness and response during emergencies. 


As wildfire seasons intensify, the role of effective emergency communication in the utility sector becomes increasingly critical. By leveraging modern communication channels and adhering to best practices in message crafting, energy and utility providers can empower their customers to make informed decisions during wildfire events.