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NO POWER FOR XMAS – EXPLORING THE ISSUES

 

By Gwen Hagaman

 

An early snowstorm hit West Virginia on Dec. 18 and 19, 2009. It wasn't the deepest snowfall in memory, but the snow was wet and heavy, damaging even healthy trees. As a result, hundreds of thousands of West Virginians were suddenly without power, phones, cable and internet service – many for more than a week, some for as long as 13 days. It was not the kind of White Christmas most of us envision. 

 

According to Jason Franklin, Warning Coordination Meteorologist with the National Weather Service in Charleston, the Dec. 18 storm produced about 12 inches of snow in the Charleston area. "What made this storm stand out from other snowstorms was the consistency of the snow," explained Mr. Franklin. "It had a lot more wetness than most snow. Wet snow falls, sticks and adds to itself, becoming very heavy. Most snows are dry and light, blowing around instead of sticking to trees. In this case, about a foot of snow was enough to bring large limbs down onto power lines. Although there were not many reports of trees damaging homes."

 

Power, telephone, cable and internet service was out in many parts of the state involving almost every service provider that does business in West Virginia. The Alliance thanks Appalachian Power and Verizon, both major service providers, for the information they shared to help you understand the issues involved with providing and restoring service.

 

"In West Virginia 233,651 Appalachian Power (APCo) customers lost electric service following the Dec. 18-19 storm," said Phil Moye of Appalachian Power Corporate Communications. "We serve approximately 500,000 customers in the southern half of the state, and customers were affected in every county we serve. The outage peak (the time at which the highest number of customers were without power at one time) came on December 19, when approximately 155,000 of our West Virginia customers were without service."

 

"More than half the affected West Virginia customers had power restored within three days," continued Mr. Moye. "Despite adverse weather conditions, difficult access conditions and additional outages caused by 50+ mile-per-hour wind gusts on Christmas Day, more than 90 percent had service restored within a week (by Dec. 26). The last West Virginia APCo customers to have service restored were in the Panther area of McDowell County, where extensive damage to electrical facilities occurred. Those customers were restored by Dec. 31."

 

"Verizon completed more than 20,000 repair reports from Dec. 18 through Jan. 31. These repairs included the Dec. 18-19 storm and subsequent storms across the state throughout January," explained Harry Mitchell, Verizon Communications Director of Media Relations, Mid-Atlantic/South-Central Regions.  "The December storm, while its effects were felt by Verizon customers statewide, hit particularly hard in the southern part of the state, including Boone, Cabell, Kanawha, Logan, McDowell and Mingo counties."

 

Aside from the obvious problems of not having power or phone service in homes during a very cold holiday season, the widespread outages caused other problems. Many businesses were closed. There was no way to purchase food or goods in outage areas. And emergency services were forced to improvise. "Even people with phone service couldn't call in to us," explained Allen Archer, Supervisor of McDowell County 911. "Calls went to local fire stations and their staff would call in the emergency using radios. Our response time was significantly delayed for people who needed our help quickly during emergencies."

 

THE REPAIR PROCESS

 

We all witnessed hundreds of repair crews out working in the cold and snow trying to restore service. With so many outages, dangerous situations, and so many companies working beside each other, the restoration task was huge.

 

"Our first area of focus is to assess damage to our system and clear public safety hazards," explained Mr. Moye. "Assessment allows us to determine the extent of damage to our system, the amount of resources needed to make repairs and the approximate length of time it will take to restore service. APCo strives to get the largest number of customers back in service we can as quickly as possible. For instance, if we have a choice between a repair that will restore 500 customers or a similar repair that will restore 20 customers, we will choose the 500-customer repair (all other things being equal)."

 

"High voltage transmission lines and substations need to be operational before power can flow on the smaller distribution lines that take power from the substations to homes or businesses. Major distribution lines need to be clear and operational before power can flow to smaller tap lines or individual services," continued Mr. Moye. "In this storm and in most major restoration efforts, trees are the largest cause of outages. Because tree exposure (the number of trees between the substation and the customer) is highest in rural areas, those areas often have more spots where repairs are needed and therefore take longer to restore."

 

Accessibility was a major problem in restoring electric service in the December storm. Early on, roads blocked by snow and fallen trees caused major delays in getting crews and assessors into damaged areas. "Poor weather conditions kept APCo from utilizing aerial patrol helicopters, which delayed damage assessment. Repairs were needed in many remote off-road locations that required crews to either use special equipment, such as track-based repair vehicles, or carry material in on foot," said Mr. Moye.

Verizon

Verizon mobilized more than 500 technicians and contractors to restore phone service during the past winter. This photo is from a Jan. 7, 2010 storm in Elkins.

"Three-quarters of Verizon phone lines are aerial and exposed to all types of weather conditions. Brand-new sections of cable were affected by weather conditions; a falling tree or downed power line does not discriminate between new or older facilities," explained Mr. Mitchell. "In addition, we and our customers have endured 15 incidents of copper theft between Dec. 18 and mid-February. These crimes contributed to the length of time required to restore service in a number of areas."

 

"Due to the heavy snow, fallen trees, downed power lines and impassable roads, Verizon technicians were unable to gain access to many areas for days or – in some of the more rural parts of our service area – for well over a week after the storm," continued Mr. Mitchell. "The process in restoring phone service is somewhat different from restoring power. Phone restoral can involve replacing or repairing anywhere from one to thousands of lines, depending on the size of the cable and facilities affected. And phone service is reliant on power in some areas to run our equipment. Verizon has battery backup and uses generators to power those facilities when possible."

 

"In instances where power must be restored along with phone, internet and/or cable TV service, power must be restored first. This isn't just a Verizon policy. It's an industry standard for safety purposes. As power is restored, we're then able to come in and restore phone service.  We keep in touch with the power company as to where they've completed their work so that we can begin our work as quickly as possible," said Mr. Mitchell.

 

"Regarding prioritizing customer needs, Verizon typically schedules customers on a first-come, first-served basis," continued Mr. Mitchell. "Restoration of service following the Dec. 18-19 storm ranged from a couple of days to, in some cases, more than a week in some of the harder-hit areas. Depending upon the number of repair requests and storm conditions, we sometimes renegotiate customer installation commitments so we can focus on restoring customers' service first. We also take into consideration medical and other emergencies and priority services such as hospitals, public safety locations, 911 centers or similar customers."

 

UTILITY MAINTENANCE PROCEDURES

 

"APCo typically maintains a 40-foot right-of-way (ROW) for distribution lines, but this is dependent upon the easement rights present. Although some outages from this storm were caused by trees within the rights-of-way, much of the major damage that we experienced resulted from trees outside the rights-of-way. This included large, healthy trees that were weighted down by the extremely heavy, wet snow, which uprooted and fell onto power lines, resulting in broken poles, conductors and equipment," explained Mr. Moye.

 

"As part of our vegetation management program we inspect the trees adjacent to our rights-of-way during scheduled maintenance to determine if they are an imminent threat to our facilities," he continued. "If 'danger trees' are discovered, we act to remove the threat, either through trimming or removal. Danger trees brought to our attention by third parties are investigated and addressed on a priority basis as determined by the inspecting forester."

 

"APCo's ROW maintenance program is currently reliability-based as opposed to cycle-based, although the first zones (station breaker out to the first set of reclosers) are on a three-year cycle. APCo has 11 utility foresters on staff and supplements this staff with 10 contract utility foresters. There are more than 20 work planners or notification persons at work at any given time, helping to direct the activities of more than 240 tree crews. In our West Virginia service area, these workers removed or trimmed more than 236,000 trees in 2009, and cleared or applied herbicides to nearly 4,000 acres of brush within our rights-of way," said Mr. Moye. "The vast majority of outages in the December storms were the result of trees falling on our facilities. Pole failures and wire/line failures were in almost all cases the result of a large tree or tree limb falling onto a power line."

 

"Verizon trims trees as necessary to perform work, prevent or respond to hazardous conditions, or to avoid potential service outages," said Mr. Mitchell. "Our techs test poles prior to climbing when they're on a repair or installation call. Poles are replaced as necessary. Rights-of-way are cleared when work needs to be done. Batteries and electronics at remote facilities are replaced periodically.  Facilities are upgraded or replaced as we determine the need to do so. Verizon field techs and supervisors are responsible to refer these conditions as warranted."

 

"Verizon provides reliable, affordable communications services to West Virginians today," continued Mr. Mitchell. "We invest in excess of $200 million per year in upgrading and maintaining our West Virginia network. We have a proactive preventive maintenance group that identifies and completes network upgrades. Further, we will have spent an additional $11 million on approximately 600 individual projects during 2009 to improve our network facilities in targeted locations."

 

NATURE OF COMPLAINTS

 

A letter from Weston reports a severe power surge that "blew all the circuits in their entire home," ruining their clothes washer. Allegheny Power responded with a letter detailing the cause of the surge and then declining to pay the family's claim.

 

In a letter from a Pineville family a widespread outage is described with all business closed, blocked roadways, damage to vehicles during makeshift repairs to roadways, loss of food from freezers, and ongoing unsafe conditions from limbs that have been cut but left "sticking out near the sides of the highways." The writer feels that the recent rate increases were supposed to be used for clearing the lines of trees and this was not done.

 

A man from Gilbert sent a letter and a copy of his bill from Appalachian Power. His charges were 60 percent higher than the previous month, although his power was off for eight days. He circled the increase to a 36-day billing period. A different person writing in had a 40-day billing period.

 

Another man, from Iaeger, lost power to his home. On the third day he dragged his oxygen tank to the top of a mountain from which he could make cell phone calls. According to the letter, he called the Governor's Office asking for someone to bring him food, water and oxygen but he did not receive help from anyone. "For 10 1/2 days we had to do the best we could," the writer said.

 

From Winfield, a woman who is an AEP customer writes about the lack of tree trimming from the power lines in her rural neighborhood. "The rates keep going up and our salaries do not, even lessen," she said.

 

A man from Chapmanville and his family were out of power for eight days. He complains of missing the Christmas holiday and having huddled together just to stay warm with only five to six inches of snowfall. Two of his neighbors' homes burned down during the outage. "The real problem," the man states, "is AEP's lack of preventive maintenance. Someone on the executive level made a 'business decision' to enhance their profitability. They decided it cost less to handle outages as they occur than it did to properly maintain their right-of-way."

 

In another letter from Mount Hope a man states, "…this letter is our formal complaint against Appalachian Power for numerous and unreasonable power outages at our home." He states that the lines are not maintained and when you attempt to call to report an outage that you are only able to receive voicemail and cannot speak with a person to determine an approximate time the power will be back on.

 

From Wheeling a man writes, "The power company used to clear the lines and power failures didn't happen very often. But, in recent years, clearing lines does not seem to be a practice that is endorsed." He continues that the PSC grants raises to power utilities without holding them to the responsibility of providing good service.

 

A woman from Wierton writes of her concerns for lack of tree trimming around the power lines.

 

A man from St. Albans first thanks the linemen who gave up their holiday to help restore power. Then questions why it was necessary for them to do so. "The road to my home is paved but AEP has not trimmed a tree for 15 years," he said.

 

Representing a neighborhood in Cowen, a man writes that many people on the same power line have severe illnesses, are old enough to need special care, or depend on power for well water. "This was not our first outage, but as usual, we were the last to have power restored," he said. "What was really bad about this was a local crew from Webster County wasn't allowed to do this repair and were within three miles of the downed line. I talked to them at the ICG Mine gate and was told that this area belonged to Gassaway. I talked with several other repair crews in the neighborhood who were waiting for instructions on what to repair. The necessary repair only involved one line between two poles and in the end it only took 45 minutes to repair." His additional complaints were about very high estimated power bills, loss of hundreds of dollars of frozen food and the dilapidated condition of lines and poles.

 

Another man (town of residence not stated) complains of a five-day outage for a 35 minute repair. "I have a leaning power pole that I reported to Allegheny Power 7-9 months ago. I still haven't heard anything about correcting this problem. When pole inspections were completed, trash was left in my yard that I had to clean up," the man wrote.

 

An Allegheny Power customer from outside of Cowen wrote, "Five days without electricity can be devastating to your already stressed income when you loose food that is stored in your refrigerator and freezer. When the outage was finally investigated, it took about 35 minutes to repair the line. Five days without electricity and incredibly enough, our power bill was higher," the man said. "What ever happened to trimming the tree limbs off the power lines? When you see all the tree branches hanging over the lines, it's a wonder that we ever have electricity."

 

A 94-year old woman from near Cowen wrote, "I have health problems that require me to use a nebulizer machine at times to help me breathe. I am also on a fixed income and this turned out to be an incredibly expensive power outage. Not only did I lose food from my refrigerator and freezer, but my power bill was also more expensive than usual. After not having service for five days, how could it be more expensive?"

 

A group of Jolo residents wrote about unusually high power bills, loss of food from freezers and frequent outages due to lack of tree trimming. Most of the Jolo residents writing in are against providing rate increases to the power companies and blame the outages on old and worn out lines and poles. This area lost power for eight days.

 

A Richwood man wrote to complain about rates increases. "It is not our (the ratepayers) responsibility to pay for costs incurred in providing electric transmission over and above what the already receive in the tarrif. I pay $40 monthly at present for compliance costs, taxes, increased fuel costs, and local exise taxes," the man said. He continued by pointing out that residents waited weeks for restored power while the hotels, motels and restaurants where repairmen stayed got their power restored immediately.

 

There are many more letters on file, but these examples cover the issues pretty well. You can see that the outages were spread all across the state and the common themes are:

·         Lack of equipment maintenance

·         Neglect of tree trimming

·         Excessive rates

·         Unfair billing practices

 

During our interviews I did ask APCo and Verizon representatives about some of the billing issues. The basic difference in billing between the two is that power companies like APCo bill based upon power usage. Telephone, cable and internet providers like Verizon tend to bill based on a monthly service charge. Here's what they said.

 

"The most recent rate increase for West Virginia customers came October 1, 2009, and was the result of an annual adjustment of rates to account for the increased cost of fuel (coal), purchased power and environmental controls at our coal-fired generating plants," explained Mr. Moye. "That $124 million, a 12 percent increase, represented the first year of a four-year phase-in of a $355 million increase granted by the West Virginia Public Service Commission in 2009. On March 1, we filed for the second year of that phase-in by requesting an overall 8.2 percent or $96 million increase. If approved, rates will be effective July 1, 2010. Neither of these filings sought recovery of damages incurred as a result of the December 2009 storms." Because December was very cold, power usage was up somewhat on the days power was available.

 

"The extended APCo billing period in December was purely a matter of coincidence, and would have occurred regardless of whether there was a storm or storm-related outages. Timing of when meters are read and bills are sent varies based on the way work days, weekends and holidays fall on the calendar. In some months billing cycles are shorter and in others, such as December 2009, they are longer," explained Mr. Moye. I checked my invoices for the past two years and found most billing periods were either 29, 30 or 31 days. The longest billing period I found during the past two years was one occasion of 33 days. My December 2009 bill was for 36 days.

 

"With regard to cost, our current residential rate of about 8 cents per kilowatt-hour is well below the national average of 11.7 cents," Mr. Moye said. This is true. I checked with the U. S. Energy Information Administration and the average residential rates in 2009 were: National 11.33 cents, West Virginia 8.38 cents, Virginia 10.51 cents, Ohio 10.61 cents, and Washington DC 12.66 cents. Please note that West Virginia also has the lowest income per capita of any state in the Union.

 

"Verizon does provide and has provided credit to customers whose service is interrupted. Customers whose phone service is out must contact us to report that. They can do so by calling 800-VERIZON from a working phone and following the voice prompts for 'repair,' or by going online at www.verizon.com/support. Verizon issues automatic credits to customers who have reported their service is out for at least 24 hours, after which a prorated credit of the customer's basic service charge is calculated based on the duration of the outage. That credit may take up to three billing cycles to appear. The customer call is needed because, while Verizon can identify when a phone cable is damaged in a certain area, it does not have a specific list of all affected customers, as some may be out of service while others are not. Also, specific customer outages may or may not be associated with a larger outage situation in that same exchange," said Mr. Mitchell.

 

That sounded like good news to me. Most people who lost phone service during the power outage experienced longer restoration times for phones than the power service. Maybe some of you were like me. I tried to call Verizon to report my outage, but was unable to get through because of the call volume during the outages. I eventually gave up, thinking they already knew my phone service was out. Do you think Verizon would still give me a credit for a 10-day outage in December? I called and asked for a credit and was assured it would show on my next billing by a very friendly and courteous representative. So if any of you had phone service outages, it is still good to call for your credit from Verizon. And it might be worth a call to other telephone and cable service providers to ask what their policies are.

 

PSC INVESTIGATION

 

On Jan. 11, 2010 the Public Service Commission of West Virginia (PSC) ordered a general investigation into the power outages listing Appalachian Power and Wheeling Power (both operating as American Electric Power "AEP"), and Monongahela Power and Potomac Edison (both operating as Allegheny Power "AP") as respondents. Later the investigation was expanded to include most electricity providers operating in the state. Residents began filing complaints with the PSC and with their legislators. Senator Byrd, Congressman Rahall, and Congresswoman Capito all filed inquiries with the PSC on behalf of concerned constituents.

 

Three public hearings were scheduled in Clarksburg, Mount Gay and Iaeger in March. According to Susan Small, PSC Spokesperson, about 30 people attended the hearing in Clarksburg with 10 of them speaking to the Commissioners. In Mount Gay about 100 people attended with 18 of them speaking. And in Iaeger between 150 and 200 people attended with 25 of them speaking to the Commissioners.

 

The PSC ordered each respondent to supply testimony providing information addressing:

  1. All information as required by Electric Rule 4.12 (of the National Electrical Safety Code "NESC") for the power lines that were downed or damaged during the Dec. 18-19 storm, including a summary of outage incidents, including cause, the number of customers affected in each county, a summary of Utility response, and when restoration occurred for each outage incident.
  2. The actions of the Utilities in dealing with those outages, the dates when they occurred, and the steps to be taken to prevent large-scale outages in the future.
  3. A description of the Utility contingency plans, including outage response protocols in place before the Dec. 18-19, 2009 winter storm.
  4. The dates and descriptions of the most recent right-of-way and vegetation maintenance performed by the Utilities in the areas of the subject power lines.
  5. Information whether the lines repaired following the Dec. 18-19, 2009 winter storm have been completely repaired or will require further repairs or upgrades.
  6. A 10-year comprehensive description of dollar amounts embedded in cost of service for right-of-way maintenance; dollar amount budgeted by the Utility for right-of-way maintenance; and Utility expenditures for right-of-way maintenance and reliability, including expenditures for vegetation management and equipment repair or replacement.
  7. The results of any internal After Action Reviews which took place following the Dec. 18-19, 2009 winter storm, including specifically a summary of any action items that have been identified that would improve Utility planning and/or operations in response to emergencies or large weather events.
  8. A 10-year history of reliability indices for each Utility service area or major subdivision, including the System Average Interruption Frequency Index (SAIFI) and Customer Average Interruption Duration Index (CAIDI); Such data should contain values which both include and exclude "major events" as defined by the Utility.
  9. The Utility system-wide right-of-way maintenance policies and practices.
  10. The Utility system-wide policies and practices for identification and replacement of aged lines and/or worn equipment.

 

An evidenciary hearing is scheduled for 9:30 am on Tuesday, March 30 in the Howard M. Cunningham Hearing Room at the Commission's offices at 201 Brooks Street, Charleston, WV. At the evidentiary hearing, the Commissioners will examine all of the evidence collected from filings and public hearings. This process of examining the testimony and evidence may take several days.

 

The eventual decisions will be made public through the news media and the PSC's online docket. The PSC docket for this investigation is available for public viewing at www.psc.state.wv.us/webdocket. Under SEARCH, click CASE. The case number is 10-0019 for this investigation. On the next window click ACTIVITY and you will be able to examine all of the documents that have been filed regarding this case.

 

Although the PSC's Consumer Advocate Division had requested expansion of the investigation to include telephone service providers, the Commissioners declined stating in their Order dated Jan. 28, "Because adding telephone utilities to this proceeding would most likely create a need to delay the evidentiary hearing, the Commission will not at this time add telephone utilities as respondents to the General Investigation but may reconsider this ruling in the event facts developed during the investigation warrant it."

 

The investigation, based upon the types of evidence requested from respondent utilities, focused on their outage history, performance in restoring service, and vegetation maintenance (tree trimming and removal) operations. "Power rates and billing practices are separate issues and are not part of this investigation," explained Ms. Small. "If the respondent utilities are found negligent or to be underserving our citizens, the PSC could impose mandates to change the way these utilities do business in the future. For example, the Commission could require increased vegetation maintenance, or increased customer service activities."

 

WHAT CAN COMMUNITIES DO?

 

The loss of basic utilities like power and phones stops activity in every community that experiences it. Are people helpless to secure more reliable service from their utility providers? I hope that our readers see the power of writing a letter from this article. It may be "low tech" by today's standards, but every citizen has the opportunity to write to their utility provider, oversight agency, state legislator or governor, congressional representatives and senators to ask for help getting power lines cleared of trees. Your letters do attract attention.

 

Ms. Small from the PSC said if a citizen or community does not get response from contacting a utility provider directly, that they should file a report with the PSC by calling 1-800-644-8544.

 

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CAEZ LAUNCHES NEW WEBSITE

 

In January 2010 Central Appalachia Empowerment Zone (CAEZ), based in Clay, WV, launched a completely new website. The new site offers comprehensive information about the CAEZ organization and its mission, the people who are involved, a community calendar, several current CAEZ projects, community loan programs, and a virtual tour of its service area.

 

"I like the personal touch our new website gives to our communities. We serve mostly small, rural communities and you never hear their stories and see their accomplishments. I believe this site offers that experience," said Connie Lupardus, CAEZ Executive Director. The new website allows visitors to enter community profiles by clicking towns on the service area map, or from a directory listing of highlighted communities.

 

One of the Alliance's original Champion Communities, CAEZ serves a large rural area covering five counties including: all of Clay County and Census Tracts within Braxton, Fayette, Nicholas and Roane Counties. "Each of our communities has something special to offer," explained Ms. Lupardus. "I have received calls from several individuals in our highlighted communities saying this is the first time anyone has shown their community in a good light. To me, the new website is proving to these communities that they are important to the CAEZ Staff and Board of Directors."

 

Connie Lupardus

Connie Lupardus

Executive Director

Central Appalachia Empowerment Zone (CAEZ)

 

CAEZ contracted with Gwen Hagaman of G. H. Bailey Company in Queen Shoals, WV to design the new website from the ground up. "Since my specialty is content development, I teamed up with Steve Reynolds of Classic Website Design from Hamlin, WV who specializes in search engine optimization and ongoing website management," explained Ms. Hagaman. "I work hard to provide relevant content that will help my clients serve their audience. I do all of the leg-work including gathering documents, interviewing people, taking fresh photography or video, preparing charts, graphs or illustrations, and writing text. For the CAEZ website project, I spent time in each highlighted community talking with people who live there about things they love about living and working in their home town."

 

"My efforts to capture the personality of each CAEZ community would be wasted if no one could find their profiles online," continued Ms. Hagaman. "Mr. Reynolds and I have worked together successfully on many projects, including the redesign of the Alliance of WV Champions Communities website. I knew he would devote the same kind of attention to the technical side of this project."

 

The website is designed to accommodate the addition of new projects and quick updates of information on any page, so it can grow along with CAEZ. Documents, such as minutes of board meetings and annual reports, are added as they become available. The calendar is updated as community events and CAEZ meetings are scheduled. "One of my goals was to design a website where the necessary updates would be manageable for the small CAEZ staff," said Ms. Hagaman.

 

"I enjoyed working with Gwen on this project. She did most all of the research, took the photos and spoke with several businesses and individuals in each community she visited," said Ms. Lupardus. "As for working with Steve, it was readily apparent he knew what he was doing. He was traveling and was still able to work on the website, getting the 'technical' stuff working. It was great knowing that wherever he was, he was just an email away to answer questions!"

 

CAEZ, like many organizations, has been online for several years. However, the old website contained many pages that were incomplete or contained outdated information. "The biggest problem in getting our website updated was that we (staff of 3) just did not have the time it took to do the research for the information we needed," said Connie Lupardus, CAEZ Executive Director. "I took a 4-day class to learn how to update our site but still did not have the time to do it."

 

The new website has provided some additional benefits to the CAEZ staff. "We have saved time and the cost of copying and mailing loan applications to prospective borrowers," explained Ms. Lupardus. "Our staff can just refer people to the website to complete applications and then mail them to us with signatures."

 

"Our Board of Directors is very pleased with the new website. It is able to showcase small towns and accomplishments in each of our five counties," said Ms. Lupardus. "I believe the new website adds a positive approach for our funders. I will now be able to put our web address on correspondence and on our business cards! I would not do that with the previous site."

 

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CITY OF SPENCER USING SOCIAL NETWORKS

Jacob Fetty

Jacob Fetty

Marketing Director

City of Spencer

 

"Facebook is a place where people can interact, make endorsements, and share ideas – all at a faster pace," explains Jacob Fetty, Marketing Director for the City of Spencer. "Our formal website is like 'corporate dress', our Facebook site is like 'casual dress' for our city."

 

Social networking provides city leadership with immediate feedback and lets them know what people are interested in. "Facebook is a good arena to share ideas. Groups and sometimes committees spiral off of the online discussions," said Mr. Fetty. Some examples are Spencer High School Reunions and the Black Walnut Festival, which both have benefited from online participation.

 

At this writing, Spencer has more than 1,700 Facebook Fans. "People love their hometowns and dream about coming back. Sometimes people reach out trying to locate and connect with relatives," said Mr. Fetty.

 

Part of the success of Spencer on Facebook is because of Mr. Fetty's own participation. He starts discussions by posting comments of his own. He might note that pies are on special today at a local restaurant, post a photo of a civil war site, or just ask "How is the snow where you are?" The question about snow received 35 comments and 80 percent were from out of state.

 

For other communities who are interested in using Facebook, Mr. Fetty's advice is, "Highlight what your community does well and has to offer, use lots of photos (especially historic photos), and make frequent updates." He is pleased to talk to anyone with questions about social networks. You can call Jacob Fetty at 304-927-1640 or email him at jacobfetty@aol.com.

 

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MEET KATHY BRUNTY

Kathy Brunty

Kathy Brunty

Executive Director

Family Resource Network

of Wyoming County

 

Kathy Brunty is the Executive Director of the Family Resource Network (FRN) in Rockview, Wyoming County. “I love people and enjoy helping them find ways to meet their needs,” said Ms. Brunty.

 

The FRN helps people with housing referrals, personal needs including food, and information for all of the county's resources. In addition, the FRN conducts assessments to identify community needs on behalf of local and state agencies.

 

Ms. Brunty got involved with the Alliance in 2007 during the WV Distressed Communities Broadband Assessment Project (BAP), completed in 2007, which studied residential and commercial internet usage, service availability areas, and the level of service provided. "Everyone at the FRN got involved helping to conduct the BAP survey," said Ms. Brunty. "We hope the results were helpful to expanding services in our communities."

 

When the Alliance offered its Community Technology Minigrants, Ms. Brunty and the FRN sponsored Project Lifesaver, which helps quickly locate people with cognitive disorders (such as autism or alzheimers) when they become disoriented, lost, or wander away from their caregiver. The $5,000 minigrant allowed purchase of 10 GPS locator wristbands, training of six emergency professionals, and some advertising for public awareness of the project.

 

"We won the first place award for this project," said Ms. Brunty with pride. "We are so pleased to have provided Project Lifesaver to our communities and thankful for the $5,000 of funding provided by the Alliance. As our community partner, the Alliance provides access to state-wide resources."

 

"I have learned more about the value of networking by being a member of the Alliance," explains Ms. Brunty. "I want to encourage community members to join the Alliance and connect with knowledgeable people who are always ready to help."

 

Kathy Brunty has spent her whole life in Matheny, WV except while attending Lee University in Tennessee where she studied Early Childhood Education. She is currently working toward a Masters in Christian Counseling with emphasis on Substance Abuse.

 

Ms. Brunty and her husband Greg have three grown sons. In free time, they enjoy bass fishing, WVU sports, visiting the beach, reading and listening to music.

 

For more information call Kathy Brunty at 304-732-7070 or email her at brunty5@aol.com.

 

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