On Monday night, the Washington Sanitation and Suburban Commission (WSSC) announced that in order to do emergency repair work on a major main, it would be shutting down water service to roughly 150,000 people for a period of several days. To ensure residents and businesses could prepare to endure life without being able to drink from the tap, shower, or flush the toilet, WSSC instituted a major messaging campaign to keep the public informed regarding the situation, outlined what resources were being provided to aid the community, and highlighted details concerning the restoration status.
Nonetheless, people in Prince George’s County Maryland, where the service outage would take place, weren’t exactly thrilled with the news. Particularly given the extremely high temperatures the area has been experiencing, the public’s reaction was understandable. However, while frustration abounded, WSSC’s efforts to be open and honest with the public served as a key to maintaining their trust and confidence.
People may not like denials of service, but they tend to understand that, at times, utilities have to deal with circumstances beyond their control. When that occurs, they need to stay informed about what’s happening. Being left in the dark is not an option.
As it turned out, the diligence and talents of WSSC’s employees saved the day and the crisis ended up being averted. Repairs are being made, but without having to cut off services. Unfortunately, instead of celebrating this as a victory and recognizing how well WSSC handled this situation from top to bottom, there are those (including the author of yesterday’s Washington Post editorial, “WSSC cries wolf in Prince Georges“) who are choosing to find ways to blame the utility for causing public alarm. Sadly, this just goes to show that even when you get it right, someone will be there to tell you it was done wrong.
WSSC should be commended – not condemned – for the professional and transparent manner in which it handled this intensely complicated and potentially very serious situation. Kudos to the General Manager Jerry Johnson and the entire WSSC team. I know of at least 150,000 people who appreciate your outstanding work on their behalves.