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Report reveals disconnect between utility disaster preparedness and customer perceptions

Itron President and CEO Tom Deitrich on stage at IUW19 in Marco Island, Florida.

Today in Marco Island, Florida, during Itron Utility Week (IUW), the company unveiled a new report focused on disaster preparedness in the utility industry.

Disaster Preparedness: An Itron Resourcefulness Insight Report summarizes findings from more than 500 consumer utility customers and 300 utility executives across the United States. The report outlines perceptions on an array of topics relating to disaster preparation, response, and recovery.

The report reveals that both customers and utilities are more worried about disasters striking today than they were five years ago, which is understandable given that disasters are striking more frequently. In fact, during the IUW19 keynote, Tom Deitrich, President and CEO of Itron pointed out that in 2018 there were 14 separate disaster events that cost more than $1 billion each.

But the report also exposed a gap between how utilities perceive their disaster preparedness and how customers their utilities’ ability to prepare and respond to disasters; customers views about their own personal ability to prepare, respond and recover from disasters:

  • 71% of utilities say they are extremely or very equipped to prepare, respond and recover from disasters
  • 35% of consumers feel extremely or very confident in their utilities
  • and only 26% of consumers personally felt extremely or very prepared for a disaster

“So you know you are more prepared than that, but your customers don’t” said Marina Donovan, Itron’s VP of Marketing as she presented the results.

Even when it comes to educating customers about their disaster preparedness, 83% of utilities say they’ve deployed educational programs to help consumers prepare but 42% of consumers said they have not received any educational resources to help prepare.

Donovan said as a marketing executive, she understands how difficult it is to educate consumers about your efforts.

“The rule is it’s not just one and done,” she said. “You have to have an ongoing calendar, ongoing activities, sharing tips, tricks and guidelines. You need to have education out there talking about all the steps you have taken and its best to do it on an ongoing basis not just waiting for a disaster to happen.”

System hardening

In addition to educating customers about what they are doing, utilities are also facing challenges related to system hardening itself. They indicated that prioritizing which technologies in which to invest, regulatory barriers and funding, are some of the largest barriers to adoption of new technologies that could help them improve reliability, said Donovan.

The top investment priority by utilities to respond to disasters are smart or advanced metering, remote disconnect devices, customer communications systems, outage detection and restoration, Itron said.

Other findings

Some of the most notable findings in Itron’s report include:

  • 87% of consumers said they have been impacted by some type of disaster in the past five years; about one-third by extreme wind, extreme temperatures and flooding disasters, which are the top three consumer concerns
  • 68% of consumers believe the increase in weather-related disasters is a result of climate change
  • 69% of utility executives and 55% of consumers said they are more worried about a disaster striking them today than they were five years ago
  • Utilities ranked cyber-attack as their top disaster concern
  • 50% of all consumers indicated they would be willing to pay more on their utility bills to invest in disaster preparedness; 38% said they would not

History has proven that natural disasters expose utilities to financial, physical and reputational damage, underscoring that the way they prepare, respond and recover leads to a true make-or-break moment. Leading-edge smart technology and sensors can help, such as voltage analysis and outage detection and restoration. Utilities can harden their systems in the face of the next disaster by identifying likely hazards, assessing vulnerabilities, calculating outage impacts, determining the steps that they can take now, and assessing where further investments are needed.