Franklin PUD GM Scott Rhees says it’s been a team effort to keep the utility running during the pandemic

For Franklin PUD General Manager Scott Rhees, formulating a plan...

by Stacey Azure

For Franklin PUD General Manager Scott Rhees, formulating a plan to keep the lights on when the pandemic hit in March, had to come quickly.

Franklin PUD General Manager Scott Rhees talks about challenges of pandemic

 “Initially it was extremely challenging. Based on the pandemic and the declaration from the Governor, we established certain priorities. One of those was keeping our employees healthy and safe. We identified primary objectives. That’s keeping the lights on & keeping the power going for people. The second one is, we are in broadband services. We knew that with people going home, we would want to have as broad and robust a broadband service as we could,” said Rhees.

Franklin PUD maintains a staff of around 100 employees. The most challenging part of the COVID-19 operations plan was coming up with a strategy to make sure the district’s workforce was protected.

“So the way we approached it, we knew that we had to have employees available throughout the whole process. So we truly separated our workforce. In some cases we went to staggered starts, where we had certain work groups coming in at different times, so we could keep those employees separated. So that if anytime we had an employee come down with COVID, we wouldn’t lose our whole work-force and have to send them home,” said Rhees.

It also meant, many Franklin PUD employees would be working from home. The district’s IT team already had many of the tools in place for employees to work at home. But full implementation had never been tested before the pandemic hit. Rheese says it’s been an easy transition for most employees, thanks to the hard work of Franklin PUD’s technical staff.

 “We were able to implement a remote work policy and our employees truly stepped up and did an incredible job to provide the essential service that we do,” said Rhees.

While many employees are working from home, the Franklin PUD drive- thru remains open Monday through Friday.  Shifting to a drive-thru only platform has been a major accomplishment, when you consider the amount of customers who paid their bill in person at the Franklin PUD customer service center.

 “We would range on a monthly basis anywhere from 5,500 to 7,000 customers a month that would come in. We truly enjoyed the interaction we had and the face-to-face ability to get to know our customers. The hope is to be able to provide the same service through there. I think we have been fairly successful at that. We are still striving to improve every way that we can. But I think our customers and employees have transitioned well,” said Rhees.

Rhees says as a non-profit utility, his number one priority is Franklin PUD’s more that 26,000 customers.

“We look at this like we’re all in this together. Because our main objective is truly providing power that is low cost, that is reliable and is there when our customers need it. We have incredible customers. The majority of our customers, during these difficult times are striving to stay current on their bill. It’s greatly appreciated because we can’t do what we do without customers. We’re a non-profit organization. So the only way we can keep the lights on and do what we do is through customers paying those monthly bills,” said Rhees.

Rhees says that also means making sure customers have all the resources they need to help pay their bill.

“We recognize we have a number of customers struggling. We’ve tried to do our best to put together some options and availabilities for those customers and where they can go and find assistance. We encourage customers to contact us and we can put you in touch with organizations that may be able to assist,” said Rhees.

If you want to learn about the service at Franklin PUD log onto www.franklinpud.com or call Customer Service at 509-547-5591.