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Copper Theft: Stealing Your Member Satisfaction

On the morning of October 17, employees at Oklahoma Electric Cooperative didn’t know their day was about to take a sudden, dramatic turn. Copper thieves had hit a substation during the early morning hours causing a fire that knocked out power to several thousand members creating an upwards of $1 million in damages. Just days later, another utility reported copper theft in Andover, Massachusetts.

Stories like the ones in Oklahoma and Massachusetts illustrate the growing threat copper theft generates for utilities across the United States. But the problems posed by copper thieves reveal only a part of the story: during a power outage or a substation fire like the one in Oklahoma, utilities are inundated by member calls. These call volumes increase dramatically and without warning. Worse yet, critical calls from members with life threatening conditions may go unanswered.

Despite the many concerns of Oklahoma Electric employees that fateful morning, one of them wasn’t worrying how they would handle the huge influx of calls.

For the past six years Oklahoma Electric has partnered with Cooperative Response Center, Inc. to handle their overflow calls. Prior to the theft and substation fire, CRC assisted Oklahoma Electric with 100 calls/day. But on the morning of October 17, CRC received nearly 3,500 calls—a 3000% increase in call volume.

According to Randy Simmons, the Operations Manager for Oklahoma Electric, “having one person handle these calls would have been ugly. We would have upset customers. I can’t believe the number of times we’ve relied on CRC. Between this outage event, the ice storm in January, and the tornadoes this past summer we were glad to be able to switch our calls over to CRC.”

At the peak of Oklahoma Electric’s outage event, CRC received an average of 14 member calls per minute. Left up to only 1 or 2 utility employees, by the time they answer the phone with, “Thank you for calling Oklahoma Electric, how can I help you?” only 4 seconds remain until the next call comes in.

During a major outage event, CRC is committed to providing our members with peace of mind. The utility can focus on restoring power while CRC takes care of the member-customers. CRC also offers a number of specialized utility solutions including Crew Dispatch and Phone Notification Systems that send out automated, pre-recorded messages to an unlimited member-customers. Additionally, CRC’s Alarm Monitoring services may help you prevent copper theft at the start or minimize the widespread outcome.

When copper thieves attack utilities, they have the potential to steal more than just copper: your member satisfaction is also up for grabs. For the folks at Oklahoma Electric, their partnership with CRC allowed them focus on the matter at hand and let CRC do the rest.

“When we found out what was going on,” Simmons said, “there were so many avenues. But one thing was clear, we felt comfortable switching our phones over to CRC so we could concentrate on getting the power restored. CRC had our backs.”

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