Many utilities are actively engaged in replacement programs for their old natural gas transmission and distribution systems. Much of that infrastructure, including pipelines and meters, is in urban, residential or commercial areas.
Given the potential traffic disruptions, the possible soil contamination from past activities, and the sheer number of customers and neighbors touched by these projects, having an appropriate community outreach as part of the replacement program is essential.
This can be a considerable undertaking in its own right. Managing the complex community relations and project-level communications throughout a project requires a thorough process and careful documentation, not to mention sufficient manpower. It’s a lot to ask of a utility that’s already tightly focused on the complexities of safely replacing its gas delivery infrastructure.
Fortunately, you need not do it alone.
Through the execution of this type of program for several utility clients, we have developed comprehensive outreach and communication systems and strategies. We utilize tools and tactics that keep all stakeholders informed effectively and sufficiently throughout the project.
Taking a Phased Approach
One vital takeaway from our practical experience with those stakeholder management efforts: Successful community outreach depends on deploying effective measures at every phase of the project. It helps to consider this framework for phased outreach efforts:
- Pre-construction phase
- Construction phase
- Inquiry response process
- Post-construction phase
The pre-construction phase is often the most involved and can require the greatest resources to carry out. This is when initial outreach to all stakeholders is initiated, including mailings, door hangers and public meetings. It is important to make sure all the right people are included and properly briefed in advance. Careful communication is vital to achieving the front-end buy-in that will smooth project implementation, but it is just as important to understand which details to communicate and when.
During the project construction phase, there could still be mailings, but most community outreach is centered on monitoring construction progress and resolving inquiries. Staffing a project hotline and providing timely responses will help maintain goodwill in the community.
Realistically, the inquiry response process runs throughout the project cycle. This is a commitment to making sure inquiries from public officials, project contractors and community members are addressed comprehensively, keeping everyone in the loop who needs to be.
Finally, the post-construction phase involves making sure that all outstanding commitments have been resolved and adequately documented.
Putting It All Together
Not all utilities have the available resources to rapidly ramp up and staff these outreach efforts. Not all utilities have the experience with modern communications and social media channels to manage that critical messaging effectively. It can be helpful to coordinate with a partner experienced in those endeavors, especially one that also has practical knowledge and experience of pipeline engineering, permitting and construction to inform its strategy.
Deploying the right tools and messages through the right channels can alleviate some of the friction that comes with gas infrastructure replacement programs. Working with the right partner can help utilities anticipate challenges, establish protocols and documentation, and demonstrate the responsiveness that can alleviate public pressures.
A lot goes into managing gas main replacement programs. Explore more of the tools that can help deliver successful projects efficiently and effectively.