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Firefighter tapped to head BWL's emergency operations

Steve Carmody
Michigan Radio

The Lansing Board of Water & Lighthas chosen a longtime city firefighter as its new emergency operations manager.

Trent Atkins is the city's assistant fire chief.

BWL was heavily criticized for its response to an ice storm last December. More than 40,000 BWL customers lost electricity in the wake of the Dec. 21 ice storm. Thousands spent 10 days or more waiting for the lights to come back on.

The utility’s clumsy response to the storm resulted in calls for change. Three separate reports delved into what went wrong and how to improve BWL’s response in the future.

One of the recommendations was for BWL to hire one person to manage future emergencies.  

BWL officials decided to hire someone who doesn’t have a utility background as its emergency operations manager. 

Atkins admits he has things to learn about electricity.  

“I need to know … more about electricity – other than it comes out of the wall plug and it hurts when you touch it,” says Atkins. 

While he might not understand how electricity works, Atkins does have experience with managing crises. 

Atkins was the point man for the city of Lansing during the same December ice storm that knocked BWL for a loop. He also managed the city’s handling of a tornado in 2008 and other emergencies during the past decade.

BWL General Manager Peter Lark says it was more important to hire someone with a background in incident management than with electric utilities.

“That was the most important criteria,” says Lark. “Someone who would be able to contribute to the BWL when it comes to emergency operations.”

BWL has made other changes since the 2013 ice storm to improve communications and response times during a power outage. 

Steve Carmody has been a reporter for Michigan Public since 2005. Steve previously worked at public radio and television stations in Florida, Oklahoma and Kentucky, and also has extensive experience in commercial broadcasting.
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