Family time, interrupted: the life of a Unitil employee
No matter what Mother Nature dishes out, parents in New England work tirelessly to make sure their children are happy, healthy and safe. When storms strike, parents in the workforce are challenged with balancing their jobs with making sure their children are cared for. Parents plan for these challenges by working from home when the roads prove too treacherous for schools to open and by leaning on spouses, significant others and family members to provide back-up child care when needed. In other words, as parents, we are always preparing for the unexpected.
As media relations manager for Unitil, a utility company based in Hampton, NH that has served the New England area for over 30 years, my job is to effectively inform the company’s 104,000 electric and 80,000 gas customers. When a storm strikes and the power goes out, I often work extended hours to communicate safety and restoration information to customers, media and government officials. I too am a parent, and finding a way to balance my job with the needs of my children when major storms hit can be a challenge.
I’m not alone. All Unitil employees, many with families of their own, work tirelessly in all kinds of weather to restore power and ensure customer safety. When an impending storm is heading our way, we focus our attention on preparing for any circumstance, including securing additional crews to help us quickly restore power. When storms hit, it can require us working 12-18 hours at a time and staying overnight in hotels away from family to ensure we can report safely for our shift.
As a result, we often don’t get the opportunity to hunker down with our families in the safety of our homes during a storm or hurricane, waiting for a storm to pass. We aren’t there to make the storm less scary, or turn a blackout into a game of flashlight tag. Instead, we leave our families for lengthy periods of time to serve the families of our neighbors and restore service. At these times when you want to be there for your family the most, work takes you away.
Life as a Unitil Parent
Extended work hours, especially in the field, come with the territory of being a utility employee. For the last seven years, I have spent countless hours away from my wonderful, supportive wife and two young children during some of New England’s biggest storms. They have hit on weekends and holidays, cancelling plans or altering vacations arranged months in advance.
Children of Unitil employees inevitably develop an association between bad weather and being separated from a parent for a period of time. When squalls begin to rapidly accumulate or a forecast calls for an impending weather event, we spring into action to take control of emergency situations. Sometimes, our children feel anxious that we are leaving them.
My wife and I work together to negate that anxiety by talking with our children about what is happening and why I may have to leave and work. We emphasize that I’m heading out to help other families stay safe. One snowy day this past winter my daughter filled her test tube from a science kit with water and purple playdough, looked at me, and said, “Dad, I made electricity! Can you bring it to work and give it to people who don’t have electricity?” While she doesn’t quite understand the concept of electricity, she does understand that my job involves helping people during power outages, and it makes her feel better about my heading out.
Preparing for the Worst, Hoping for the Best
Like everything in life, being prepared can make a world of difference when disaster strikes. At Unitil, we strongly encourage everyone to review emergency procedures and to implement a plan of action. Listen to the weather reports as meteorologists gauge the severity of the approaching storm. If the state and local officials are telling community members to stay off the roads, listen to them. If it sounds like a multi-day event, plan for it.
We also recommend putting together a “Go” bag, filled with necessities—water, flashlights, nonperishable food items, small toys—that is ready to go in the event of a serious storm. Turn this project into something fun for the family. Encourage everyone to brainstorm what items are needed for the “Go” bag. Knowing that preparations have been made in case of an emergency can help bring a level of calm to what can be a chaotic and scary time.
Being a parent is infinitely rewarding, yet full of responsibility. If there’s anything I’ve learned from my time at Unitil, it’s that a little preparation can go a long way in helping you and your family ride out any storms that come your way.
Alec O’Meara is the media relations manager for Unitil, a provider of gas and electricity in New England. Alec is a father of two children and is a devoted husband to his wife, Jessica. He is a media professional who effectively and efficiently communicates to the Unitil community.