Co-Ops Are Key to Winning The Battle Against Coronavirus in Rural America
There’s a good chance that some co-op service territories will see a severe outbreak of COVID-19. If that happens, electric co-ops will be more valuable than ever, not just in terms of keeping the lights on, but also in terms of assisting the community in ways that co-ops have never done before. Now is the time for co-op leaders to prepare to be of maximum assistance to their communities in winning the battle against the virus, as well as helping local businesses survive or reemerge post-crisis.
A few questions have arisen among the team here at GreatCo-Ops recently related to how co-ops can be of value to their communities if there is a serious outbreak in their service territories. We pose those questions below to you as a co-op leader to help you consider this very important matter. The questions are divided into three categories: General Questions, Community Healthcare Support Questions, and Small Business Support Questions.
What assets, capabilities, and manpower does the co-op possess that can be valuable to your communities during this crisis, beyond keeping the lights on?
Co-ops have the ability to immediately communicate with more people in your service territory than perhaps any other organization because of technologies like SmartHub and others. How can these be leveraged during the crisis in partnership with rural health leaders and government entities?
Should the co-op CEO develop a community outreach strategy to connect now with other leaders in critical infrastructure/services/governments locally to create a concerted emergency operations system?
If severe spring storms damage power infrastructure simultaneously with a COVID-19 outbreak in your community, is the co-op prepared? If no, what needs to be done to mitigate this risk?
Could the co-op’s computing technology be leveraged somehow? For example, can the co-op’s GIS systems be leveraged to map the virus down to the city block in your area if required?
Is the collective wisdom of the co-op’s entire workforce being leveraged in solving a future COVID-19 crisis in your community? Do new teams at the co-op need to be established to discuss this topic and prepare?
Does the co-op have a comprehensive database containing the various skills, licenses, training, etc. that employees have, both related to their job and otherwise, that could be valuable if the virus affects your area in a significant way?
Community Healthcare Support Questions:
Is there any system hardening that can be done to ensure power supply stability specifically to rural health infrastructure, nursing homes, etc.?
Can co-op employees volunteer to work now with hospitals to test and harden their backup power systems to ensure they are ready to go in case of an outbreak combined with power supply challenges (like storms)?
Does the co-op have any infrastructure (emergency operations centers, call center infrastructure, member communications capabilities, etc.) that could be used by rural health systems if the pandemic severely affects your community?
Does the co-op have a PPE supply that might be useful to local healthcare workers if the pandemic strikes the community?
Could any co-op facilities be converted to temporary hospitals if required?
Does the co-op have employees with the technical skills to do emergency repairs on hospital equipment or to service/repair backup power systems at rural hospitals?
Small Businesses Support Questions:
Per Goldman Sachs, over half of small businesses in their recent survey can’t last more than 90 days if lockdowns and the associated economic effects continue that long. This will have disastrous consequences for rural businesses.
How can the co-op be a lifeline for small businesses in your area?
Can the co-op leverage its low-cost borrowing power to assist small businesses in some way?
If the co-op is currently paying employees who are not working (or who are working reduced schedules), can those employees be loaned to small businesses (virtually/remotely)? For instance, could co-op communicators and IT professionals help small businesses write marketing copy, develop social media campaigns, build and drive traffic to websites, and so on?
Can the co-op be a source for economic development once the worst of the crisis is behind us? What would that look like?
Can the co-op leverage its influence among local and state governments to benefit businesses in its service territory? If yes, what are the most pressing needs?
This is certainly not an exhaustive list of questions that co-op leaders can consider as they think about the days, weeks, or even months ahead of us in this crisis. However, we hope that you and your team find the questions to be useful as you consider additional ways that your co-op can be a key to winning the battle against COVID-19 in rural America.
We wish you, your loved ones, and your cooperative family the very best.