ComEd takes threats seriously

August 24, 2009 Many of the problems occur when a customer's service is being cut off due to lack of payment and they say the recent spike in assaults and threats is cause for alarm.

ComEd's call centers are often where the problem starts.

"Sometimes they'll threaten the technician if they're coming out to cut the power or upset about how we're reading their meter," said one ComEd customer service agent.

Upset callers take out their frustrations on customer service reps and often extend threats to field personnel.

"I had a young lady call, She had some type of weapon and she said she would use it if we came to cut the power off," said the same agent.

Experience in the field has taught the company to take every phone threat seriously, especially for technicians assigned to shut off power.

"I can tell you that our employees have been held up at gunpoint, people have had their dogs attack our employees and things of the nature," said Kevin Brookins, VP of Distribution System Operations, ComEd.

Kevin Brookins supervises ComEd field workers. Seeing the recent shooting and robbery of a UPS driver reminded him of his biggest fear.

"Every phone call that I receive, every page that I receive, the first concern that I have is that our employees are safe," said Brookins.

Last year, ComEd workers experienced a total of twelve physical assaults and verbal threats. During just the first six months of this year, that number had more than tripled to 43.

People's Gas shares the concern. Last year, its workers experienced a total of 75 attacks and threats. From January to July of this year, that number was already up to 63.

One worker sees the increase from the front lines. His job is to shut off electricity. He didn't want use his name. After a recent incident, he says he fears for his life.

"I started to cut their power off and the customer came out yelling profanities," he said. "He came out with closed fists, another guy came out and released pit bulls on me…they wouldn't put them away unless I turned the power on."

He says he encounters a hostile customer at least once a day. He blames the economy.

"The public needs to realize that we're here to do our job. We all have friends or family that are going through tough times right now with the economy and it's a job that we have to do. If the customers could just keep calm and talk to us, we'll try to help them to the best of our ability," he said.

The utility companies all say they have boosted their safety training and are working with police to increase security. They also have formed a task force that helped get a worker protection law passed recently.

It makes a threat or assault against a utility worker a felony with a five to ten year prison sentence.

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