United's Website Continuously Evolving to Offer
New Information, Better Online Experience to Members
EDITOR’S NOTE: This is the second part in a series on United’s evolving website enhancement.
On a warm day in April, children at the CDI Head Start East Cleburne Community Center gathered on the pavement of a parking lot to watch the power of electricity.
The request for the arcing demonstration was made by Center Supervisor Rachel Johnson through a new online webform created to give greater access to the educational presentations that United Cooperative Services provides free of charge.
Johnson filled out the form providing co-op organizers a roadmap for how to proceed. About 74 pre-schoolers and 10 adults would attend, and she was able to attach photos of the area where the demonstration would occur.
Mark Dixon, safety and loss control director, said the online request form has helped him and others spread the word about electrical safety to adults and children, and he’s received positive feedback from those who have used it.
The Arcing Demonstrations page and the newly revamped Electrical Safety page were two major areas that Dixon wanted to improve in the redesigned website.
“I asked those kids if any of them used electricity and they all said yes, they played video games and stuff like that,” he said. “It’s amazing children that young acknowledge that electricity is a necessity. And because children emulate what their parents do—they see their parents stick the keys in a doorknob and find some keys and try and put them in an electrical socket—it’s so important we teach them early. The redesigned safety sections help us with this very important part of our educational outreach.”
That outreach is why the safety section now not only features information about home safety, but also electrical safety at the lake, in dorm rooms and correctly hooking up generators correctly during times of crisis.
“These topics affect everyone, and we want to make sure the information we provide is clear, concise and easily accessible,” he said. “We didn’t get to 2.5 million working hours without a lost-time accident by mistake, and we want to share our safety culture with the members we serve every day.”
See the Arcing Demonstration Page
Members who are familiar with the redesign of www.united-cs.com may already have found the addition of several new online features.
Mauri Montgomery, vice president of media and community relations, said that after launching United’s redesigned website this January, the co-op’s communications department has continued improving user experience with ongoing upgrades to several areas of the website.
“We face a daunting task in determining the best methods for communicating with a membership that grows more diverse every day, and the communication platforms we use to reach our audience must be equally diverse,” he said. “We want to reach our members where they are, so they will always be informed about every aspect to of their cooperative.” Montgomery said that reaction to the online changes has been overwhelmingly positive, and usage has skyrocketed.
Last May, the website set a record with more than 19,500 users, eclipsing a former record of about 16,000 in February 2018, according to Google Analytics.
In the previous July story, website changes highlighted included a redesigned Careers page created to fully explain the United working culture as well as entice new talent to apply with United. The story also covered a new searchable database that can connect members to unclaimed cash on the Member Dividends page. Here are other new additions:
Fast Community Solar Sign-up
In 2018, United Cooperative Services announced the commercial operation of a 9.9 megawatt (AC) United Community Solar plant in Bosque County. This innovative energy option provides United members the opportunity to have a solar energy option at a cost-competitive price without the expense or upkeep hassles of installing a system at their home.
United has installed 44,340 solar panels tracking the sun for optimal energy generation in 553 rows. The co-op slotted more than 4,950 subscriptions for its members at the time it was opened for use, and since that time, about 3,700 members have taken advantage of the program, saving about $50 in the first year if they enrolled at the beginning.
“We wanted to introduce an even more convenient way for our members to take advantage of United Community Solar,” said Blake Beavers, vice president of power supply. “The best way we could do this was by offering a short, online web form members complete to request that we add community solar to their account. It’s a great way to lock in the price on the output of up to 2 kW a month until 2038.”
Roadmap to Reliability
While trees add beauty, help our environment and provide shade to our properties, they can create many challenges for United in delivering reliable electricity service to its members. Trees are one of the major causes of power outages in areas with overhead utility lines. When trees contact energized lines, they can create power outages or dangerous situations for anyone in close proximity.
Well-maintained rights of way allow easier access for United employees and equipment during outages, allowing for safer and quicker service restoration, said Quentin Howard, senior vice president of system engineering. People working or playing near trees close to power lines can suffer severe injury or death if they contact energized lines and infrastructure.
Last year, the co-op initiated its member-centric vegetation management program, which is a data-driven, progressive system to plan and complete work as efficiently and cost-effectively as possible. United’s Integrated Vegetation Management (IVM) program includes follow-up auditing to ensure the desired results are achieved, and with a special emphasis on social responsibility..
While the website already offered a complete description of the vegetation management program’s implementation, it now includes an embedded map that shows members the areas that have been targeted for a trim, he said.
“We’ve always strived to be open about the areas where the IVM program is currently doing the work required to increase service reliability,” he said. “However, the new map really shows our members, rather than just tells them, where our targeted areas are located. One of the best features of the map is that a member can type in their address and see if crews are working close by. The new feature is designed to augment enhanced member communications procedures that are being used in the field so there should be no surprises.”