News Feature | January 31, 2018

Overwhelmed By Water Main Breaks, Philadelphia Opens Social Media Service Requests

Peter Chawaga - editor

By Peter Chawaga

philly.reg

In a move that will likely be appreciated by ratepayers but could open another avenue for undue criticism, the Philadelphia Water Department (PWD) has decided to field complaints about water main breaks on social media.

“Amid a steady flow of broken water main requests, the Philadelphia Water Department is temporarily turning to social media to take customer service requests,” CBS Philly reported. “Customers looking to report issues and avoid wait times at the call center, need simply to follow the water department on Facebook and Twitter and send a direct message.”

It’s an experimental solution for a city that, like many others around the nation, is dealing with fundamental issues in its buried water infrastructure. In the first 15 days of January alone, PWD has had 176 water main breaks, according to CBS Philly. This has led to an unsustainable strain on PWD’s phone reporting system.

“According to the Philadelphia Water Department statement, the reported number of water main breaks this past winter doubled from the number reported during the same period last year in Philadelphia,” The Daily Pennsylvanian reported. “The number of calls reporting leaks skyrocketed from 438 calls last year to 1,087 calls this year. Around 170 of this year’s calls are still being reviewed.”

The use of social media should help PWD stay on top of ongoing ruptures even as its phone lines are tied up or most utility staff is asleep.

“[PWD] says the call centers are overwhelmed, with an average wait time of two hours,” according to WPVI. “The department plans to monitor its social accounts seven days a week from 9 a.m. to midnight.”

There’s no word yet on how effective the new system has been. Either way, it is intended to be temporary until PWD’s phone systems can catch up with water main break complaints.

“Unfortunately we reached a point in the call system where some calls in the queue for so long that they sort of got lost and no one was even getting a call back,” said PWD spokesperson John DiGiulio, per CBS Philly. “We opened up our social media to allow customers to begin communicating with us this way temporarily, at least until the phone systems are caught up with a wait time that is acceptable.”

To learn more about how utilities deal with water main breaks visit Water Online’s Solutions And Insight For Water Loss Prevention.

Image credit: “Philadelphia,” Morten Guttorm, 2015, used under an Attribution 2.0 Generic license: https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by/2.0/