Firefighter tapped to head BWL's emergency operations

Nov 3, 2014

The Lansing Board of Water & Light has chosen a longtime city firefighter as its new emergency operations manager.

Trent Atkins is the city's assistant fire chief.

Lansing Assistant Fire Chief Trent Atkins, left, is the new emergency operations manager of Lansing's Board of Water & Light.
Credit Steve Carmody / Michigan Radio

BWL was heavily criticized for its response to an ice storm last December. More than 40,000 BWL customers lost electricity in the wake of the Dec. 21 ice storm. Thousands spent 10 days or more waiting for the lights to come back on.

The utility’s clumsy response to the storm resulted in calls for change. Three separate reports delved into what went wrong and how to improve BWL’s response in the future.

One of the recommendations was for BWL to hire one person to manage future emergencies.  

BWL officials decided to hire someone who doesn’t have a utility background as its emergency operations manager. 

Atkins admits he has things to learn about electricity.  

“I need to know … more about electricity – other than it comes out of the wall plug and it hurts when you touch it,” says Atkins. 

While he might not understand how electricity works, Atkins does have experience with managing crises. 

Atkins was the point man for the city of Lansing during the same December ice storm that knocked BWL for a loop. He also managed the city’s handling of a tornado in 2008 and other emergencies during the past decade.

BWL General Manager Peter Lark says it was more important to hire someone with a background in incident management than with electric utilities.

“That was the most important criteria,” says Lark. “Someone who would be able to contribute to the BWL when it comes to emergency operations.”

BWL has made other changes since the 2013 ice storm to improve communications and response times during a power outage.