The teams at Tennessee American Water Company are always aware of the essential nature of their work, but this is a particularly urgent time for the company's mission, says Darlene Williams, president of the company.
"We are tasked with making sure we keep this essential service moving and flowing for life, and we're even more focused on it because health care providers are relying on our water on the front lines," she says.
The day-to-day focus on safety that is inherent to the company is also heightened during this health crisis, she says.
"We are allowing people to work remotely for those who can do their work remotely, but we are an essential service," she says. "During these times, we have to have our employees available and prepared to protect public health and we are committed to keeping water flowing."
The utility has taken a number of steps during the coronavirus crisis, from ending water shut-offs for non-payment to urging the public to keep their distance from employees they may see doing their work in the field.
"We are very much in tune to guidelines from the CDC to do everything we can to keep employees safe even as we're out doing his essential work," Williams says.
The expectation across the teams at Tennessee American Water is that there is always room for conversations about how to improve, she says. At the end of last year, employees launched a peer-to-peer group that spends time with teams all over the company and offers suggestions for improving processes.
"It's one thing to have your supervisor out in the field, but our employees evaluate each other," Williams says. "Trust is another core value. You can't force peers to want to go evaluate other peers, but it came up organically — they wanted to do it."
The community had a real-world lesson in the essential nature of the work of the water company in September 2019. Tennessee American Water and its contractors were working on a planned project to install a valve on a 36-inch transmission main when they noticed water spreading near the site.
Tennessee American Water Company
* Founded: 1887
* Employees: 107 locally, more than 7,000 across the country
* Why this is a Best Place to Work: Our employees know that what we do is not a job; it’s a calling. We know at the end of every water pipe, people must trust our water is safe for their children to drink. We are vital to the lives of our customers, our communities, our economy and our planet.
* Online: amwater.com/tnaw/
Within hours, more than 35,000 connections across the city ran dry — from hotels and office buildings to tourist attractions, government offices and schools. All told, much of Chattanooga spent about 36 hours without water, and another day or so boiling water to ensure it would be safe to drink. Crews labored around the clock to make repairs and restore service.
"Regardless of the issue, our employees always focus on getting their jobs done safely so our customers have access to a quality product," Williams says. "We never forget the importance of our work because there is a family at the end of every tap relying on safe, clean water."