When Pamela Mooring arrives at work in the morning, the communications manager faces a surprise—how many water main breaks will DC Water crews be visiting that day? “I don’t know yet what is on their list to work today,” she says. “There could be one or five [sites].”

The wind chill on a particularly cold February morning is measuring at 5 degrees below zero, Emergency Management’s Jonathan Reeves tells Mooring in an email. Despite the frigid temperatures, she seems quite unfazed at the prospect of standing outside at one of DC Water’s work sites all day. “I have one glove! At least one hand will be warm,” she jokes.

Water main breaks require minimal to extensive repair, ranging from a few hours to an entire week of work. DC Water has posted the fifteen step process on their website in detail, for the extra-curious D.C. citizen.

“[Resident response] runs the gamut,” says Mooring. Some are very appreciative that our employees are out there in all types of weather to ensure their critical water service. Some obviously don’t like the inconvenience. We all forget how much we rely on water until we don’t have any.”

Perhaps the positive attitude from customers who can’t wash dishes or shower is owed to DC Water’s social media strategy, as demonstrated on its Twitter and Facebook page. In addition to using Twitter to communicate quickly with struggling residents, the agency uses social media to share tips (thaw frozen water pipes with a hairdryer to “save a few bucks”) and facts (the median age of D.C.’s water pipes is 79) with clever graphics.

“I just want our social media channels to be of service to D.C. residents,” says Andy Le, DC Water’s digital communications manager. “If I think it will be useful information, I’ll post it. The good humor and charm really come from our chief of communications, John Lisle. He used to run the Twitter and created the expectation that our presence be entertaining. I knew I couldn’t really be as funny as he is, so I create more graphics and videos to supplement.”

Residents can expect fewer breaks as the temperatures begin to rise and stay above freezing—though DC Water is still prepared for a few breaks per week, according to Mooring.

“We roll with the punches pretty well. I think that comes from us being good at empathizing with our customers,” says Le. “Being without water is a big inconvenience and the last thing anyone wants to hear are excuses. We keep it really simple. We apologize to the customer and we tell them what we’re doing to fix it. When your mission statement is that short and sweet, it’s easy to be nimble on your feet.”

Residents seem to agree. As @lawalker13 tweeted yesterday, “Not only is @dcwater‘s Twitter fabulous but its crews on the street couldn’t be nicer or more professional & helpful. #DCLove

Photo courtesy DC Water