‘It gives me faith in America,’ network recovery manager says
By Sean Kinney, Managing Editor on SEPTEMBER 19, 2017
As Florida Keys network recovery continues, tower crews brace for Maria
Adam Ruge is a project manager for Fort Lauderdale, Florida based Data Stream Mobile Technologies, a construction outfit that specializes in wireless infrastructure. Following Hurricane Irma, Ruge and his crew—Jose Vargas and Raymond Arroyo—got into the Florida Keys at 7:30 a.m. on Sept. 15. Since then, they’ve worked their way down the island chain repairing an average of two sites per day for AT&T during a massive network recovery operation.
The Florida Keys are an interconnected series of islands joined by a largely two-lane road that runs from mainland Florida to Key West. After thousands of residents and tourists evacuated ahead of Irma, re-entry access has been restricted to residents, media and mission critical personnel, although that changed Monday. Following a devastating blow from the Category 4 hurricane, power is intermittent, access to the country water utility is spotty and U.S. Army Chinook helicopters delivered emergency supplies yesterday in the parking lot of a Publix grocery store in Key West. Amid all that, Ruge, Vargas and Arroyo got to work on Big Pine Key, one of the hardest hit islands in the Keys.
“The sites had emergency power with generators,” Ruge told RCR Wireless News over email. “While onsite, we fixed several problems that varied by site. Link failures on radios, antenna azimuths/downtilts and plumb were all seriously affected by the wind. The closer to Marathon and Big Pine we got, the more issues we found.”
It’s hot in South Florida, but, in the aftermath of a disaster, that heat takes on a different feel. Standing water draws in mosquitoes, something the Florida Keys Mosquito Control District has battled for decades with a robust ground- and air-based program. Despite these hardships, Data Stream’s crew rolled up their sleeves, clipped onto those hot steel towers, and did their part to help restore communications to a reeling, yet resilient, population.
These recovery teams are part of a large, coordinated effort to restore power, water, public safety and communications to Monroe County, Florida. “Everyone down there is and did an amazing job,” Ruge said. “I saw people helping each other. Gives me faith in America. The general atmosphere and attitude was inspiring. People were working together through the heat, conditions, lack of sleep/food/water. We brought food and water as well as fuel for our trucks.”
He continued: “Our team is almost finished. We expect to clear our last site tomorrow. I also have [people]working the Virgin Islands, where the sites took even more damage than these Keys sites. Depending on what happens with Hurricane Maria and future storms, we may have to provide support there as well. I know my team is up to the challenge.”
Ruge sent that email at 9:42 p.m. CST. He followed up five minutes later. “It looks like we are on standby now for recovery efforts in areas affected by Hurricane Maria. We may have to send additional teams to Puerto Rico and the Virgin Islands to support our teams that are there already.”
And that’s just one story. Elsewhere in the Keys, Patrick Brousseau, an outside plant technician for AT&T, explained the complexities of network recovery in the area in a video posted on Sept. 15. “The issue with the Keys is 300 yards that way you’ve got the bay, and 300 yards that way you’ve got the ocean. It got winds from both sides.”
He also hit on the role of cellular communications in the larger coordination effort between various governmental entities. “We have EOC, we have firemen coming in from all over the country. Without our communications lines, they can’t talk to each other. They’re relying right now upon all our cell service.”
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