Team Effort: Helping to Rebuild Puerto Rico’s Communications Network

October 19th, 2017
Patrick Joggerst, EVP Global Sales and Marketing, GENBAND

While we’ve all seen news coverage of the havoc Hurricane Maria has wreaked across Puerto Rico, the news stories really can’t accurately depict the damage and devastation it has caused. A majority of the island is still without water and power, and it will likely take months and even years to rebuild and get the economy on track.

The island’s critical communications infrastructure has been severely damaged, hampering relief efforts and leaving the hurricane victims in a precarious position, unable to communicate with their families, the outside world or ask for help.

I recently went to Puerto Rico with members of the GENBAND Emergency Recovery, Engineering and Sales teams to help our customer Claro, the island’s largest telecommunications provider, restore their network, and saw the devastating impact that the hurricane has had firsthand. It really is unbelievable.

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From left to right: Reynaldo Orpinel, Patrick Joggerst, Greg Ogle, Dean Gilbert, Rodney Neese, Felipe Gonzalez and Paul Loots.

I especially wanted to single out Felipe Gonzalez, Dean Gilbert, Rodney Neese, Greg Ogle and Paul Loots for their outstanding efforts.  Many volunteered to go down to the island immediately following the hurricane and have been there for weeks, working on repairing damaged equipment and communications sites.

 

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The team has encountered everything from partially downed to completely destroyed host and remote communications sites. They have repaired approximately 15 – 20 sites already and unfortunately there are many more to go. They’ve been working a minimum of 12 hour days to bring the systems back up. Everyone I spoke with has been amazed by the resiliency of the Puerto Rican people. In spite of the difficult situations they are facing, to a person, the entire team said the overwhelming majority of the local people they came in contact with had extremely positive attitudes about rebuilding and recovering from this catastrophic event.

I thought it was important to share some of the stories I have heard from the team and let you hear their perspectives on what they have witnessed in Puerto Rico over the last several weeks.

 

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Greg Ogle, Senior Installation Support Specialist said, “I was at a deer stand when I received a call from my manager on Friday (two days after the storm) at 5:30 pm saying, “You know if I’m calling at this time it can't be good, right?” He asked if I could be in Puerto Rico to assist with recovery efforts the next day. I had to whisper back “Yes”.  I was among the first GENBAND crew members to arrive on the island. At that time many streets were still flooded and there was debris strewn all up and down the roads. Gas lines were extremely long with many people waiting more than 24 hours and sleeping in their cars. Since arriving we have been able to cover most of the eastern third of the island where some of the heaviest damage occurred. I had been working in Puerto Rico with Claro since July so I got to see the island before the storms made such drastic changes. The Claro team has been great to work with and I have made a lot of new friends. The most memorable part of my experience has been seeing how the sites and islands have been ravaged by the storms and feeling for those who have lost everything including their homes, belongings and jobs.”

 

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Dean Gilbert, who provides Technical Support on the Emergency Recovery team said, “We hit ground running the minute we got here and basically haven’t stopped since. To see the level of devastation that the hurricane brought is unreal. I live in North Carolina - so have been through many hurricanes before, but nothing like this. Trees are completely bare. There is destruction everywhere.  It is something I have never seen before and hope to never see again. Claro along with the local residents have been so appreciative of our efforts. We are traveling in Claro branded vehicles - so when we come into an area we are greeted by cheers from the residents because they know we are there to help. It’s a great feeling.”

Paul Loots, Solutions Integration Engineer said, “I was already working in Puerto Rico on the deployment of a new C20 switch for a customer, but had to leave before the hurricane approached. After a week of trying to come back to the island after the storm, because of one cancelled flight after another, I arrived on October 2nd and have been working all day every day since. Even with all of the destruction of the infrastructure staring everyone in the face, every day the local people we work with each day are so positive and hopeful that things will not only recover, but eventually improve. The country is flooded with emergency military personnel and various federal agencies. It is not uncommon to share a hotel elevator with armed military personnel. I have spent over 17 years working in Puerto Rico and am a big fan of the island and the local residents – so it’s great to help out in this time of crisis.”

 

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Rodney Neese, who also provides Technical Support on the Emergency Recovery Team added, “Photos really don’t do justice to how bad the devastation really is. When we first arrived there was debris everywhere, no power with the exception of generators, and just an overwhelming feeling of ‘where do we start?’ Fortunately we have been able to restore phone service to several sites. I spent 11 days going from site to site. At one site we had to take down the power plant to restore power. Here is a short video of us training one of the Claro site technicians to form and fuse a Power Distribution Center. It has been amazing listening to the residents tell their stories of how they made it through the hurricane. It is going to take a long time to get everything back up and running to pre-hurricane levels, but I feel really privileged to be able to help the people of Puerto Rico in their time of need.”

Felipe Gonzalez Regional Director for CALA said, “I am responsible for all of the Spanish Caribbean and Central American region and was asked by Claro’s CTO to provide immediate onsite support after the hurricane. I have been working non-stop alongside the Claro and GENBAND teams since I arrived on the island September 28th. Maria really reminds us how fragile we all are, but for me personally the most memorable part of this experience was when we were able to restore service to San Jorge Children’s Hospital. I am so thankful to other GENBAND team members including Richard Jennings and Hector Mauricio Murguia Rodriguez for all of their hard work and for our corporate office for providing cell phone batteries that are being used by many people in need including Claro technicians. This has been something I will never forget. Last week we met with Claro’s CEO and he expressed how grateful he was for all of the support we were providing. It really exemplified the strength of our partnership. In addition to Claro we are also working with other customers on the island including Liberty Media, Data Access and Telefonica amongst other tier one US carriers to help get their communications networks back up and running.”  

The entire team has done an exceptional job and many others who are not mentioned above have also played critical roles in this effort.  While it was impossible to include everyone here, I want to thank everyone for their tremendous dedication. It is times like these that really show the importance of what we do and as someone who spent his early years in Puerto Rico, I am truly grateful for everyone’s dedication and commitment to helping rebuild the island’s communications network. Gracias a todos.

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