As hurricane season is upon us, we sat down with YK Communications (YKC) General Manager Bill Rakowitz to reflect on the team’s experience during Hurricane Harvey in 2017:
“Hurricane season is always an anxious time for a communications provider. Ten years ago, our priority was to do everything possible to keep telephone voice services operational as long as possible during a storm. As the internet has become a primary source of communications, newsgathering and entertainment for many of our customers, it now has the same level of priority as our voice services do for reliability, survivability and restoration.
In order to provide the most reliable and storm-resistant network possible, YKC completed a long-term project in 2007 that replaced 100% of our above ground pole and cable infrastructure with a network that is 100% underground — from our serving centers all the way to our customer’s homes and offices. Getting our facilities off the poles and out of the air gives YKC a huge storm survival advantage over other service providers.
Since that time, we have continued to replace all the copper lines with newer fiber optic technologies. Not only does fiber optics provide unlimited speed options for the customer, it also eliminates service issues when splice and connection points become humid, damp or saturated with water, as is common during a major storm.
As a regulated communications service provider, YKC is required to exercise our Emergency Operations Plan each year, which keeps us familiar with storm preparation, reaction and restoration.
These projects and drills paid huge dividends for YKC and our customers in August 2017, as Hurricane Harvey began to threaten the Texas Gulf Coast. We verified our communications equipment was performing without issues or errors, tested all power plants and backup power systems and verified we had a full supply of fuel available for generators and service vehicles.
Once it became apparent that landfall would happen within 50 miles of our service areas, we identified our critical and emergency restoration personnel, activated our Emergency Operations Plan and sent our staff home to take care of their families and personal properties so they could evacuate the coastal area. At this point, we took shelter, prayed for the safety of our staff and communities and waited for the storm to pass.
As the storm passed through us and continued to the north, it became safe for our Emergency Recovery Team to leave our shelters and begin surveying storm damage levels. We navigated through downed trees, utility poles and fallen aerial cables as we made our way through the towns and rural areas that we serve. Thankfully, due to the fact our network was buried underground, our visual inspections revealed that our network was 100% intact with no physical damage.
Arriving at our business office, we discovered that we had no commercial electrical power, but our offices and serving center offices were running on generator back-up power. Within the hour, we had the YKC Emergency Operations Center up and running so that we could verify 9-1-1 emergency call routing was still functional (it was) and begin checking the status of our voice and internet networks.
The YKC network contains more than 30 different distribution sites throughout our areas that deliver internet, data and voice services to our customers. Network alarms verified that none of the sites had commercial power and two of them had exceeded the battery back-up time and entered a safety shutdown mode in order to protect the equipment from low voltage damage. We dispatched teams to each of these locations with back-up generators and fuel supplies. Both sites were up and running on back-up power within the hour.
As we were able to identify other distribution sites that were running low on battery back-up power, we began deploying portable generators to these sites as well.
We have a well-planned process of deploying generators and remotely monitoring the charge rate of the back-up batteries at that location. Once the batteries are fully charged, they are capable of powering that site for approximately 8 hours without any additional power source. At this point, we can move the back-up generators to a new site and the charging process starts again. Since we have generators running 24 hours a day, we have teams that refuel the generators multiple times daily.
For the next 48 hours, we worked in shifts monitoring, moving and refueling generators in order to keep the YKC network running at 100% efficiency.
As we began to free up some of our staff and resources, it was time to lend support and recovery efforts to our neighbors who were not as fortunate. At 4:30 a.m. on Monday morning following landfall, we received a call from the Matagorda Emergency Operations, letting us know due to rising flood waters, they were abandoning their posts and looking for an alternate location to set up an Emergency Command Center. We sprang back into action and within 4 hours, had converted the YK Communications Conference Center into the Matagorda Emergency Operations 24-hour Command Center — complete with wall boards, projectors, high speed internet access and a bank of eight telephones receiving their incoming calls.
As the day continued, we learned that the Jackson County courthouse (serving Emergency Operations, law enforcement and county government operations) had lost internet services from their provider and was not provided with a restoration time frame. With some very quick coordination of local and county governments and industry partners, YKC was able to source the required equipment and build a microwave radio link to the Jackson County Courthouse. Within 72 hours from start to finish, our team was able to reconnect Jackson County to the internet through the YK Communications network.
At YKC, we take great pride in building the most reliable, most resilient and storm-resistant internet, voice and data networks possible. As we withstood the damage and destruction of Hurricane Harvey, we demonstrated that the YK Communications buried Fiber Optic network is second to none!”