January 26, 2011

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An Extreme Engineering Makeover in Southeast Texas – A New Head End for the Golden Triangle

This is the original SouthEast Texas headend circa 1970’s. Back before HSD, Phone or Business Class, we didn’t need much room.

In Southeast Texas, not far from the Louisiana state line, you’ll find alligators, crawfish and a culture unique to that part of the world. For those who didn’t grow up where I did, Cajun food and hurricanes (both kinds) are what most people associate with that area, and while that’s true – and awesome – this story is actually about our newly upgraded headend facility.

At the end of a freshly paved road, surrounded by towering, thin pine trees, sits our improved and expanded headend facility providing video, voice and data service to residential and business customers in Beaumont and surrounding communities. This part of Texas is regularly referred to by locals as the Golden Triangle – which gets its name because Beaumont, Port Arthur and Orange form a sort of triangle when connected on the map.

Construction nearing completion at Golden Triangle Headend Site – to the right is the new addition

Long Time in the Making

Since the early 1990’s Golden Triangle customers were served by a 1500 square foot facility near the hurricane prone coast of Southeast Texas. Hurricanes Rita in 2005 and Ike in 2008 were harsh lessons in preparedness and business continuity for region leadership. Despite best efforts to prepare and recover, the facility lacked any off site monitoring or interconnection to other TWC facilities in Texas. When the headend was down, it was down.

“It was a project a longtime in the making,” said George Meadows, headend manager for Texas. “We needed to expand, add new back up power supplies and bring in three-phase power in order to improve reliability for our customers and introduce new products.”

The headend is now connected to the regional network fiber network (MSAN). A new commercial power source from local provider Entergy was needed to move this critical facility from red to green according to John Hevey, director of critical infrastructure at the West Region Operations Center in Austin, Texas. “Back up power supplies and a commercial diesel generator will help to keep this facility more resilient during a major storm event.”

Connectivity to the MSAN means video and data traffic can be delivered remotely from the primary headend in Dallas further boosting our reliability during a widespread outage.

A Brick Transmit House

Coastal storms have taught Southeast Texas residents how to adapt to their environment, the same thought process was used by our critical infrastructure team during the design phase. The new facility is built to withstand sustained hurricane force winds of up to 140 mile an hour, the walls of the new addition, are eleven inches thick made up of cement cinderblocks, four inches of insulating foam, metal studs and a layer of fireproof plywood. The metal roof is reinforced and is backed by more insulating foam to block moisture and noise.

The building’s steel beam frame sits on 16 concrete piers sunk nine feet deep into the grey clay soil of Southeast Texas. Sitting on those underground piers is a 16 inch thick concrete slab that in construction parlance means ‘it ain’t going nowhere.’ There are no windows. You enter through insulated metal doors and access to critical areas can now be carefully controlled to the necessary personnel.

Previous restoration efforts meant long days and nights working in a building that contained millions of dollars in transmission and routing equipment but no running water or bathroom facilities.

The new headend is designed to double as an emergency base of operations if needed. Creature comforts such as shower facilities and a small break room, not to mention a five day onsite fuel supply are welcome additions and much appreciated by those dedicated engineers and techs who’ve encamped there during previous recovery efforts.

In fact if you’re looking for a place to work after a major weather event or ride out a zombie apocalypse, this may be the best place in Texas to do so…

The new Standard in Remote Monitoring

John Hevey is proud of the Region’s new monitoring capabilities introduced there, and rightly so; the building contains a predictive analysis system that “makes the building visible to the regional network operation center (RNOC) in Austin and helps us see problems before they affect customers,” he said. Sensors throughout the facility allow his team to monitor the building’s heating and cooling systems, internal humidity level, power consumption and power fluctuations on a 24 hour, seven day a week basis.

“This new remote monitoring system is a prototype we will be replicating across the Region,” Hevey said.

What it means to the Customer

As a company we’re proud to introduce the latest technology to our customers and this story is an attempt to celebrate that success and acknowledge those responsible. For our customers in Southeast Texas the completion of this multi-million dollar project is transparent, at least at first.

The most immediate result for customers there was the launch of 50 additional HD channels in December, taking our total HD offer past the 100 channel mark. Next for our engineering team will be the move to switched digital then MDN/ODN, which means the addition of advanced TV services such as Look Back, Start Over and more will happen sometime in 2011.

Of course the next time a storm threatens the coast, the improvements will make it easier to recover and restore any damaged fiber and distribution facilities. At the same time our team members will have a safe and secure location from which to work. Not to mention free cable and HBO.

New Headend by the Numbers:
Original building – 1500 sq feet
New Addition – 2100 sq feet
New Edition – Mid 80’s pop group featuring Bobby Brown
Total Headend Size – 3600 sq feet
Storm Wind rating: 140 mph sustained
Generator: 450 KW rating, with a five day supply of diesel fuel on site
Number of windows – Zero

+- 1 Comment

  1. Southeast Texan's reply

    Interesting post! Just found it 9 months later… When you make blog posts about a particular region like this, I wish the TWC newsletter people would include them in the localized email newsletters they send out occasionally.

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