October 29, 2013

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In Sandy’s Wake, TWC Employees Put Customers First

TWC

Time Warner Cable employees were hard at work cleaning up and moving on as soon as the storm passed. According to Brien Kelly, TWC’s area vice president for Brooklyn and Queens:

It always is amazing, the way the team comes together whenever there’s a crisis. You never have to worry about it, sometimes you take it for granted because they always show up.

We had guys who couldn’t get gas riding bikes here. Actually, one guy bought a bike to get here.

We had people that were staying overnight and really pushing hard for six, eight weeks to really clean it up.

Some of our employees were so focused on taking care of customers before the storm that they got stuck at work during the hurricane.

Our facility at Paidge Avenue in Greenpoint, Brooklyn, is the depot for all of the trucks and equipment that service Manhattan. It’s right next to a creek that feeds the East River, and the entire facility was swamped by floodwaters up to four feet deep.

James Weppler and 17 other Time Warner Cable employees were trapped overnight at Paidge Avenue by fast-rising floodwaters. Most employees got out once they got the internal go-ahead to get home and get to higher ground, but Weppler stayed too focused on the job in front of him to make his escape.

Weppler is a dispatcher, which means that he coordinates truck rolls with customer visits, scheduling appointments and making sure the techs get there on time. The day Sandy hit, he was calling customers to let them know that we needed to reschedule their appointment for later in the week.

If there is ever a time when the cable guy is justified in pulling a no-show, it’s during the biggest storm in New York City’s history. But Weppler wanted to make sure he gave as many customers the word as possible.

In his words:

I looked outside at the flooding and it looked bad, but not too bad yet. I was up to 42 reschedules, and I said, “Let me do eight more, let me get 50, a nice round number, and then I’ll get out of here.”

Well, those eight reschedules are basically what kept me here. By the time I got to the 50 mark, that was it. I was stuck because of the water and there was no way out of here.

Weppler and others spent the night in the facility, huddling under their desks until the waters receded the following morning.

TWC employees reported to work and started cleaning up and clearing debris almost as soon as the storm passed.

Meanwhile, there were problems uptown that very few people heard about at all.

Like so many people and businesses in New York City, Time Warner Cable sustained damage and loss of infrastructure, which caused cable outages. In some cases we couldn’t even see which areas were without cable signals until the power companies could get the electricity on.

From a customer perspective in Manhattan, it may have looked like the cable was out intermittently, almost building by building, for a few days. One building on one block may have had full video and broadband services, but another building a block away may not have.

Getting cable to work requires different nodes, hubs, and other distribution points to have full access to electricity – and naturally, the head end needs to be fully powered as well.

The head end that provides video services for New York City is on 23rd street in Manhattan. The power in Manhattan went out on Monday night, and came back on Friday night.

This means that we had to power our head end at 23rd Street with a diesel generator around the clock for several days. This wasn’t cheap, and it wasn’t easy.

Manhattan customers who were fortunate enough to have electricity (provided by generator itself in many buildings) and cable access undamaged by the storm enjoyed uninterrupted cable service, were able to watch the news, distract themselves with movies, Seinfeld reruns, whatever was on TV.

But the effort that it took to maintain that service was tremendous.

The generators for the 23rd street head end are on the roof of the building, outdoors. Sandy’s winds exceeded 60 mph – causing the trailer-sized generator to shift several feet.

This would not have been a problem – except that the generator was drawing diesel fuel through a pipe roughly four inches wide.

According to Larry Pestana, vice president of engineering, NYC:

It was about six o clock that Wednesday and I was leaving my office and I smelled diesel. Oil. So I took a walk up to the roof and found a huge puddle of oil.

We let our Critical Infrastructure folks and our top management know, we called in the generator folks, we had the electricians on site, and then we looked at the situation and said, “What do we do now?”

We began by trying to collect the oil as it was leaking out of that pipe, using 5-gallon cans and transporting the oil back into the tank downstairs so we wouldn’t flood any more of the roof. And then we called the facilities guys with all kinds of mops and towels and then we picked up all the oil from the roof.

We had a number of people carrying the 5-gallon cans back downstairs and putting it back in the tank.

Larry’s team then had to replace the generator, using a crane to load it onto the roof. To get the crane to the facility, Larry had to get the city of New York to close down 22nd street.

In Pestana’s words:

There were some touch and go moments, but we were able to keep everything on.

We had a bridge going on and we had people from the entire engineering community in the Northeast on. Some of these people, it was like they were waiting for their wives to have babies.

We made the switch and fortunately we were back on and then we stayed on for another four days. It took four days for Con Edison to restore power in Manhattan.

 

Tomorrow on Untangled, we’ll continue our look at how Sandy impacted our company and customers.

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