In a time of uncertainty, internet connectivity and electrical power have become imperative to our way of life, including to our work, education, and connection with loved ones. Yet the wildfires in Oregon along the Cascade Mountain range have left communities, neighborhoods, and schools utterly destroyed. Thankfully, community volunteers and businesses have stepped in to help local residents and businesses restore connectivity.
Damien Hall, a partner with Ball Janik LLP, who has rapidly been providing pro bono services from the firm’s Portland office, teamed with Elevate Technology Group, community members and other businesses to restore critical communication services. The coalition’s goal is to restore Wi-Fi and emergency management to the area impacted by the Holiday Farm Fire that burned 27 miles of fiber optic lines. The group aims to do it without any costs for residents.
Elevate Technology Group has been working around the clock with community volunteers to help restore services and connections between equipment in the area impacted and functioning communication towers several miles away. The location is especially challenging because of the valley. There is no redundancy of internet access in the area and satellite coverage is difficult due to the geography.
“The fire completely wiped out all forms of communication for this community, including cell phones, landlines, 911, internet and power,” said Geoff Turner, Chief Executive Officer of Elevate Technology Group. “We teamed with community volunteers and business owners to reverse engineer the issue. We also teamed with Damien at Ball Janik who has been a tremendous resource, providing legal counsel every step of the way.”
With partnerships from community players like Eugene Water, the Electric board, and the forest service who helped with fast track agreements, the team was able to bring in connectivity while they await their licensed and franchised telecommunication carriers/cable providers to restore normal infrastructure. Takoda’s Restaurant housed and fed everyone. The team also formed the Oregon Internet Response, which works with the local government and the community to deliver an Information and Communications Technology disaster response. In addition to Ball Janik and Elevate, other companies involved include CONNX, Emerald Broadband, BendBroadband and IOIOBox who made large donations.
“When a catastrophic event like this takes place, response and recovery has to evolve quickly,” explains Hall, who has helped with things like contract reviews, risk mitigation, communication legalities, workers comp and liabilities arising from this volunteer effort. “Being able to adapt and change plans is critical and it must be done safely.”
While the team rebuilds, there is still a lot to do to help the community fully recover. This weekend for instance, the volunteers will come together to help bring connectivity back into the schools. Centurylink and Spectrum are still assessing the extent of the damage. They do not know how long it will take to safely repair burned fiber optic lines. Currently, the scheduled goal is to restore fiber in late December 2020.
“I grew up close by and when the request came from the community, we jumped on it and expanded upon it,” said Turner. “I’ve never dealt with anything like this before. It’s one thing to see it on TV but until you see it and experience it like we have, I don’t think you will ever know what it’s like.”