SAN JUAN, PUERTO RICO – Many of our 1,800 coworkers here are living without power or water, more than 2 months after a monster hurricane decimated their island.
But they are still at work.
Joining them are more than 230 AT&T employees from other parts of world. Together, they put in long days, often through weekends, as they carry out a Herculean task: rebuilding our network and helping both business and individual customers recover from the disaster.
It's an impressive sight.
"The weight and power that AT&T have brought to bear on this event has been quite something to behold," Justin Williams said recently. Williams was wrapping up a 3-week stint as incident commander of our Network Disaster Recovery team in Puerto Rico.
"So I think for me the unwavering commitment that AT&T made is probably the one thing I'll take away."
As with all natural disasters, one of the first things we did after Hurricane Maria struck on Sept. 20 was to ensure our employees were OK. It took a harrowing 13 days to hear from them all through the YesOkay system.
Our employees in Puerto Rico tell it best:
Rebuilding our network
Now, each dawn brings a new flurry of activity at a squat, bunker-like building in a San Juan suburb.
Other, roomier AT&T buildings – with more windows – were damaged in the hurricane. So a corner room in the central office became the war room for the rebuilding of our network here.
And it is hopping.
Each day, the techs nab their assignments, a ready-to-eat meal and a day's ration of 4 waters and 2 sports drinks. Then they load back into trucks, vans and all-terrain vehicles and fan out across the island – carefully. In most cases, the traffic lights are still down because of the lack of power.
Despite these limitations, we've made great progress. As of Nov. 29, wireless service is available to nearly 90 percent of the population – a long way from those early days.
We deployed our helicopter Flying COW (Cell on Wings) for the first time after Hurricane Maria, to provide data, voice and text services in Puerto Rico. Here's how a network is rebuilt, from the ground up, when the electrical system is still on the fritz:
Helping our customers
We're doing everything we can to take care of our employees in Puerto Rico – providing water and food and even laundry services at various times in the post-hurricane weeks, said J.J. Davila, vice president of Sales and Service for Puerto Rico and U.S. Virgin Islands.
In turn, those employees take care of our customers.
The retail stores have attracted so many customers since the hurricane that it's felt like a smartphone launch every day, J.J. said. In fact, most of the 29 open stores now include a new waiting area, with a tent and chairs. Water bottles are often available.
Part of the draw is DIRECTV, which was available to some customers throughout the disaster, even if a generator is the only power source. In addition, programming has been adapted to provide something for kids whose schools haven't reopened.
We also have waived overages and offered service credits to customers affected by Hurricane Maria.
We're also supporting business customers.
In those first few days of the hurricane, when Ana Michelle Concepción had only heard from 3 people on her 72-member Business team, she was still customer-focused. Her message wasn't an easy one, but it was direct: "We're working on it."
Part of that work includes supporting the Network team. Ana's team even moved their operations to the Network Operations Center.
Here's more about how our sales teams functioned when the network wasn't:
Climbing Cerro Punta
Zach White's team is based in Northern California, but they have been in Puerto Rico since Oct. 5. The team uses microwave radio to quickly restore wireless and wireline service. The microwave solution means customers can call and text.
Antonio Benitez is a technician from Naronjito, who was assigned to help Zach's team.
Since his home is uninhabitable, because it is surrounded by mudslides, Antonio and his family are living now with his in-laws. They don't have power or water, but they do have cell service – because of the microwave project.
"I feel very proud that my manager assigned me to this team, because I feel like I am making a big effort here for Puerto Rico," Antonio said.
One recent Saturday, Antonio helped the team successfully zig-zag its way up Cerro Punta, the highest mountain on the island. The sun was shining and the trees, reduced to mere sticks by the hurricane, showed signs of green.
As soon as the 7-vehicle convoy reached the summit, a cold, hard rain began falling. That didn't stop this team. "One thing we don't do is work in lightning," Zach said. "But rain is just water."
Then he got to work.
Holiday Shopping Hacks for Black Friday and Beyond - See more at: