PHOTO: (pictured left to right): Matt Cotton, Tom Pevey and Brandon Bolls.

Making sure hospitals – and the doctors, nurses and patients within them – have reliable connectivity is a top priority for AT&T, especially during the COVID-19 pandemic.

“We’re all on the same page and know that if a COVID project escalation comes up, we move to it,” said Brandon Bolls, a lead construction and engineering manager in Southeast Arkansas. “We know AT&T’s front line is important to THE front lines of the pandemic.”

Like many at AT&T, Brandon and his colleague, Matt Cotton, also a construction and engineering manager, believe 2 of our biggest assets that allow us to be agile are our people and our ability to collaborate quickly under tight deadlines.

“It’s really cool to see how fast we can get an order, get it in the ground, get it spliced and turned on, especially when it’s a COVID-19 project,” Matt said. “Right now, urgency is critical.”

“We knew the issue… and we had all hands on deck.”

A local hospital was dealing with an increase in COVID cases. It wanted to boost its connectivity to make sure doctors and nurses could communicate with each other and that patients could stay in touch with the outside world. The hospital put in a request for a COW – a cell on wheels – from FirstNet – the only nationwide, high-seed broadband communications platform dedicated to and purpose-built for America’s first responders and the extended public safety community. Matt, Brandon and their teams were ready to swing into action. 

“We knew this was a hot job and the hospital needed our help pretty quick,” Brandon said. “I went out to the scene before the work order actually came in, and I put in the request to locate utility lines. I found that a lot of the material we needed was already at my shop, which saved a lot of time.”

Brandon knew that time was their opponent. But Matt knew his team had a player that could help neutralize that disadvantage. His name was Tom Pevey – a Southeast Arkansas native who had been splicing cable in that area since 2005.

“Living here as long as I have, I have had friends and family who have been in that hospital, I know how important it is to our area,” Tom said. In that quarter-century, he’s acquired a wealth of knowledge about the area – the people, the streets and more importantly, what’s under the streets. 

“I’ve been through that run of cable numerous times,” Tom said. “I knew right where I was going and which cable I needed to get into. I didn’t really even need the prints. I was on it.”

Matt points to Tom’s inside knowledge as a key reason why the team was able to work so quickly.

“The knowledge I have gained in Southeast Arkansas has been very important,” Tom said. “I’m just one of those people who has things stick in my mind like cable routes, the distance from the central offices to the customer and splice points. It helps me out on a day-to-day basis.”

Knowledge, timing and teamwork

While Tom was busy using his intimate knowledge of the area to get a jump start on splicing, Brandon and Matt were getting the team on the same page so they could stay ahead of schedule.

“There was a lot going on at the site at any given time,” Brandon said. “From our contractors to our locators, we had everyone involved from the beginning, which was a big help. And everyone understood why this job was important.”

More equipment and more people for a high-profile, time-sensitive project meant communication among the team was critical.

“Between the splicer, the engineer, the planner, the electricians and the contractors, we were working hand-in-hand and staying in constant contact,” Matt said. 

With Tom and the rest of the team working ahead, they got the cable laid and spliced in a matter of hours and the COW online in a little more than a day – a process that could take several days. 

“It all comes back to teamwork,” Matt said. “It’s amazing how much our AT&T team accomplished.”

Sacked by a storm

That feeling of pride was quickly uprooted just hours later when a string of violent storms marched through Arkansas – leaving a large footprint of destruction in its wake. The storms knocked out commercial power to much of the area, including at the hospital.

“The hospital had a backup generator, so they were up and running,” Matt said. “But we needed a generator for the COW. That was a top priority.”

Suddenly, a new race against the clock began. This time AT&T crews needed to supply power to the COW so that the hospital would once again have the connectivity it needed. As the team helped locate a generator for the COW, a new challenge surfaced.

“The gas stations were closed because there was no power,” Matt said. “Crews had to drive an hour outside of town to find a one that was open, which wasn’t easy with trees and power lines down.”

Once again, the teams pulled together to come through for the citizens of Southeast Arkansas.

“You just keep pounding away knowing the first responders, nurses and doctors are in there working to help patients who need them,” Matt said. “We have to do our job so that they can do theirs.”

For Tom that responsibility runs deep, and he’s committed to playing any role he can to keep his community connected.

“I drove by the COW a few minutes ago to check on it,” Tom said. “The cell signal is way up. It’s beautiful!”