In May 2017, an epic landslide buried California's scenic Highway 1 in Big Sur. The disaster completely isolated the area with little to no wireless service. Our team spent weeks restoring service, dodging continuing mud and rock slides.

Network services manager Jon Mohnike, splicing technicians Kevin Dahlen and Matthew Jacobs, and Network Operations Center manager Jason Amoss worked together to help the isolated area.

Coming to the aid of stranded customers

Heavy storms took out a bridge in the north. That was followed by a mudslide that took out everything in its path, including our cable and poles, blocking access from the south. The area was deemed unpassable by the California Department of Transportation (Caltrans).

The isolated area included a school, a U.S. Forest Service office, a fire station, campgrounds, ATMs and many homes. Our customers had no power or communication services. Caltrans gave our techs access to a narrow, winding 4-wheel-drive road up and over the mountains – a 3-hour drive each way. They escorted us in at 7 a.m. and out at 7 p.m. to do our repairs.

"They just did their job." Jon said. "It was a more dangerous one. We were planning to replace 1,100 feet of cable. Luckily, work was delayed that day and our techs weren’t there when the mountain came down. The landslide created 18 acres of new coastline at once. We lost a lot of poles."

Game plan collaboration

Jon reached out to seek advice on a game plan. "I have a desire to fix things myself, but this was bigger than me."

The group put their heads together, partnering with many specialized company teams. They learned the road was not going to reopen for months, if not a year.

"We came up with a solution of placing 600 feet of cable through a storm drain under a road," Jon said. "Then we spliced it into existing cable that had many faults in it. Kevin and Matt repaired all of the faults along Highway 1."

Normally this highway is constant traffic with tourists visiting. It's difficult to stop and repair cable faults. The road closure gave them an opportunity they have not had in years to make repairs.

During their repairs, Occupational Health and Safety Administration (OSHA) required a spotter for falling rocks. If the team heard an air horn, they looked at the spotter to see which way to run. Some of the rocks were the size of small cars.

"I can remember times I would hide behind a tree," Kevin said. "We were working off the grid without a net. It was fun, exciting, dangerous, but very rewarding."

Working under pressure…. and falling rocks

A few weeks later, all our services were up and running.

"It was heroic to get our customers back up with service," Jon said. "It was a sense of accomplishment. The fear and safety portions were nerve-racking, but it was the right thing to do. It was worthwhile and we'd do it again."

Kevin and Matt were known throughout the small community for all of their hard work.

Customers in the area were ecstatic to be able to contact emergency services if needed. And many said their service was even better than before the slide.

The highway still isn't open, but we have a temporary microwave site in the area.