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CENIC Honors AT&T, GeoLinks, and CENIC NOC for Outstanding California Wildfire Response


CENIC announces recipients of 2019 Christine Haska Distinguished Service Award

La Mirada, CA & Berkeley, CA -- February 28, 2019 -- In recognition of their immediate and effective response to ensure emergency connectivity to communities and organizations affected by catastrophic wildfires, AT&T, GeoLinks, and CENIC’s Network Operations Center are being recognized with CENIC’s 2019 Christine Haska Distinguished Service Award, which honors individuals who have provided extraordinary leadership and service to the CENIC community.

Project leaders being recognized are: Ryan Adams, GeoLinks; Skyler Ditchfield, GeoLinks; Rhonda Lutz, AT&T; Cheryl Santiel, AT&T; and Stanley Han, CENIC.

When wildfires struck, AT&T, GeoLinks, and CENIC quickly engaged with affected communities to troubleshoot circuit failures, deploy equipment, repair network sites, and provide connectivity for essential emergency services. As a result, anchor institutions, which often serve as communication hubs for first responders and meeting places for area residents during a disaster, were able to maintain Internet connectivity. Evacuated residents were able to contact loved ones and let them know they were safe. People were able to send and receive critical emergency alerts, access email and the Internet, and get vital information immediately.

Thanks to AT&T and CENIC’s Network Operations Center, Pepperdine University maintained its high-capacity connection and maximum bandwidth during the deadly and destructive Woolsey wildfire, and was able to keep communication lines open between students, parents, staff, and emergency personnel on and off campus. Fire scorched the area all around the school, came right up to the edge of campus, and burned Pepperdine’s primary fiber network connection.

“A lot of lines went down,” said Pepperdine Information Technology Director Rita Schnepp. “Although our routing protocols automatically redirected traffic and kept us connected, CENIC, AT&T, and Pepperdine staff still had to make quick adjustments to make the most use out of our remaining bandwidth during the disaster. It happened very fast. I was impressed.”

When the university’s primary network connection was lost, an alarm immediately notified network engineers in CENIC’s NOC, which is available to assist network members 24 hours a day, 7 days a week. NOC engineers contacted AT&T, and the company increased Pepperdine’s capacity free of charge from 100 Mbps to 850 Mbps within about three hours. Normally, it takes about 60 days to upgrade a circuit. In its response to Pepperdine’s urgent needs during the wildfires, Schnepp said AT&T and CENIC’s NOC showed their capacity to react quickly to support essential services in real time. “That’s agility,” she noted.

In nearby Oxnard, GeoLinks deployed free temporary microwave circuits to provide Internet access to the main library and two branch sites. Statewide, AT&T’s Network and Disaster Recovery team also deployed portable cell sites and recovery equipment. Meanwhile, CENIC offered to leverage its relationships with ISPs, provide temporary communications links, and donate decommissioned hardware.

“The commitment shown by these organizations and their talented staff was integral to providing critical Internet access that helped affected communities respond and recover during this catastrophic emergency,” said CENIC President and CEO Louis Fox. “We thank them for their dedication to this important work at such a critical moment for these individuals and institutions.”

Established in 2018, the CENIC Christine Haska Distinguished Service Award honors individuals who have provided extraordinary leadership and service to the CENIC community and its partners. The award is named in honor of Dr. Christine Haska (1951-2017), a treasured member of the CENIC community with an exuberant personality, boundless energy, and wide-ranging interests. She brought foresight, grace, and an innovative spirit to all her work, and remains an inspiration to colleagues working in research and education institutions across the nation. Haska had a long career in higher education and in 2002 joined the Naval Postgraduate School (NPS) in Monterey, California, where she served as vice president of information resources and chief information officer. She played a vital role in establishing both NPS and the Defense Language Institute Foreign Language Center as CENIC members. Retiring from NPS in 2013, Haska went on to successfully lead an initiative to connect the major health care institutions in Monterey to the CENIC network.

The CENIC Innovations in Networking Awards are presented each year at CENIC’s annual conference to highlight exemplary people, projects, and organizations that leverage high-bandwidth networking. The CENIC conference will be held March 18 – 20, 2019, in San Diego, California. Learn more and register to attend.

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