Stormy weather

It took a destructive tornado to make my colleagues realize I wasn't just an upstart kid wanting to instigate change for change's sake I graduated a Midwest college in 2002 with a bachelors degree in Telecommunication Engineering. I had been doing some contract work for the local CBS affiliate who offered me a full-time job heading-up the new IT department. They had never had an IT staff before and had always re

It took a destructive tornado to make my colleagues realize I wasn't just an upstart kid wanting to instigate change for change's sake

I graduated a Midwest college in 2002 with a bachelors degree in Telecommunication Engineering. I had been doing some contract work for the local CBS affiliate who offered me a full-time job heading-up the new IT department. They had never had an IT staff before and had always relied on the broadcast engineers to handle anything IT-related. But with technology taking a prominent place in broadcasting, I was their man (they said).

Because of our location, we used microwave dishes to transmit all of our phone lines from our satellite office, in a larger town nearby, out to the main studios in the middle of nowhere. This old system used a video subcarrier frequency to carry the phone service. The equipment was about 20 years old and the noise and consistency of the service was horrendous. And to add insult to injury, we were using dialup as our Internet source across these lines.

I had been on the job less than a month and had been making observations and recommending changes and upgrades to ensure network and communication systems integrity and stability. I was quick to learn, however, that I was the new kid on the block and that the broadcast engineers didn't necessarily care for me and saw me as a threat, which was not the case at all. Their attitudes became apparent one Wednesday as we sat in the weekly department meeting. I suggested that we replace the failing old equipment with a new and much more efficient setup. The new setup would allow for network connectivity between offices, high speed Internet, and better communications service all around (which is key in the TV business.). As we began to discuss this setup in the meeting, our GM and accounting manager (taking their cues from the chief engineer) immediately voiced opposition, stating that the existing system worked just fine and that there was no need to fix and spend money on something that wasn't broken. I was quick to point out that the manufacturer no longer existed and that in a pinch there would be no support and no spare parts in the event something should fail, leaving us without outside communications at the main studio. Because we were located in Tornado Alley, I also warned that our towers were located in the middle of a field and stretched 1100 feet to the sky, so we needed to install some lightning protection for the old equipment. I was outvoted.

About a week later, severe thunderstorms and tornadoes ripped through our area and lightning took out the old phone equipment. Of course it was my fault for not seeing it coming, and now my emergency to fix it. As I began the stressful task of assessing damages and getting quotes for new equipment, it became increasingly clear that a quick solution was not in sight. I was working 24 hours a day ordering equipment, finding tower climbers, arranging for temporary phone lines to be installed, and coordinating the system recovery of other equipment that had failed because of the lightning damage.

It took almost a month and the purchase of a completely new backhaul setup to return to full operational status. With a price tag close to $100,000, the new setup finally brought us to where we should have been all along. The station greatly and quickly benefited from the new equipment I had originally recommended and that it desperately needed. We also created some new policies in the aftermath. Management decided to change its stance on IT from reactive to proactive. And, in an effort to avoid a situation like this in the future, we began budgeting to keep extra communications equipment parts in stock and doing regular maintenance on the systems.

At the next department head meeting, during a quick debriefing of the events, I was asked if I had anything to add to the report. I grinned and couldn't resist a well-placed, "I told you so."

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