Taking community connection to a whole new level
(Above) Tony Hendrix and his dog, Canyon.
Tony Hendrix will never forget how his dog, Canyon, came to be part of his family. It’s a bitter-sweet memory – one forged in crisis, courage, and quick thinking amid the chaotic days that followed the “atmospheric river” that struck British Columbia last November.
The unprecedented rain storm prompted massive flooding and landslides across much of the central and southern province. Within hours, communities, large and small, were swamped, highways severed and tens of thousands of residents forced to seek emergency shelter on higher ground.
As operations manager of cable assurance with TELUS, Hendrix, who is based in 100 Mile House, swung into action, leading an expert team of 16 technicians, from linesmen and engineers to heavy-equipment operators and fibre and cable splicers, in a highly coordinated effort to restore connectivity to some of the hardest hit areas across the Central Interior as quickly as possible.
“The first week of the floods my team will probably tell you they got as much sleep as I did, which was not much,” Hendrix recalled. “We tried to get as much work done as we possibly could.”
(Above) Operations manager of cable assurance with TELUS, Tony Hendrix. PHOTO BY KELLY SINOSKI
TELUS is no stranger to stepping up during natural disasters. In fact, the company makes it a priority to sit at the strategy table with B.C.’s Wildfire Service during fire season. With climate change fuelling increasingly severe wildfires in B.C. and Alberta, the tech company has been steadily building specialized expertise to ensure the lines of communication remain safely open so that residents and emergency providers are connected to reliable networks when and where they are needed the most.
By necessity, that expertise has now expanded to seasonal flooding.
“Mother Earth is changing and we’re definitely starting to see a lot of this weather that may not have happened before,” Hendrix said. “We always have to be ready."
With most of the roads to the Central Interior cut off, and, in some cases, completely destroyed by the storm, Hendrix was able to hire a helicopter from Custom Helicopters in Kamloops to surveille damage across the region. They flew in a circle over the City of Merritt, Highway 5 and Highway 1.
The sights below were nothing short of shocking.
“The damage was catastrophic,” said Hendrix.
They had traveled over to Highway 8 near Spences Bridge when they got an emergency call on the radio that the RCMP and search-and-rescue teams could use some help. Almost at that exact moment, Hendrix spotted a large plume of smoke coming from a broken stretch of road in a canyon beneath them.
On the ground they found Kim Cardinal, her husband, Lorn Thibodeau, and off-duty RCMP Cpl. Brett Schmidt. Cardinal and Thibodeau had been stranded since the flood had swamped their four-acre property two days’ earlier. Schmidt found the couple while attempting to hike out to Spences Bridge.
“I was hysterical, I was just so happy,” Cardinal recalled of the rescue. “We were on the one strip of road that just managed to stay up (above the water).”
The couple’s two horses, mule and their cats and dogs, including a litter of weeks-old Caucasian Shepherd puppies, rounded out the party. Thibodeau had rescued the puppies from the porch just minutes before the house and surrounding farmland were swallowed up by the flood waters.
Hendrix and his crew immediately offered the trio water and food, as well as their seats in the helicopter. But the couple was adamant they didn’t want to leave their animals alone. In the end, Cardinal and the cats caught a lift on an RCMP helicopter later that night – but only after Hendrix promised to check in on Thibodeau until he and the animals could be brought to safety.
Hendrix kept his promise, dropping off care packages of food, water and generator fuel over the next few days. The RCMP and SPCA eventually airlifted Thibodeau out, along with the horses and dogs.
A year later, Cardinal still can’t believe their luck.
“Thank God TELUS was checking their lines,” she said. “Because TELUS was out there, they’re the ones that at least got me and Brett out. They were amazing. It’s just incredible what people do.”
(Above) Highway 8 near Spences Bridge.
Restoring critical connectivity
Hendrix is equally amazed by the good will, collaboration and determination he witnessed in the days following the flood – especially by members of his team, all of whom were tirelessly putting in 14 to 16-hour shifts, day after day. Cables were down everywhere, posing a safety risk. Of most concern, a major TELUS PureFibre transport cable - the backbone of phone and internet connection – lay severed in several sections under the crumpled Coquihalla Highway.
Everyone just got to work, driven by a shared desire to ensure residents had the ability to connect with the people and support services they needed to survive, and that emergency responders were able to stay safely in touch with their teams.
Teams from across the province and Alberta were called in to help, with everyone brainstorming solutions to connectivity challenges they’d never before experienced.
Along the Coquihalla, for instance, a team set up poles on either side of a river, stringing a rope between them to bring fibre-optics across. They fixed the cable on a small folding table set up beside the raging waterway.
“We had to be able to think outside the box and on our feet to get back online,” Hendrix said.
On Highway 8, which has only recently reopened to the public, technicians used copper cabling to “triage” a damaged fibre network and ensure there was at least dial-up phone service for area residents. In another “grand feat,” said Hendrix, the team built a 25-kilometres-long fibre line from the Nicomen Indian Band to Spences Bridge in just two weeks.
Over the next 11 months, Hendrix and his team would go on to replace 60 kilometres of damaged infrastructure with a mix of copper and fibre-optic connectivity. These repairs and enhancements will help protect Spences Bridge from future outages if another natural disaster were to occur.
The regional investment is part of TELUS’ overall commitment of $17.5 billion in world-leading network infrastructure, operations, and spectrum across B.C. over the next four years, and $70 billion overall across Canada through 2026.
Although last year's rainstorm and the resulting rebuild efforts were challenging, Hendrix admits there were some silver linings – one in particular.
That day on Highway 8, when he spotted Cardinal, Thibideau, Schmidt and the animals, down in the canyon, Hendrix came away with a tiny puppy stuffed inside his jacket. Now called Canyon, the dog has grown into a joyful ball of fur weighing more than 100 pounds and is a much-loved member of the Hendrix household.
Looking back, Hendrix said knew Canyon was coming home with him the moment he picked him up.
“I just couldn’t say no to this pup.”
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