Newspaper article THE JOURNAL RECORD

Going the Distance for Networks: Oklahoma Telecom Engineers Driven in Their Duties

Newspaper article THE JOURNAL RECORD

Going the Distance for Networks: Oklahoma Telecom Engineers Driven in Their Duties

Article excerpt

Guys like Kirk Harbison and Aaron Morris live and breathe networks.

Harbison's job as a network operations manager for U.S. Cellular is to make sure wireless telephone calls are as simple as a push of a button.

Harbison and his staff of eight technicians often spend hours a day driving in a car, sometimes for hundreds of miles, to test signal strength and call quality. They work in Tulsa, Wagoner and Okmulgee counties looking after switches as well as installing equipment for residential and business customers.

Harbison has been in the business since the mid-1980s, when he was installing small phone systems.

"Then, about 1987, we heard about cellular phone service," Harbison said.

The U.S. Cellular Tulsa team manages 215 sites across 15 counties stretching from Tulsa to Kansas, Missouri, Arkansas and south to McAlester. Other U.S. Cellular teams maintain the network from McAlester to the Texas border. Another team starts at Stroud and maintains everything to the west. Each technician oversees about 27 sites each. The Tulsa site is tucked away in a remote northeast Tulsa County site.

Morris is the local manager for Windstream Communications in Broken Arrow. Windstream provides Internet, telephone service and digital television packages to residential customers, businesses and government agencies.

Much of the time, the job is routine. But during what Harbison and Morris called weather events, their jobs are anything but routine.

This year has been a quiet year, however, Harbison said. The exception was the Joplin tornado.

"My team was a player in the cleanup effort," Harbison said.

U.S. Cellular equipment escaped damage in the deadly twister. But technicians spent days in southwest Missouri making sure remote generators were running and cleaning debris.

"We have several challenges there - mainly to make sure we have enough power," Harbison said.

Loss of power is the greatest fear engineers and technicians have during severe weather, both said.

"The biggest challenge is the weather," he said. "We need equipment to keep running. We are always preparing to go at a moment's notice. Keeping the network running at 100 percent 24/7 is what my team does. …

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