In my role as General Manager of Alberta North at TELUS, providing service to Fort McMurray has always been a critical priority for me; on May 1, when the “candling” fire jumped across the Athabasca River and threatened our infrastructure, members across our entire organization instantly made it their priority too.
My fiancée and I were among the 88,000 people evacuated from the area. Fortunately, my house survived –albeit with heavy smoke damage – but, many others were not so lucky. While my fiancée took the lead in dealing with our affairs, I began to focus on keeping TELUS team members, customers and residents safe. After ensuring that our employees who regularly live and work in the city were evacuated safely, we quickly switched gears to ensure local residents were able to connect with worried loved ones.
To make that happen, more than 100 of my colleagues made the dangerous journey to Fort McMurray to help protect our infrastructure and refuel cell towers with nearly 60 employees sleeping on cots in our local TELUS office. My gratitude goes out to these heroes on the ground for keeping landline and cellular services running during such a difficult time.
In a state of emergency evacuation, not all residents fled the fires with fully charged mobile devices. To help these people reach their friends and family, we deployed 1,400 mobile devices and ten mobile charging stations into the area. Locals were provided with unlimited texting and calling from these devices, as well as free calling anywhere in Canada from payphones in the area.
For those evacuees fortunate enough to be dialing out from their own cellphones, we wanted to ensure they had one less thing to worry about. To alleviate any concern of additional charges on their upcoming TELUS bills, we immediately communicated that we would be waiving overages for the month of May, as well as crediting customers impacted by the evacuation with one month of home services.
Our team’s hard work in the field is underpinned by thousands of hours of planning and support by scores of team members behind the scenes. I am especially impressed by the TELUS Community Ambassadors – a group of current and retired TELUS team members who volunteered their time to help evacuees, like myself.
I moved to Fort McMurray nearly a year ago and I can’t begin to explain how unsettling it was to be uprooted from my new home in the face of a disaster. I’m touched that these Community Ambassadors packed and sent 1,200 emergency hygiene kits, along with TELUS stuffed animals, to provide a sense of comfort to families in the evacuation centres. Not only that, but these volunteers showed up to the Red Cross call centres to help respond to evacuee inquiries and locate missing loved ones.
While I’ve talked a lot about TELUS’ relief efforts thus far, I also want to express my gratitude to everyone else who rallied together to support Fort McMurray – including so many of you reading this. To date, our customers, team members and retirees have donated more than $1.25 million to raise much needed funds for relief efforts through our text-to-donate campaign with the Canadian Red Cross. I am moved by your generosity.
I also want to thank the Provincial and Regional Emergency Response teams for their unwavering dedication to the community. They have gone above and beyond to protect the city I live in and keep our customers connected when they needed it most. In recognition of their efforts, TELUS is donating $10,000 to the Fort McMurray United Way on their behalf. A special thanks goes to:
- Bob Couture – Director of Emergency Management
- Scott Long – Executive Director of Alberta Emergency Management
- Darby Allen – Fort McMurray Fire Chief
- Steve Carr – Deputy Director of Emergency Management,
- Robert Kirby – Director of Transit Services
As evacuees return home in the coming weeks, my team is now focused on ensuring full service is in place for our customers.
“We will rebuild telecommunications before residents return. We’re moving fast,” said Jason Macdonnell, Senior Vice-president, Customer Solutions Delivery. “It’s important to us that we get services back online for our customers after the devastating Fort McMurray blaze.”
While most of our core infrastructure survived relatively unscathed, our operations teams are now assessing every piece of equipment we have in the field, checking service to every individual home, ensuring essential services such as cell towers, fire halls, 911 operations centre, and airport, among others, are all operational. Our construction, cable repair, and network teams are repairing hundreds of metres of charred cables and wires, rebuilding a wireless tower shelter, along with countless other activities to support restoration efforts. With this determination, I am confident that every TELUS customer will have fully functional service when they return.
Fort Mac, please know that we’re in this together, for the long haul. I know that my colleagues are still working hard to find ways to help you rebuild. We’ll be with you every step of the way until your city feels like home again.