Local Indigenous technology company helps address power and internet access shortages
During recent floods in Jean Marie River
September 26, 2021
In a year where the pandemic illustrated the need for digital communications in rural communities, Jean Marie River lost those essential connections during an emergency this Spring.
(Above) Fabian, L. (2021). Lyle Fabian and K’atlotech’s base camp in Jean Marie River. Photo courtesy of Lyle Fabian, 2021.
Morning of the Flood
When the community of 77 people flooded on Tuesday, May 12, 2021 they lost Internet and electrical power for three days. Luckily, Lyle Fabian from Katlo’tech Communications in Yellowknife was available to help.
Three years ago, Lyle worked with the community to install Wireless Access Points (WAPs) to distribute internet in the community from a connection provided by Northwestel. Since then Lyle has been involved in maintaining the system – and has always appreciated the value of being prepared — “whether it’s flooding, fire, tornadoes, or whatever it is,” he says.
The day of the flood Lyle travelled to the community. After surveying the damage, he contacted the Internet service provider. Northwestel made it a priority to send out a technician to ensure the community had a communications link. To keep connections intact, Northwestel was powering their cell tower by flying in daily fuel by helicopter to power a generator.
Next, Lyle scheduled a time to return to the community to fix the local wireless equipment. Due to severe flood damage, the Band office set up in the youth center and worked from a temporary work trailer loaned by the local MLA, Rocky Simpson. Since the youth centre was the only building with an Internet connection, Lyle developed a plan to create a wireless access point to share that connection with people working in the new work trailer.
When he arrived on Tuesday afternoon, Lyle learned that power still hadn’t been connected to the work trailer. Since the community had lost its normal power source, they were using backup generators that had damaged the Internet routers. Northwestel’s tower had been impacted by the flooding, but since it rests on high enough ground it was not physically damaged. Lyle also needed to find power to realign the access points to redistribute internet from the tower across the community.
Lyle fixed the system by setting up solar panels to power up the wireless system and realigned the local network’s Wireless Access Points (WAPs).
“So, (before I) drove back to Yellowknife, I said all you have to do when you get power to the trailer is plug (the power back) in, and the access points will carry Internet from the youth centre to the youth trailer.”
That Friday, Internet was fully restored in the community through the solar-powered WAPs.
(Above) Fabian, L. (2021). Redoing the CAT6 cabling in the band office. Photo courtesy of Lyle Fabian, 2021.
After the Flood - Current condition
More than three communities in the NWT flooded in the spring of 2021. Families, communities, households, and organization offices are still reviewing and recovering from the damage.
As of September 2021, Tthets'ek'ehdeli First Nation’s band office is still being repaired. The walls, among other parts of the building, are being replaced. Only one department (finance) was affected, as it was on the main floor – Lyle fished out the hard-drives housing the band’s important financial data from under water.
Lyle recovered the hard-drives and saved the data stored on them. He restored the drives by removing the first solid state drive from the workstation, and setting the drive in a bag of rice for a day. After that, he then grabbed the second drive, “took the new image drive, plugged it into a new computer that I built for them, powered it on, walked it back to the hotel room — and said ‘Your finance is back up.’”
To recover the community Internet, Lyle then brought a router to Fort Providence — where the community was having an assembly — and dropped it off with the Chief. That gave Lyle remote access to set up the router from his office in Yellowknife.
“Challenges are there, but not challenges that are insurmountable,” says Lyle.
Lessons Learned – Recovery and Emergency Preparation
- Have a backup plan (Prepare for fire, flood and even tornadoes)
- Keep an insurance-ready record of your valuables and assets
- Conduct a community inventory of skills within the Band office administration
- Have reliable back-up power (to ensure there are no brownouts damaging the router)
- Have a back-up blueprint in a weatherproof container (and keep your electronic blueprints, IT binders, and schematics in that plan)
- Have back-up digital copies of your electronic files (LOCKSS – Lots of Copies Keeps Stuff Safe; or 321: Three copies, two in a physical space and one in digital space)
- Keep electronics (and valuables) elevated above waist height
- Put water-damaged technologies immediately in a bag of dry rice immediately and let sit for a day
- Work with local politicians to ensure delivery of service during an emergency