ImOn Damage

A severe weather event may have knocked ImOn down, but it came back stronger.

It was a normal day in August of last year when disaster struck Cedar Rapids, Iowa, and the areas surrounding it. A derecho, a line of fast-moving windstorms accompanied by severe thunderstorms, traveled 770 miles from South Dakota to western Ohio and Michigan. It saved its most powerful gusts for Cedar Rapids, where ImOn Communications is headquartered.

Maximum wind gusts in the derecho were estimated to be near 140mph in the areas surrounding Cedar Rapids. More than a week after the storm, ImOn was still working to determine the full scale of its impact on the network and on the homes of customers and employees.

“During the derecho, we basically went through two months without revenue coming in because there’s no power. There’s no service,” ImOn president and CEO Patrice Carroll says. “There were many days that it’s like OK, it doesn’t look good. There was so much bad news to share.”

ImOn’s teams estimated that almost 26 miles of fiber and coax network was downed by the storm, and approximately one-third of that was in need of repair or complete replacement. Each day, crews were split between making fixes to individual homes and repairing portions of the company’s network between affected neighborhoods and network hubs. By September 2, 85% of ImOn customers saw their service restored.

ImOn sent employees to help team members who had storm damage to help them remove trees and with some of the simpler repair work on their homes. Carroll thought it important to take that step because people couldn’t possibly focus on work or other tasks when they were experiencing trauma at home. Her employees stayed connected and came through the derecho together, and that gave them a confidence they’d never had before.

“There was almost a kind of a swagger in that—look, it destroyed what took us 14 years to build, we rebuilt it and our performance metrics on the network are better than they were before the derecho,” she says. “We run a very clean network and the team takes an incredible amount of pride in the quality of service we provide and having that destroyed was very hard on them, but being able in four-and-a-half-months to get our quality of service back up, I think that confidence is going to carry us a long way.”

The derecho struck when COVID-19 cases in the area were on the uptick, and ImOn continued to support efforts that brought broadband to those who most desperately needed it. It worked with the city of Dubuque to install a significant amount of free WiFi in low-income areas around town. The company also sponsored an event venue that transformed its space into an internet cafe. Teachers used the space as a place to connect with their students, and those who didn’t have a solid broadband connection at home used it as a place to work or complete school assignments.

ImOn completed those projects much faster than it would have before the pandemic, and Carroll would like that quicker pace to be something that sticks around many years into the future.

“We did stand up many things without the planning and consternation. It was like okay, what’s the minimum planning we need to do? Let’s get it up by Friday. In a communications company, you’re in some ways, by nature, risk averse. And I think this has really taught us or shifted our relationship with risk,” she says. “We can do this, and then when things don’t go right, we can manage through those and we’ll still come out all right.” 

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