Each year AT&T recognizes an elite group of employees who went above and beyond to deliver outstanding service, not just on the job but also in their communities. Introduced in 2007, the Whitacre Award is the highest award an employee at AT&T can receive. Named after our former Chairman and Chief Executive Officer, Ed Whitacre – this prestigious award recognizes these are employees who have stepped up in extreme situations to serve our customers.

Meet Our 2022 Whitacre Award Winners

When Hurricane Ian struck the SW coast of Florida in September 2022, the magnitude of devastation was unimaginable. After 150+ MPH winds and a 12+ foot storm surge, Ian created widespread flooding and extensive structural damage. Thousands were left without food, shelter, or supplies, with no way to call for help. Our response teams kicked into action to restore connectivity and support to the community.

Florida Response Team

“Living near the coast is definitely a blessing, but living in Florida, whether it’s near the coast or any part of Florida, you always have to be cautious,” warns Jason Hart, Senior Sales Program Exec. Manager.

Florida Response team poses together in AT&T shirtsIn the case of any natural disaster, residents, officials, and response teams will be the first to tell you – preparedness is key. As Florida natives and AT&T team members, Jason, Tamie Lanigan, and Andrew Wagner are no strangers to the diligence it takes to be ready when the inevitable storm sets its sights on your hometown.

“We have playbooks that we look at every year to make sure that we’re up to date on all of our contacts,” said Tamie, Real Estate Operations Area Manager. “We also reach out to the stores to make that they have what they need for hurricane supplies in case they have to close quickly.”

“We put a lot of effort into our staging and preparation,” added Jason.

For the retail store teams in Florida, business as usual includes keeping their teams prepared, both inside and outside of work. Our teams annually stage generators, water, batteries, and many key components that our stores would need to deploy support to our employees and communities. They also manage a list of over 100+ volunteers so that when an event occurs, they’re ready to help.

“First and foremost, we made sure our employees had everything they needed to secure their friends and family,” said Area Retail Sales Manager, Andrew, “So they were able to come to work and have that peace of mind and be able to serve their communities.”

When Ian reached SW Florida, the combined efforts were crucial to navigating through the storm and making recovery as efficient as possible in the aftermath. Each team took on their roles and worked day and night to open stores as soon as possible to provide service to our customers. Whether it was providing lodging, water, gas, and connectivity hotspots, or securing volunteer lodging, coordinating the distribution of equipment, and seeking additional support for clean-up efforts.

Team members working at a disaster response trailer“Andrew, Tamie, and I all came together to make sure that we had a great response effort,” Jason said.

While support efforts on the ground were underway, Senior RAN Design Engineer, Chris Dinges, was working tirelessly to get services back online with an eye in the sky. He used best practices from past Florida storm events to plan an orchestrated drone survey of the area following landfall. Chris was able to target the most critical sites immediately from the sky, rather than relying on ground teams to sweep the area. This was crucial for both National and local FirstNet® response teams.

Senior Application Sales Manager, MOB FirstNet, Rob Lavielle, helped tie it all together by bridging the efforts of between the different organizations. He worked 12 hours a day, seven days a week, for three weeks following landfall to oversee essential FirstNet support; identifying and prioritizing critical infrastructure. Rob personally rode into impacted areas to assess the need and deliver FirstNet devices to customers.

“When you roll in with a FirstNet vehicle,” he said,” first responders are excited to see us because they also understand the impact of communications. We provide that to them.”

This was no different, leveraging our AT&T technology, Chris and Rob’s contributions helped restore service to the majority of the affected area within days, getting local AT&T customers connected to everything they needed to start to rebuild. The overall efforts of this local response team, there’s no doubt they deserve this recognition.

“We all are just doing our jobs and it’s something we do to step up for the company,” Tamie added.

FirstNet Hurricane Ian Response Team

Mobile response unitBefore the storm even reached shore, FirstNet Lead Market Development Managers and Response Operations Group team members, Shannon Browning and Mark Durr, were already onsite preparing for what was to come.

“When I got the call that we were going to deploy into the field,” Shannon said, “As a Section Chief, I immediately started calling my partners on the AT&T Network Disaster Recovery team. We went to the warehouse, and we started to assess personnel, equipment, locations, and start and end points.”

“Our role was to make sure that all public safety and first responders had coverage for all search and rescue operations,” Mark added.

But when the storm finally hit, new challenges arose. The causeways to both Sanibel and Pine Islands were washed out and uncrossable, making access to the islands impassable by land. With the majority of our equipment being too heavy to cross by boat, Shannon and his team worked with local authorities to find other ways to reach the islands, including help from military helicopters. The island’s Fire Chief and his wife found access to trucks and abandoned golf carts so the team could survey the island and get equipment to key locations to restore service. This required trenching through flood waters full of unseeable dangers, such as hungry saltwater crocodiles and treacherous landscaping. After deploying our FirstNet amphibious vehicle and our Compact Rapid Deployable, Shannon was able to get the first forms of communication service activated on the island. Within minutes residents were able to connect with family, friends, and neighbors.

“Over the course of a week, Mark and Shannon served as the tip of the spear in AT&T’s response to hurricane Ian. Without their efforts, public safety and the civilians they protected, would have been hobbled. I could not recommend these two heroes more highly for this prestigious award.”
– Jim Bugel, President – FirstNet, AT&T

While Shannon’s team served the islands, Mark used his military background and skills to run logistics mainland. In 72 hours, Mark covered almost 3,000 miles deploying solutions to the hard-hit areas. He embedded with the Sheriff’s office to support critical communications by stationing CRDs, creating dispatch centers, and building customer communication solutions. Even in heartbreaking scenarios, Mark was able to help reunite families with deceased relatives through a local mortuary. He also worked with the State of Florida EOC to restore critical communications to keep Governor Desantis and President Biden informed.

Winning as One

The Whitacre Award winners posing at the award ceremonyWhile Hurricane Ian left the Florida Gulf Coast and its communities devastated, our Whitacre Award honorees were humbly nonchalant about their role in restoring lifesaving services and connecting those in need when they needed it the most.

“To be honored and nominated by your peers for the job that you and your team do every day, is very humbling,” said Rob.

“It’s such an honor,” added Andrew, “I’m grateful for the recognition of my peers and my leadership.”

“I just thank AT&T for having the courage to send us out there and trust that we can get it done,” Shannon added, “This was only successful because we worked together to accomplish the mission.”

Mark echoed the importance of teamwork, “One person can move a pencil. Many can move a mountain.”

Learn More about how our team supports disaster recovery

FirstNet and the FirstNet logo are registered trademarks and service marks of the First Responder Network Authority. All other marks are the property of their respective owners.