GCI coordinates with local communities to ensure field work is done safely

In mid-April, damage to the fiber optic cable between the microwave tower on Pilcher Mountain and the community of Marshall threatened to limit connectivity to the Western Alaska village.

As an essential services provider, GCI immediately organized a crew and, following a new, strict safety protocol, prepared to visit Marshall and repair the fiber. But before embarking on any travel, GCI reached out to local community leaders to discuss any concerns and to ensure that GCI techs followed all local health and safety protocols.

Once on the ground, the GCI crew closely coordinated with local leaders to ensure they remained informed throughout the project until they could repair the fiber and keep the community connected.

This is just one example of the necessary, on-the-ground field work GCI must do to keep Alaskans connected. As a provider of essential services, GCI and other telecommunication providers are permitted to travel for the purpose of installing, repairing or maintaining critical infrastructure. Of course, during a pandemic, many people are concerned about travel in and out of their community, even if it is considered essential. That’s why, in addition to following all the state and local requirements when we have to travel for necessary field work, we have developed additional intrastate travel procedures to provide an extra layer of protection for our employees and the communities requiring GCI services.

Before traveling to rural or remote communities around the state, I or another team member personally reach out to local leadership to ensure our presence will be welcome and we are aware of any special community concerns or requirements. Some of the communities we’ve traveled to have their own city ordinances or rules enforced by tribal governments.

In some communities, there may be multiple requirements from different tribal entities. We know that communities have adopted strict rules to protect their people and we respect each community’s intention and authority to develop their own guidance for visitors. Because many communities have developed their own unique set of guidelines, we quickly realized a generic travel policy would not meet the needs of each community we need to visit. So, before we travel, we reach out to local government and tribal leaders. We listen to their concerns and ensure we fully understand their rules before we visit.

Once we have connected with city and tribal leaders and received approval to travel to a community, we follow GCI’s COVID-19 health and safety protocols—including avoiding contact with community members, limiting our visits to GCI facilities where we can and wearing appropriate personal protective equipment (PPE). In all cases, our traveling field service technicians must carry proper PPE such as masks, gloves, safety glasses and first aid kit, complete a health checklist to confirm that they haven’t traveled out-of-state, haven’t been in contact with a known or suspected case of COVID-19, and are not exhibiting any symptoms of illness.

At GCI, we care about keeping our neighbors connected, especially now when more and more Alaskans are relying on our service for work and school purposes. We care about the health and safety of every Alaskan and that’s why we’re committed to traveling for projects that keep our network strong and to make sure making sure we’re doing it in the safest way possible. There have been no reported issues from any of our intrastate travel to date. And just like repairing a remote stretch of fiber optic cable near Marshall, a lot of good has come from the necessary, on-the-ground work our field services employees have completed.

To the communities we have coordinated with during this stressful time, I would like to extend my sincere gratitude for your help and cooperation. For those communities we may need to visit in the future, please know we are taking every precaution, and we are in close contact with the leaders you trust to keep you safe and connected. If you have any questions or concerns about GCI’s need to travel to your community, I am just an email or phone call away.

Jenifer Nelson, GCI Senior Manager of Corporate Communications and Community Engagement

Anchorage, AK

Remembering the 1960s

The San Andreas Fault up the west coast through southcentral Alaska and on to Eastern Asia coast is an unpredictable and quirky one with predictions of some of California falling into the ocean. The same unpredictability is the same for Yellowstone National Park in Wyoming. All parts of the world fall into this category meaning no safe zone can be stated.

On the chartered Greyhound bus for Alaskan students from Seattle to Haskell Institute at Lawrence, KS, the bus would at times stop at Yellowstone for the students back in 1961-63 for a sightseeing wonder view of the geysers and wildlife then on to the continuation of the three-day three-night journey. We were young – 16, 17, 18, and took the riding stress easily – two busloads of Alaskan Native students.

Back in 2013 I looked on the map and picked Medford, OR as a destination to get away from the pending earthquake which did not happen until Dec. 2018 and ended up at the White City veteran’s domiciliary from where I met some local people including Chief Don Gentry and his wife Irene at the Klamath Tribe reservation at Chiloquin. I then continued on to Mt. Pleasant, MI in 2015 where I have been for the last five years.

It’s called retirement after traveling around my entire life now with a home courtesy of the bank with the same for transportation. Thanks to my older brother Phillip Sr. for driving me to Michigan then Oregon back in 2015.

Gilbert Keywehak

Mt. Pleasant, MI

Former Educator Hurts Student Opportunity

I want Alaska to thrive. That’s why I teach high school. I am a lucky individual who gets to work with the next wave of entrepreneurs, chefs, carpenters, and fishermen, just to name a few. I dedicate my waking hours to ensure Alaskan students have the skills needed to live happy, healthy, productive lives. Investing in students helps Alaska long term; student success equals Alaska’s success. However, due to the constant cuts and politicking from a former educator, Alaska’s success is in jeopardy.

Shockingly, Governor Dunleavy was a classroom teacher, principal, superintendent, and school board member. I’m baffled by his actions, which systematically work against student success, and by extension, the success of our state. Governor Dunleavy promised to reform education, stating “it is at the top of his ‘to do.’” Evidently to him, that means cutting K-12 public education and outsourcing teacher’s jobs to Florida in the midst of a pandemic.

Despite Alaskans’ overwhelming opposition to these drastic measures, he plowed forward with cuts. Cutting education funding – which always results in disruptive staff layoffs – isn’t a recipe for student success. Outsourcing to Florida isn’t how we build a thriving Alaska.

The data is clear: class size matters. Class sizes across Alaska are out of control. Teachers like me are expected to teach 30-35 high school students in one class. High school teachers usually teach five class periods… we can do the math.

Ask any teacher you know; with sizes this large, we are unable to give students the time and feedback they require to succeed. High school teachers are simply, and understandably, overwhelmed. Giving accurate feedback on assignments, teaching students critical thinking, or the how and why (rather than rote memorization), takes time and attention. Any high school teacher with this workload struggles to perform his/her job as it should be done. Early childhood and elementary have similar experiences of crowded classes. I doubt Governor Dunleavy has recently imagined a room full of 30 kindergarten students.

No two students are the same. Rural, road system, and urban students have different needs. In Anchorage, something as simple as a 20 minute drive down the road to a different neighborhood will greatly affect a student’s needs. The only way we can rise to the challenge of this moment and build a better Alaska is to provide adequate funding and support to teachers so they can perform their jobs. At current levels, student needs and safety remain at risk.

Lastly, layoffs aren’t limited to teachers. A thriving school maintains a full support staff: teaching assistants, clerical workers, counselors, janitors, maintenance workers, IT workers, cafeteria workers and security. Eliminating these positions means that teachers are forced to assume new roles on top of their core responsibilities – they become mental health counselors, security staff, or another necessary role.

It baffles me how Mike Dunleavy, who claims to understand student safety and the importance of reasonable class sizes can repeatedly advocate for less funding to our students.

The right to recall has never proved more important. We don’t need to stand by, powerlessly watching Dunleavy weaken Alaska’s investment in our future–our students. If you have not already signed the recall petition in 2020, visit www. recalldunleavy.org to request your free petition in the mail. We need 40,000 signatures to pose one critical question to Alaskans: shall Governor Michael Dunleavy be recalled? My vote will be, “yes.” For Alaska to thrive, our students must thrive, and for our students to thrive, we need to remove Mike Dunleavy from office.

Derek Reed, High School English Teacher

Anchorage, Alaska

Protecting Those Who Protect Us – COVID-19 Testing

Now that a third correctional facility, the Anchorage Correctional Center, has a confirmed COVID-19 case, it is more imperative than ever that everything be done to protect Correctional Officers and other first responders who risk their lives, and the lives of their families, protecting all Alaskans during this state and national health emergency.

The DOC should follow the lead of other states by drastically increasing COVID-19 testing within correctional facilities, yet the DOC declined COVID-19 testing even when it was offered for free to everyone at Anvil Mountain Correctional Center by the Norton Sound Health Corporation.

The DOC still does not know how a Goose Creek Correctional Center inmate, who has been incarcerated for many years, tested positive for COVID-19.

Every DOC staff member and inmate should be given the opportunity to get tested. Every new inmate entering an Alaska correctional facility should be tested and quarantined until the test comes back negative.

“We can only deal with the virus effectively if we know the extent of the spread of COVID-19 within our facilities. We understand the State does not desire to see an increase in diagnosed cases, but now is not the time to put politics before the lives of Officers and their families.” – Sergeant Randy McLellan, President of the Alaska Correctional Officers Association, has 22 years’ experience working as a Law Enforcement Officer in Alaska’s correctional facilities.

The State of Alaska was awarded $3.6 million from the Federal Coronavirus Emergency Supplemental Funding (CESF) program to support Law Enforcement during this COVID-19 pandemic. These funds should be used to support Correctional Officers, make appropriate protective equipment available, and conduct widespread COVID-19 testing of inmates within Alaska correctional system.

None of this money was specifically allocated to the Department of Corrections even though the DOC cannot successfully adhere to all the Governor’s COVID-19 mandates and social distancing is simply not possible within a correctional facility.

Aware of the risks, Correctional Officers continue to perform their duty with dedication and courage, even in facilities with confirmed cases of COVID-19. Due to the dangers COVID-19 presents, the DOC determined that inmate workers deserved a pay increase, yet Correctional Officers, who put their lives on the line to keep Alaskans safe, have been denied any COVID-19 hazard pay compensation. That the DOC would choose to recognize those incarcerated for committing crimes against Alaskans and not Correctional Officers working inside those same facilities is extremely disappointing.

“We urge the State to recognize the inappropriateness of this inequity especially considering the State has already chosen to exclude Correctional Officers and other first responders from the Emergency Family Medical Leave Expansion Act, which would have otherwise allowed first responders to take leave for the care of their children. The State knows that Correctional Officers and their families are being exposed to this highly contagious virus at work, jeopardizing their lives and the lives of their loved ones.” – Sergeant Randy McLellan, President of the Alaska Correctional Officers Association.

Alaska Correctional Officers Association

Anchorage, AK

Example: 9075434113