Atrion Leads a Channel-United Effort to Help Sandy Hook School

With the IT solution provider on point, the channel rallied just days after the tragedy at Sandy Hook Elementary, helping with everything from equipment to services and support. By Colleen Frye

It's often written that the SMB channel is about “relationships” and being a trusted provider. There is no greater example of that than the work that took place on behalf of the Sandy Hook Elementary School community in Newtown, Conn., in the aftermath of the tragedy there, led by their seven-year provider Atrion Networking Corp., an IT services company in Warwick, R.I.

Alison Rossi, executive partner at Atrion, and Dawn Soucy, solutions architect, were on the scene at Sandy Hook on Sunday morning, December 16, two days after the December 14, 2012 shooting, but Rossi had already communicated with her client on the day of the tragedy. She was also on the scene when the students returned to classes at Chalk Hill Middle School, a facility in Monroe, Conn., repurposed for them. The best part? Seeing how excited the kids were to get back to school. “I don't think anybody was expecting those kids to be excited to go to school. It was cool to watch their expressions,” Rossi says.

Rossi and her team, which also included Tricia D'Angelo, Ryan Doyle, Michelle Pope, and Susan Yarumin, spent the first three or four days at Chalk Hill, modifying the existing IT infrastructure for all the support personnel who came on-site, such as the FBI and the Red Cross. “They all had to get on the network and the crisis lines,” Rossi explains.

“Midweek we had a team come down [from Warwick]. We took equipment out of our inventory, our spares, that we brought on-site and configured so we could get a basic network up and running,” Rossi continues. “During the peak of the renovations there were about 500 people doing work on the building; we were this tiny piece of it.”

In the second phase of the work, Atrion needed to extend not only the Cisco phone system from the Newtown school system to the new environment, but Newtown's wide-area network as well. “The IT staff [for Newtown schools] entrusted us with this,” Rossi says. “We sat down on the 16th, looked those guys in the eye and said, 'We're going to find a way to take care of this.' They trusted us with design and deployment.” Soucy, working with Charter Communications, got a fiber link to the Newtown WAN in just three days.

Rossi solicited donations from Cisco and APC. Cisco allowed Atrion to purchase networking equipment, the phone system, and wireless access points and controllers at 100 percent discount. APC donated three enclosed racks. Atrion's friends and colleagues at Post University in Waterbury, Conn., were on stand-by for additional help or technology. Distributor Tech Data Corp. shipped the equipment from its warehouse free of charge.

“I have to constantly remind myself and our employees that it looks like we're shipping just boxes and products, but we're helping to solve challenges for partners and clients,” says Pete Peterson, senior vice president, U.S. sales at Tech Data. “We often don't see the end user utilize the product, but in this case it was front and center. The real heroes here are Atrion and Cisco; we played a small role.”

In addition, a longtime partner of Atrion's, HB Communications, an audio-visual provider in North Haven, Conn., arranged for every classroom to have a new smartboard. Atrion did the integration and trained all the users.

Asked what the biggest technical challenge was, Rossi responds, “That's the craziest part - we didn't run into any technical issues. When we would run into technical issues that would ordinarily be huge, there were contractors and volunteers that would make those issues go away. It was one of most efficient projects I've ever run, because there were so many people who wanted to help.”

Emotionally, Rossi says the hardest thing was to look at people she's known and cared about for a long time and see them struggling with what to do. “You're offering help and they don't know what to ask for; that was the hardest thing for me. We were further along in our grief process than they were. When we talked about Chalk Hill they weren't quite ready yet, so we had to pull them along and concentrate on this new facility for the kids.”

So far, all of Atrion's work has been donated. “We had volunteers and will continue to have volunteers,” says Rossi. “It's a killer drive [from headquarters in Warwick], and these guys will come down on a Saturday and Sunday and don't ask any questions.”

The staff at Atrion also rallied internally to recognize nine people Rossi calls the unsung heroes, the public safety communications team from Newtown who were on the other end of the 911 calls, dispatching for fire, ambulance, and police. Atrion staff gathered enough donations to buy them all filet mignon dinners.

And on the first day of school at Chalk Hill, Rossi sat in the main office and trained the staff on the phones, answering phones herself when others were tied up. She maintains that what the team has done in Connecticut is part of the company's core philosophy, which is to positively impact the lives of other people. “So this series of events is completely in line with what we do every day. We'd do it for anybody, regardless of if they were a client or not.”

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