Behind The Scenes

ESPN’s ‘Winter Storm Nemo’ preparations underway

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ESPN is StormReady
Some of the advance planning that’s been undertaken:

• Several nearby hotel rooms reserved for essential personnel
• In-bound satellite traffic migrated to land lines to avoid signal loss in bad weather
• 25 parabolic dishes and 1 TORUS dish all equipped with electric and hot air de-icers to counter signal degradation. Dishes were “preheated” as storm approached.
• “Dish Farm” monitored by employees and snow brushes/rakes used for slush removal (see intrepid sole in undated picture below).[/box]

As “Winter Storm Nemo” bears down on the Northeast, people from Bangor to Brooklyn are preparing for what could be an historic weather event. (See right margin for Front Row’s “Nemo Cam”).

In Bristol, Conn., at ESPN’s headquarters, that preparation focuses on ensuring the network’s 24/7/365 operation — including television, radio and Internet — serves sports fans unimpeded. For the hundreds of employees responsible for making sure those platforms are churning, working from home is not an option.

A group of ESPN employees, headed by Jodi Markley, senior vice president, operations, is responsible for making the preemptory plans that will keep ESPN’s operations humming.

“There are many variables we have to consider when planning for a major storm, but safety of our employees is of the utmost importance,” said Markley on Thursday afternoon. “Our preparations are pretty much set, so now it’s a matter of waiting to see what comes. Fortunately, we have a Los Angeles-based facility we can lean on for assistance on our SportsCenter programs, allowing us to keep as many Bristol-based employees at home as possible.”

In fact, some employees already have been granted a “snow day,” as Friday’s 11 p.m., midnight and 1 a.m. ET SportsCenters will originate from Los Angeles and other duties on Friday and Saturday will also be shifted to the left coast.

Markley and her group arranged early travel options for remote staff working this weekend’s more than 50 live events to ensure their uninterrupted arrival.

Gerry Arrotti, senior director, safety and health, is responsible for ESPN’s on-campus facilities preparation. His pre-storm checklist probably looks a lot like those of most people who may be affected: filling the company vehicles’ fuel tanks and generators; stocking the campus cafeteria with enough food to be self-sufficient for 3-to-5 days; scheduling of essential security and facilities personnel; reserving nearby hotel rooms for employees who might need them and providing transportation to and from that hotel.

“Our team takes great pride in preparedness,” Arrotti said. “We always have facilities electricians, facilities maintenance personnel, and security associates on campus throughout any event or storm to assist and support our operations. In 2011, ESPN was recognized by the National Weather Service as a StormReady Community which means we are better prepared for severe weather because of our advanced planning, education and awareness. ESPN is the only business in the state of Connecticut certified as StormReady.”

ESPN staff work  to keep the satellite antennas free of snow and ice during a winter storm. (ESPN)
ESPN employees work to keep the satellite antennas free of snow and ice during a winter storm. (ESPN)
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