I like those heroes who say they aren’t heroes. You know who I’m talking about?
Neil Armstrong is a good example. With his passing, there’s been a renewed conversation about the first man on the Moon. I listened to pundits talk about that day in 1969. I also did some sleuthing on my own—truth is Mr. Armstrong didn’t see himself as a hero. He said he was only doing his part.
I can say the same about Renee Lyon, a voice engineer working toward her CCIE at Cisco Gold Partner Presidio.
When I caught up with her, she didn’t quite get why I wanted to talk with her. She said she was only doing her part.
Don’t get me wrong. I’m not holding Renee up to space exploration or solving world hunger. What I can say is that when help was needed in a crisis, she didn’t hesitate. In my mind, that’s a true hero—famous or not.
What’d she do? She helped a whole lot of people who were trying to reach 911 emergency phone operators as a firestorm raced across the tiny Texas community of Bastrop County. It was early September in 2011 when a sparking electrical line set off the Bastrop County fire, the most destructive fire in the state’s history. It took two lives, destroyed 1,691 homes, and engulfed 34,000 acres.
The fire also put pressure on the county, who had an Information Line phone system with only two operators. The system’s four phone lines immediately became jammed, with overflow calls being routed to 911 Emergency dispatchers.
“The county’s 911 system was overwhelmed,” explained Renee. “Everyone was in a panic and the county needed a way to redirect the overflow calls to other available staff and give these two operators additional lines to take and put on hold information calls.”
To quickly resolve the problem, they reached out to their technology provider Presidio. Renee wasn’t their engineer, but took the call. The other potential problem was that Bastrop County technically wasn’t even a customer of Presidio’s.
“Their contract had expired with us,” said Renee. “But our company’s mantra has always been to build a relationship with the customer first—everything else comes after that. And whether they were a current customer or not didn’t even cross my mind. It was critical that the community could reach 911 in an emergency. And, clearly, this was a huge emergency.”
The media first reported that the 911 lines had been cut. However, that wasn’t the case. The system wasn’t configured to handle a massive number of calls. Renee quickly worked out a solution in her mind to adjust CallManager to add more phone lines. She immediately reached out to a Cisco TAC engineer to confirm her idea.
Like Renee, the TAC engineer didn’t question the lack of a contract for Services. Instead, he agreed with her solution and she was able to make the needed adjustments immediately, resolving the problem within an hour.
Meanwhile, the press office asked citizens to call 911 only if the fire was directly threatening their home, or if they had a medical or other life-threatening emergency. At the same time, the county, thanks to Renee, added an additional twelve lines to its system.
“The phone would ring sequentially in the office, rather than roll to the two dispatchers,” said Renee. “This created a process to field calls and route them as needed. They could also place calls on hold. It really helped clear up the bottleneck and make sure that emergency services personnel could help those most in need.”
The County was extremely grateful for Renee’s quick thinking. “It didn’t matter if it was a fire or some other emergency, my first thought was to help. We could work out the business details later.
“Turns out, we didn’t charge the country for our services that day,” continued Renee. “I was privileged to help, and they didn’t hesitate when I gently nudged them to sign a contract for Managed Services, including SMARTnet. And, over the past year, they’ve expanded their use of Cisco products and services.”
The best part? The sheriff of Bastrop County sent Renee a personal note of thanks. “I couldn’t believe it. It was so humbling. I was just doing my part to help.”
We all have a hero inside of us. We just don’t know when opportunity will knock. What’s your on-the-job hero moment?