Employee Effort = Successful Obama Visit

A number of employees worked behind the scenes to ensure that President Obama’s campus visit flowed smoothly. Most of their efforts took place below the radar, not obvious to those who attended or watched the speech. While we can't name each individually, here are a few examples: electricians who calmed a frantic CNN producer by restoring power to the network’s disabled satellite truck; an audio-visual technician who camped out at Powell Township School in Big Bay to test the WiMAX connection for the demonstration;  an employee who had a Secret Service agent shadow him in the event he had to respond to a technical problem; and the telecommunications crew that beefed up the network infrastructure in the PEIF.

At about 11:30 a.m., less than two hours before Obama’s remarks, the generator in CNN’s satellite truck started acting up. Electricians Mark Miller and Tom Olson (Plant Operations) had been assigned to a holding area in the event their services were needed. They laugh in hindsight as they recount how a CNN producer approached them in a panic, worried about the signal quality and pleading desperately for a solution.


“The Secret Service told us to go ahead instead of waiting for an escort so we could help,” said Olson. “We had the CNN guys back their truck up to a southeast entrance to the Superior Dome. We have temporary power there that we use for events and shows, so we ran wire from that supply to their truck outside. Between their wire and ours, we had barely enough to reach. When they disconnected the satellite truck afterward, they were very appreciative and said it was a big deal for them because it was the first time they were broadcasting live on Egyptian TV. They figured the president would talk about what was going on there.”


Miller said, “The cold weather gave their generator fits. We knew the president had already landed at the airport when it happened, so we were under pressure to figure something out pretty fast. When I flip through the channels and land on CNN, I think of how their broadcast that day might not have been possible without our help.”


The electricians did have a couple days in advance of Obama’s visit to make sure electrical systems in the PEIF were “up to snuff” and to set up temporary power for the press.


NMU could not extend WiMAX to Big Bay over land because of the hilly terrain, so technicians put equipment on the Granite Island Light Station—owned by alumnus Scott Holman and strategically located about 10 miles offshore—and re-routed the signal. A WiMAX antenna on the Big Bay water tower distributes the signal to Powell Township School. Matt Herbig (Learning Resources) was stationed at the school Tuesday through Thursday.

“We had to run tests and make sure WiMAX was working as it should,” he said. “Then we brought out the equipment and got that up and running. We tested several locations in the building and several WiMAX CPE devices to get the best connection possible. I worked with the teacher to set up the room so she could show a video that could be seen on campus. I was in Big Bay myself, but our whole office was involved in the demonstration. It was pretty flawless. We didn’t have any hiccups.”

John Marra (Technical Services) also worked on preparations for the WiMAX interactive demonstration, but from campus, making sure there was enough bandwidth to and from Negaunee. He was in the PEIF for Obama’s speech, accompanied by a Secret Service agent.

“Nobody was allowed in or out of there and you couldn’t have a laptop," he said. "The agent shadowing me wore a pin that gave him full access to any part of the event. He would have been able to take me where I needed to go if something went wrong with the network. They also had a car running outside just in case. I wanted to test the whole shadow thing—‘Hey, can we run over to Subway so I can get something to eat?” Marra joked.

Don Salo (Telecommunications Services) and his crew, which included student employees, worked with the White House Communications Agency, Secret Service and AT&T to set up the network infrastructure and phone lines required for the event.

We set up primary and redundant network connections for the White House live stream,” he said. “That involved a lot of programming and network setup on John [Marra’s] part and a lot of wire installation on our part. We [NMU Telecom] provided all the phone lines for White House Communications Press.  We also installed Wi-Fi to cover Vandament Arena so people could use their smart phones. We set up multiple links back to the main campus network and put in switches, back-up power supplies and all sorts of things to keep everything running, even in a power outage. It was a wonderful group of people to work with and we all did what was necessary to get the job done.  It was great.”

Obama was in the area only a few hours, but several employees from across campus spent significantly longer preparing for his visit and helped to make it hugely successful. 



Copyright by the Board of Trustees of Northern Michigan University, 1401 Presque Isle Ave, Marquette, MI 49855 1-800-682-9797
Northern Michigan University is an equal opportunity/affirmative action institution.
Admissions questions | Technical questions | NMU Web Team
Updated: February 23, 2011

NMU logo