Channel Partners Help Neighbors, Customers and Strangers As Wildfires Devastate Northern California

Kate Heard-Zeryny, an executive with master agent Sandler Partners, has seen first-hand the toll the California wildfires are taking on her friends and business colleagues.

"Many of our clients [and] business partners' buildings have burnt to the ground and are desperately needing emergency services," said Heard-Zeryny, regional vice president at Sandler Partners, Hermosa Beach, Calif.

The raging wildfires that have been burning since October 8 in California have claimed the lives of 42 people with about 50 still missing. The state's insurance commissioner estimates that insured losses will top $1.045 billion. FEMA has declared eight entire counties as disaster zones. At least four major fires are still burning as of this writing, and some 15,000 people remain evacuated.

Carriers with infrastructure in the area, meanwhile, have been "as responsive as they can be," said Heard-Zeryny, who lives in the Novato area in Northern California. She said that service providers with a footprint in the region can't get into the affected areas to repair facilities, as some locations are still considered mandatory evacuation zones.

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Another Sandler Partners employee, Tiffany Bagala, works from her home in Santa Rosa as the director of sales for the master agent. She and her family were evacuated for a time, but have since returned. A number of the sub-agent partners she works with, however, were among the estimated 5,450 residential home losses reported by insurance companies in the state.

Bagala, a board member for the Volunteer Center of Sonoma County, is one of many channel partners and executives stepping up to helping the community. She's helping the local school districts by getting new computers or tablets to teachers and students that lost everything in the fires.

"It's really been amazing to see the community rally together, supporting one another," she said.

Petaluma, Calif.-based master agent Intelisys, located within Sonoma County, has been one of the most active companies involved in the relief effort since the fires began burning on Oct. 8.

Roughly half of the company's employees live in the areas that the fires torched, including the Santa Rosa and Kenwood areas.

Andrew Pryfogle, senior vice president of cloud transformation for Intelisys, and his family live in Glen Ellen, California. Despite evacuating their home early last week and not being allowed back in yet, the Pryfogle's home is still standing.

Pryfogle and his wife, Susie, own two food trucks – the Tri-Tip Trolleys – that have been serving first responders with free food since last week. Pryfogle told CRN that the two trolleys have fed more than 3,000 firefighters and first responders since Monday, Oct. 9.

"It's been amazing. People have donated and delivered food to us. It's been really neat to see the hearts of people come out in a crisis like this," he said.

Intelisys' Supplier Manager Danielle DeCosta and Senior Administrative Coordinator Courtney Morrow have been busy coordinating donations out of the master agent's Petaluma office.

"Our sales and solutions engineering teams pitched in with monetary donations for immediate needs for evacuation shelters, firefighters, and first responders. We are continuing to make runs almost every day and continuing to stay in contact with the fire department on their needs as they change each day," according to Jessica Maria, Intelisys' marketing communications manager.

Maria and her family were closing on their first home in the area, a process that is now on hold. "By 3 p.m. [on Monday, Oct. 9] I'd lost count of the number of friends and acquaintances whose homes had been lost," she said.

Maria has been coordinating donations coming in from the California cities of Redding and Sacramento, and as far away as the East Coast, from her parent's home in Santa Rosa, where she and her family have been since evacuating their home last week.

The master agent has so far supplied thousands of dollars worth of new and gently used clothes, N95 masks, and other non-perishable food items such as diapers, furniture, and gift cards to local evacuation shelters.

IT distributor ScanSource, which purchased Intelisys last year, is matching any employee contributions dollar for dollar up to $100,000.

Getting solution provider businesses and their end customers back up and running has been no easy task. Cellular towers in certain locations have melted, rendering 4G unreliable at best. Some fiber and copper infrastructure also must be re-laid and re-provisioned, making it impossible for some businesses to get back online to get work done at all.

By any measure, the wildfires have been unprecedented; the damage can be seen from space. The California Governor's Office of Emergency Services estimates that there are more than 10,000 firefighters and nearly 266 law enforcement personnel working the deadly fires. The firefighting efforts so far have involved more than 1,000 fire engines, over 30 air tankers, and 73 helicopters.

For local solution provider Napa Valley Networks, the focus is on getting customers back to business now that they are allowed back onto their properties. Julie Neely, president and founding partner at Napa Valley Networks said her team is helping one winery customer and the Calistoga School District get back up and running this week.

"We've been going out to businesses, powering everything back up and making sure everything is working properly," she said. "Pretty much, the networks and the infrastructure we maintain was solid, and a lot came back on its own as soon as power was restored."

Some customers, however, chose to take their servers offsite. This resulted in a disk failure for one customer when the servers were brought back on-premises.

Napa Valley Networks is a Dell partner, and the vendor is helping solution providers by expediting all shipments of new and replacement networking gear to Northern California.

"[Dell] has been really helpful to us, and we have new servers coming in for that client," Neely said.

The fires have invariably led to conversations about technology, especially disaster recovery solutions, and what can make a difference during a disaster, Intelisys' Pryfogle said.

"Overall, this is unprecedented. We've never had fires like this in this area in my lifetime. It's the worst that I've seen," he said.

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Napa Valley Networks' Neely said that most of her employees were evacuated from their homes in the Napa area last week. Her local business customers, about half of which are wineries, were also evacuated.

Fortunately, Neely said that while none of her customers lost any property, the fire came dangerously close to taking one customer's entire winery.

"The owners, employees, and a bunch of neighbors jumped right in. They had 10 to 12 different people running a bucket brigade, trying to save the structures on the property," she described. "They are closed, but their winery survived, despite basically burning to the back door."