(Editor’s note: The effects of the derecho on May 12 continue to be felt across the county. This week the Madison Daily Leader is telling stories of loss and recovery. Yesterday, the paper shared the story of the Lohsandt barn. Today, a new business owner tells his story.)
New business owners Chad and Heidi Benson were setting out plants on May 12 when they received emergency alerts on their phones.
The Chester couple looked to the southwest and saw the storm approaching. Chad remembers estimating they had about 20 minutes before the storm hit. He carried a couple of trays of plants into the garage and revised his estimate.
They immediately headed for shelter and barely got the garage door shut before the full force of the derecho smashed into their home and into their lives.
“Lisa Ordal called within 20 minutes,” Benson recalled.
The silo on their farm which had been used for the radio equipment serving Interlakes Wireless customers in the area of Orland Township was gone. The monitoring system also reflected this; it had gone dark.
The Bensons purchased the local company late last year from Joel Brick, who had started the company to provide service to an area which was not being served by major wireless companies.
In the days which followed the storm, the Bensons discovered the company had lost more than a single tower. Due to widespread damage from the storm, the radio equipment on many of their customers’ homes was also damaged.
Benson turned to Brick and employee Landon McConaghy for assistance.
“If I had to do it myself, I’d still be working on it,” he said.
They approached the repairs systematically. First, they worked to get the main tower online and then they did a systemwide damage assessment.
“We just drove around to see what we had to take care of,” Benson reported.
With widespread power outages, they needed to ensure all of their towers had power so customers with generators had service and those whose power was restored had service. They addressed this challenge by moving generators around to recharge backup batteries at each of their 15 sites.
“The overall system held together well,” Brick observed. In 2017, the company had lost its main tower in a tornado and Brick applied what he learned from that experience as he expanded the company’s service area in subsequent years.
Once they had ensured all of the towers were operational, they began to address the needs of individual customers.
“We basically went door to door,” Brick said.
The inventory he had built prior to selling the company proved to be a godsend, enabling the company to make repairs with parts the company had on hand. Benson was grateful for this.
“In the last eight or ten years, companies have started lean manufacturing. They only manufacture what has been sold,” he said. This makes getting materials in an emergency difficult.
On Wednesday morning, as a new tower was raised on the Ordal farm to serve customers in that area, he was able to illustrate. Interlakes Wireless could not get galvanized steel bolts for the tower and had to improvise.
“We’ll have to replace all the bolts,” Benson said. He estimates there are nearly 100 bolts in the 95-foot structure.
However, replacing bolts and restoring service are only two of the challenges he and his wife face as new business owners. They have discovered a wide gray area when it comes to insurance coverage.
Whose insurance company should be responsible for covering damage to equipment at the site where a customer is served? While some customers have contacted him and indicated they are reporting the damage on their claims, many are simply trusting the Bensons to take care of the necessary repairs.
For the new business owners, the required investment couldn’t have come at a worse time. Not only do they have loan payments on the business, but the cost of electronic parts is also rising quickly.
Benson said that in some instances, they have tripled or quadrupled. As a result, repairs to a single home may cost between $300 and $400, not including labor. He can’t even estimate what the overall cost will be.
Still, he and Heidi have no regrets about buying the business. Benson admits they are stressed, but they are exploring options for receiving assistance to cover some of the repair costs and are grateful they’ve been able to address the problems created by the derecho.