Rhythm of the Air: VBC Partners with TVA and Huntsville Utilities to Improve Air Quality

The Von Braun Center has teamed with the Tennessee Valley Authority and Huntsville Utilities on a project to improve the air quality for one of the VBC’s newest additions, Rhythm on Monroe.

By implementing germicidal technology, the project includes replacing the current air filters with higher efficiency filters and installing UV-C germicidal lighting inside the venue’s HVAC systems.

“We’re always looking for different ways to enhance our facility,” said Johnny Hunkapiller, VBC director of Operations. “This installation adds an extra layer of safety and allows our guests and staff to feel more comfortable while inside our building.”

UV-C lighting is an ultraviolet light that renders microorganisms inactive. Commonly used in hospitals and laboratories, it also has been used in a variety of applications, such as food, air, and water purification systems.

UV-C technology is ideal for restaurants and other public facilities where maintaining a high level of air quality is essential.

“Although everyone has their minds on the current pandemic, this technology will remove myriad contagions for a long time to come,” said Joe Gehrdes, director of Community Relations for Huntsville Utilities. “We are grateful for our relationship with the VBC and TVA, and this opportunity through EnergyRight.”

TVA provides incentives to businesses and schools to install the UV-C germicidal lights and the agency provides financial incentives for approved UV technologies.

“The pandemic increased the awareness of cleanliness and hygiene around the world and TVA is pleased that we can assist, through a partnership with Huntsville Utilities, by offering an incentive for this technology,” said Brent May, TVA EnergyRight Business & Industry Program Manager, Alabama District. “UVGI systems are helpful to a wide range of businesses, including facilities like the VBC, where numerous public events take place.”

“The health and safety of our staff and guests are always our top priority,” said Samantha Nielsen, manager of Marketing and Public Relations for the VBC. “We’re proud to partner with TVA and Huntsville Utilities in our continued effort to provide a safe and clean facility to our guests, and we’re excited to incorporate this lighting technology into our systems.”

Google Fiber Brings 2 Gig Internet Service to Huntsville

It’s not unusual for Huntsville to be on the forefront of technology breakthroughs.

And now, it’s Google Fiber’s 2 Gig service.

With thousands of Huntsvillians working from home and students taking online classes, Google Fiber has announced that 2 Gig service is available in the Rocket City.

In August, Google Fiber announced its plan to test 2 Gig service here and Nashville and the tests and responses have proven successful.

“I’m especially excited to be able to share 2 Gig with our customers,” said Amanda Peterson, Product Marketing Manager. “Over the last few months, my family has been testing 2 Gig in our home. And what made 2 Gig right for us was how everything we could do with 1 Gig is now faster, wired and wireless, even when we’re doing a lot — which is pretty much all the time in our house.

“With 2 Gig, I’ve never worried about massive file downloads, even while I’m on a video call with my boss and my husband is on a Zoom call in the next room, and then, all of the sudden, our home music system asks for an update. I know we can easily handle it all at once.”

New and existing Google Fiber customers can choose between the 1 Gig service for $70 a month and 2 Gig for $100 a month — ready for power users, the latest devices, and advanced smart homes that use lots of Internet. The 2 Gig services comes with the Google Fiber Multi-Gig Router, which uses Wi-Fi 6, the latest Wi-Fi standard.

The company said a subscriber can download an entire movie in less than 2 minutes and a 10GB game in about 45 seconds.

“As an occasional gamer, I love that when I do get time to play, I’m not waiting for massive system updates to finish or worried about network lag, but just trying to hold my own competitively,” Peterson said. “Even my house gets in on 2 Gig. Our smart lights, Wi-Fi speakers, 4K TVs, sprinkler system, and Wi-Fi-connected pellet smoker are staying connected without competing with us or each other for bandwidth.

“And we’ve got the peace of mind that there won’t be any data caps to stop us from doing even more.”

Hexagon to Unite GIS Solutions for Huntsville Utilities

Huntsville Utilities has chosen Hexagon’s geographic information system to consolidate the utility’s GIS solutions into one. The new GIS will serve as the foundation for building and managing Huntsville Utilities’ electric, gas, water and fiber infrastructure.

Huntsville Utilities has partnered with Hexagon for three decades to provide utility services to Huntsville and Madison County. With Hexagon’s GIS solutions providing a single source of location-based information, Huntsville Utilities will have real-time data for the operations, engineering and accounting teams to help provide service to the more than 330,000 customers.

“Where we go and what we do in the next 20 years is based on foundational decisions such as our GIS core,” said Wes Kelley, CEO of Huntsville Utilities. “With Hexagon’s solution, we have a single source of information for our physical assets, a trusted platform upon which we will build all our solutions.”

Applications of the new GIS system include outage management workflows, preventive maintenance strategies and more. Users of the new system will be able to design and maintain information about the utility’s assets via the web and mobile devices, which extend the solution into the field to make critical decisions.

“We’re honored Huntsville Utilities selected Hexagon’s GIS solutions,” said Steven Cost, president of Hexagon’s Safety & Infrastructure Division. “We are proud to be part of Huntsville Utilities’ path forward, not only as a technology provider, but also as a partner in the development of our local community.”

‘Domino Effect’ Contributed to Power Outage in Huntsville

The power outage that was nearly citywide Sunday night was caused by a failed lightning arrester in the Huntsville Utilities Central substation, triggering a “domino effect” of other outages.

According to Huntsville Utilities, “Initial reports from last night indicate a lightning arrester, which is a device that protects electrical equipment in substations from surges caused by lightning or other causes, failed in the Central substation.

“Since the Central substation also feeds power to other substations, this caused a domino effect that led to additional outages in the system.

“Our crews are using the light of day to continue their inspections and determine what caused this failure.”

Companies Step Up to Help Produce Protective Equipment during Pandemic

Innovative thinking and ideas know no limits in the Rocket City, famous for finding solutions to complex problems and managing complicated situations.

The list of needs from the hospitals as they ramp up preparations for a potential surge in COVID-19 cases include surgical and procedural masks, N95 masks, isolation gowns, gloves, face shields, face goggles, ventilators, and swabs. However, it is the “other things” category that breathes life into Huntsville’s smartest minds during this unprecedented medical crisis.

Huntsville Hospital and Crestwood Medical Center are, of course, at the heart of these efforts. The Huntsville-Madison County Chamber of Commerce has taken unprecedented steps to coordinate small business and manufacturing efforts to provide additional equipment and supplies to health care providers throughout the community, in the event our area gets overwhelmed with COVID-19 cases.

From the very beginning of the coronavirus crisis, Madison County companies and manufacturers large and small have been participating in these efforts, some adjusting their operations, while others are adapting to needs as they arise, and donating goods and services.

Lucia Cape, senior vice president of Economic Development at the Chamber, is spearheading the manufacturing efforts, maintaining an ongoing list of needed items and locations where businesses can drop off those donations, including the Chamber office on Church Street downtown.

“The manufacturing of these supplies, whether it is something you already manufacture, or something you can modify, the Chamber is running that information down and giving it to Huntsville Hospital and Crestwood to help them coordinate it,” Cape said. “Both hospitals are getting overwhelmed right now with the medical aspects of COVID-19 and this helps keep things in the proper channels.”

The Chamber holds regular calls with manufacturers to get clarification about what items can and can’t be made outside and over their existing supply chain or existing distributor base; and what the procedures are for getting a design approved.

Many of the requests are in reference to face shields, but Cape said several companies responded, offering anything from machine tooling shops that can make metal parts for ventilation carts and shelves, to 3D printers, and shops which specialize in custom injection moldings that can make pretty much anything.

And anything can mean taking on unexpected problems.

One of the things that has arisen from the making of N95 masks, for instance, is that prolonged wearing of the masks has shown to cause some skin breakdown on the bridge of the nose of clinical staff. There may be an opportunity for a device that could cushion the nose and prevent that from happening.

Cape said it is things like that that create unexpected opportunities that might not be on an original list of needs, but for which the Chamber is happy to be a clearinghouse.

“If you have things to sell, donate or have some great ideas, bring them to the Chamber so we can make sure they pass through the right channels and we will connect you directly,” Cape said.

Also, if the hospitals reach a point in which they don’t need some of these items any longer, the Chamber is setting up distribution throughout the community to doctor’s offices and clinics inside and outside our community to help.

Other creative ideas consist of converting CPAPs into ventilators; using plexiglass to make intubation domes; and making ventilator helmets based on a design from a company in Texas that looks like a space suit helmet. One manufacturer on a teleconference call with the Chamber hinted that surely someone in Huntsville can make that.

Study: Ventilator helmets said to be better than traditional face masks.

A couple of companies are assessing whether local doctors and respiratory therapists would embrace that kind of therapy if it were available.

Yet another company is tooling up a sanitization assembly line at Lincoln Mill that can bleach manufacturing parts intended to go into the supply chain.

Another company has offered to repair broken or failing electronic, plastic, or metal equipment.

Companies are also looking at ways to be more efficient, for instance, cutting the filtration material used for making N95 masks differently, and basically getting four masks out of what was originally one.

“We just want to make sure before anyone goes down that track that it is something the hospitals can accept, made by someone from outside the supply chain,” said a spokesperson for the company.

A representative from Huntsville Hospital said he thinks the FDA has waived some of the rules during this pandemic and if they begin running low on anything at some point, emergency authorizations they have already received, give them clear guidance that if reasonable health care professionals and doctors agree these ideas are an acceptable way to do it, then it will be okay.

Many large companies have stepped up to the plate as well.

PPG, which employs 700 people in Huntsville, announced it will donate 50,000 surgical masks and 10,000 N95 masks to several hospitals in the United States including Huntsville Hospital and Crestwood Medical Center.

“PPG is proud to support the medical community as they courageously continue their work on the frontlines of this global pandemic,” said Michael H. McGarry, PPG chairman and chief executive officer. “As One PPG family, we will continue to work with our community partners to provide support and deploy resources wherever possible. We look forward to a brighter future, together.”

Several local companies have donated personal protective equipment (PPE) to help hospitals and medical workers stock up on supplies. Adtran, Aerojet Rocketdyne, ATI, Brown Precision, Bruderer, Dynetics, Facebook, HudsonAlpha, Huntsville Utilities, John Blue Company, Matcor-Matsu, Mazda, Toyota Manufacturing USA, Inc., Mitchell Plastics, Navistar, Polaris, Remington, Turner Construction, TVA, and the UAH College of Nursing have all donated several thousand pairs of reusable protective eyewear to Huntsville Hospital, Madison Hospital and Crestwood Medical Center.

Toyota Motor Manufacturing Alabama, one of the area’s top employers, has kicked into high gear in response to the COVID-19 pandemic. TMMA is helping curb the spread of the virus by donating masks, safety glasses, shoe/boot covers, gloves, blankets, and cotton swabs to medical personnel.

The automobile engine company is also utilizing its facilities to mass fabricate 3-D printed face shields here in Huntsville.

According to Jeff Samms, COO of the Huntsville Hospital System, Toyota has a nice design for the shields and are now making hundreds of them for the hospital..

“The unknowns for all of us on this is what’s going to affect utilization,” he said. “COVID-19 patients use this isolation equipment at many times the normal rate, so there is an exponential growth in our use of the product, and we don’t know what the demand is going to be.”

Most of the hospitals admit their normal supply chains are broken right now and they are never quite sure what they’re going to get.

Toyota is also offering manufacturing and engineering expertise in support of any company seeking to increase their capacity for making medical supplies and equipment like ventilators and respirators.

The automaker continues to assist in providing essential supplies and emergency relief through local organizations and nonprofits, including significant monetary, “in-kind” donations to the United Way, community food banks, and to other key non-profit organizations geared towards helping those in need.

“Toyota’s core value has always been to contribute to society in meaningful ways beyond providing mobility for our customers,” said Ted Ogawa, incoming CEO, TMNA. “With our plants idled and our dealers focused on servicing customers, we are eager to contribute our expertise and know-how in order to help quickly bring to market the medical supplies and equipment needed to combat the COVID crisis. Our message to the medical equipment community is we are here to help, please utilize our expertise.”

Although currently, the “numbers” – that is the number of infected patients in Madison County hospitals – have not reached the critical level first projected, Chamber President and CEO Chip Cherry said, “We are incredibly grateful for the response from our business community to help our hospitals and first responders stock up on their supplies.

“It has been so good to see boxes of items come in over the last few days. We know these will help in the days to come. We know there is strength in numbers, and we and our members are committed to getting through this together.”



Midway Through the Mission: Making Huntsville a Gig City

If it hasn’t already, the Google van may be coming soon to your neighborhood.

Huntsville has never been the kind of place to wait around for technology to make its way here.

Sure, in many ways, Huntsville is still a traditional Southern city with long, hot, sultry summers and a penchant for football rivalries and ice-cold beer.

But make no mistake – Huntsville’s pluck and grit is writ in rocket flames. Never mistake a slow way of talking for short-sighted vision.

That was made clear back in 2012 when Google Fiber sent out its initial call to cities across the nation, interested in partnering with the technology giant to build a high-tech fiber network worthy of bringing gigabit internet service and Voice-over IP telephone services to the Tennessee Valley.

When all the entrants, including Huntsville, were thrown into the hat and a select few cities were chosen, Huntsville wasn’t among them.

Oh well.

If in 1956, the Redstone Testing Center had given up the first time a missile disintegrated on a test stand, Malawi may have put men into space before Huntsville!

According to Lauren Johannesmeyer, city manager for Google Fiber, Huntsville city leaders know something about executing a mission and Harrison Diamond, then the director of project management at the Huntsville/Madison Chamber of Commerce, was on a mission.

“I remember back as early as 2013, Harrison (now the business relations officer for the City of Huntsville), had a vision for what a gig city looks like,” said Johannesmeyer. “Between the Chamber of Commerce, Huntsville, and Huntsville Utilities, they basically said, ‘We’re going to build the network anyway’.

“Once that was established, Google Fiber came back and said, ‘If you are going to build it anyway, can we lease it from you?’”

That initiative makes Huntsville a one-of-a-kind model for Google Fiber, the only city in the country where a utility company is constructing the network rather than Google Fiber.

“Huntsville may be the first, but we won’t be the last to make this investment,” said Joe Gerhdes, director of communications and public relations for Huntsville Utilities. “Huntsville has drawn the interest of utility companies in many cities across the country who are looking at doing the same. They are watching to see how successful we are.”


Rings & Huts

Huntsville Utilities is just short of midway through the build and right on schedule.

Construction consists of a fiber ring that encircles Huntsville to make it easy to branch service off into neighborhoods. The ring is divided into six fiber huts off which Huntsville Utilities connects the local Google Fiber network into the Internet backbone and the worldwide web.

“Huntsville Utilities manages and maintains the core ring that wraps around the City, and Google Fiber owns and manages the network from the point of access at the street, up to the customers house or business,” Johannesmeyer said. “Right now, in terms of serviceable areas for us, there is what I call a pizza slice-shaped section in north Huntsville. It was our very first opening on May 23, 2017.

“We also have all of Big Cove and Hampton Cove from Dug Hill Road to Cecil Ashburn Drive, and we are opening areas in south Huntsville near Mountain Gap and Challenger schools.”

Gerhdes added, “We started with the Chase Hut north of Winchester Road to Pulaski Pike because the Chase area power distribution center in northeast Huntsville was a great place to start.

“Big Cove and Hampton Cove are finished, and we are currently working on the Farley Hut in south Huntsville.”

He said the Triana Hut will service most of the core of downtown Huntsville including Blossomwood, and the utility is readying the 911 Hut near the Madison County 911 Center and Wynn Drive. The final construct will be the Jetport Hut at the western edge of Huntsville. The entire fiber network project is scheduled for completion in 2020.



Everyone Benefits From Improved Infrastructure

“This undertaking has been great for Huntsville, but it has also been great for telecoms and cable providers, too, because it has significantly improved the infrastructure under which all of these providers offer services,” Gerhdes said. “They too can now offer a better, more affordable service to their customers.”

Construction is always subject to change with many variables impacting schedules, but Google Fiber’s current contract with Huntsville Utilities is to service addresses they turn over to them as the ring expands within the Huntsville city limits. The lease agreement is not exclusive so other companies can lease out fiber on that ring as well.

In terms of what Google Fiber has to offer customers, its services include 100 MB or 1,000 MB (gigabit) fast residential internet options; traditional television services with 220+ channels that can be combined with their internet offering and Wi-Fi extenders; and a Voice-over IP (VoIP) phone service solution that uses the internet rather than traditional hardwired landlines.

Currently service to multifamily units (apartment complexes and condominiums) is minima but, ideally, Google Fiber wants to service as many people as possible so, as the ring grows, so will Google Fiber access.

“We also offer small and medium-size business gig packages with really cool extras businesses need to be successful,” said Johannesmeyer.

Community Involvement vital

She said community involvement is vital to promoting digital inclusion initiatives and education that provide groups and individuals with access to information and communication technologies. Google Fiber’s Community Impact Team works with local nonprofits to promote digital inclusion throughout the Tennessee Valley.

One of those enterprises is the Digital Inclusion Fund, created at the Community Foundation with sponsorship funding from Google Fiber to make Internet access and digital education available to residents currently without access to those resources. More than $100,000 in grant money was given to high-impact programs in North Alabama this past year.

“Ours is a very innovative model and we applaud Huntsville Utilities for their leadership,” said Johannesmeyer.

While the mission to make Huntsville a Gig City cannot yet be stamped “accomplished” – it is certainly in full rattle-battle!

To find out if Google Fiber is available in your neighborhood or business location, visit You may also submit your email address to be notified when it is available.