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Evaluating communication systems for disaster recovery

In a disaster, there is no substitute for instant, reliable communications with those who can help. This tip provides a checklist of considerations for evaluating commercial outbound communication systems.

In a disaster, there is no substitute for instant, reliable communications with those who can help. Here's a checklist...

of considerations when evaluating the commercial outbound communication systems:

  • Can the service redirect inbound telephone numbers instantly (to any working telephone number, whether a branch office, home, wireless, VoIP or satellite phone) without having to call the phone company? This saves the time delay of trying to disseminate "new" emergency numbers later.
  • Can the service duplicate the same call prompts as they exist today in your network? Transparency to the customer preserves your normal business and projects the mirage that "everything is OK" to callers even if they know a disaster has occurred.
  • Can the service initiate your emergency response plan through a web connection, touch-tone phone or PDA? Will the service provider do it for you if you are completely cut off? It's impossible to say with certainty which telecom technology will serve a disaster, so planning for several leaves you "room to live."
  • Does the service offer "find me, follow me" features? Whether at home, in the office, in the car, or via pager, PDA or text message, can you assure you will never lose touch with key first responders? The "find me, follow me" feature tries all devices above until the person is found.
  • Will "find me, follow me" work by dialing the person's regular office number, as opposed to a new one you have to remember and document? Plan no more than one single number per person and use technology for the rest. Then keep that number up-to-date in your secure PDA or wireless phone.
  • Will the service broadcast to numerous users? Can emergency notification messages (ENMs) be set up by you and then broadcast to hundreds of responders based on the disaster?
  • What kind of feature richness can you expect on outbound notification systems? One system we found actually lets the recipient press a digit after hearing the recording, to instantly be placed into a voice conference with other members of the recovery team, to be connected with a live person, or to hear more detailed instructions.
  • Can outbound notifications be sent to any network-connected device (phone, PDA, pager, text, etc.)?
  • Can outbound notification systems be recorded with specific information organized by message recipient, recovery team, department or other criteria, based on their role in the emergency response?
  • What if you plan for one disaster, but another disaster happens? Can the caller menus for the commercial solution you selected be changed quickly? Can this be accomplished by a touch-tone phone if you can't get to a PC or vice versa?
  • Can voice conference bridges be activated instantly by you, based on department, telephone number, individual persons or recovery team? Conference calling is enormously helpful in any response.
  • Can the system send faxes, including broadcasting to hundreds of locations?
  • Have you identified hotels in your area with high-speed Internet access? Any nearby hotel with high-speed Internet access can be a recovery center with the right commercial solution.

In one manner of thinking, some aspects of disaster recovery have become a lot easier, thanks to VoIP, managed PBXs and some good old-fashioned innovation by commercial providers. These solutions offer a quantum leap in recovery technology on a subscription basis at zero capital expense and a manageable monthly cost. No recovery plan today is complete without an evaluation of what's available in this area.

About the author: Leo A. Wrobel has more than 30 years of experience with a host of firms engaged in banking, manufacturing, telecommunications services and government. An active author and technical futurist, he has published 10 books and more than 500 trade articles on a wide variety of technical subjects. Leo is presently CEO of Dallas-based b4Ci. Inc.

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This was last published in January 2009

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