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Selecting the Right Outbound Notification and Emergency Communications System (Part 2 of 2)"

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Concluding this two-part series, Leo A. Wrobel and Sharon M. Wrobel, of b4Ci Inc. and NaSPA, discuss some of the issues involved in choosing a notification system, including a newer option that could forward incoming calls automatically to a working number in an emergency.
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In part 1 of this series, we discussed how intelligent selection of the right outbound notification/emergency communication system for your organization can help you to organize your recovery effort, keeping you in control. We continue in this article with some solutions for the large enterprise user, and considering the sophisticated requirements for such a system.

Restoring Inbound Customer Calls

Even today, verbal communication is still arguably the most common method of communication. Therefore, the ability to communicate by voice after a disaster—particularly for emergency responders, who need to share information with each other—is a critical requirement of any disaster recovery plan. Such communications should include alerting the right individuals to the situation and delivering instructions to orchestrate a safe and effective response. Large enterprises also need their systems to be capable of maintaining service to inbound callers, because those callers are the organization's revenue stream and lifeblood.

The next most important feature of an emergency communications system for the enterprise is the ability to redirect inbound telephone numbers instantly to a working telephone number. A lot of places and technologies can be used as backup sites, including branch offices, homes, and disaster recovery centers. Numerous technologies can be employed to answer calls: wireless, VoIP, or satellite phones, for example, or other types of equipment. But this redirection must take place without having to call the phone company. After all, the telephone company might just be where the disaster has occurred.

Communication redirection must also be as transparent to the end user as possible. For example, if your organization uses voice prompts for inbound callers (and who doesn't these days?), these prompts should continue unchanged. Your proposed inbound call recovery service must therefore have the capability to duplicate call prompts just as they exist today in your network: "Press 1 for sales, 2 for customer service," etc. Transparency to the customer preserves the appearance of normal business, projecting the mirage that everything is okay—even if the caller knows that a disaster has occurred.

These rules work as long as connections of some kind still exist after a disaster. But what if the disaster affected the phone company as well as your organization? During Hurricane Katrina in 2005, 34 telephone central offices were flooded, and a king-sized hole in the middle of the 504 area code went black. Today, companies are combining technologies in order to increase their chances of surviving such a disaster. In the following pages, we'll briefly review some of the telecommunications technologies that can be employed in conjunction with your emergency communication/outbound notification system. Used in concert, they're dynamic. If you can find an emergency communications provider that also uses some or all of these other technologies, that provider should almost certainly be a finalist in your selection process.

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