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The Problem of Staying in Control in a Disaster

The two most immediate challenges after a disaster involve (1) alerting the appropriate individuals to the disaster, and (2) delivering instructions to orchestrate a safe and effective response. Corporations, campuses, or government must quickly organize and disseminate information to every first responder, using every conceivable type of technology.

The technology used to notify these teams includes telephones, wireless phones, laptops, PDAs, email, and two-way radio. The technology used depends primarily on who is being notified, why they are being notified, and where they are. Even much smaller firms, however, cannot survive a prolonged outage—a telephone cable cut for example—without a plan.

The real issue quickly becomes how any organization, large or small, can remain in control of the recovery process and establish 4Ci when phones are down. What if the telephone company is busy elsewhere or has a disaster itself? What if an organization plans for one disaster, but a different one occurs? Can its plan change quickly? It’s all been almost impossible...until now.

Several firms are beginning to tackle this long-neglected issue. Some provide technology as simple as a "hosted PBX" solution. With the advent of VoIP, some companies have used open code software and readily available hardware to create a PBX that resides off site from your organization.

A hosted PBX system delivers PBX functionality as a service instead of having one on site. Instead of buying PBX equipment, users contract for PBX services from a hosted PBX service provider.

Many hosted PBXs are surprisingly feature-rich and useful in a disaster. Functions, such as "find-me, follow-me" calling, actually came about in the hosted PBX world before they became available in traditional PBXs.

In fact, these days it is possible to get hosted PBX service that includes far more features than you probably have now if your present PBX is more than a few years old.

What makes these systems appealing in a disaster, however, is that they are not in your building like your PBX; they reside off site. With some creative engineering, they become very useful.

A user of a hosted PBX solution does not install any PBX equipment, and there is no capital investment. Instead, the hosted PBX equipment is maintained by the service provider, who then shares access to the system among many customers.

As with premise-based PBX systems, key functions that can be provided by a basic hosted PBX include, but are not limited to, the following:

  • Custom greetings
  • Dial name directories such as connecting to a specific extension or department, or dialing based on a user’s name
  • Automatic Call Distribution (ACD)
  • Music on hold while callers wait for an available department or employee
  • Voice mail
  • Call transfer between users or extensions
  • Conference calls

With just a little forethought, these solutions become useful in a disaster. Even so, not all of these functions are available from every provider of hosted PBX services. You should determine what functions best match your organization’s needs. Nonetheless, a little effort on your part will pay great dividends in your organization’s capability to respond to a disaster and maintain 4Ci.

A couple of companies that pop up quickly on a web search for "Hosted PBX" include Onebox, VirtualPBX, and many others. Find one that works for you and improve your recovery plan for very little money and no capital investment!

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