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Carrier-Grade 4Ci Services

In my travels, I’ve found a few systems that could be considered "carrier-grade" systems on par with what a phone company could do—if the phone company were inclined to do so. Note that the following example is not a mass-notification system per se, but it certainly can help if a very large, Hurricane Katrina–style disaster strikes. This process uses porting to move a telephone number from a landline to a wireless phone or vice versa, and it could be a lifesaver under certain circumstances. It allows you to "port" disrupted numbers elsewhere. If your enterprise telecommunications system is large, badger your primary carrier to contact an organization called NeuStar, headquartered in Sterling, VA. A little background on this organization: NeuStar performs numerous services for carriers such as telephone number administration, U.S. Common Short Codes. (That’s short codes for direct response advertisers as well as content providers, used to reach mobile subscribers across multiple networks and types of devices to create marketing relationships for brand placement and messaging.) Additionally, NeuStar provides various infrastructure services such as technology migrations and network optimization. So, what is NeuStar best known for? Managing the Local Number Portability (LNP) database.

As the custodian of the LNP database, NeuStar imparts a beneficial service for disaster recovery and 4Ci. From a carrier perspective, LNP is, in my opinion, the hottest technology going for maintaining 4Ci after "the big one" hits.

Redirection of telephone service into and out of central offices needs to occur seamlessly when disasters strike these facilities. The dilemma in this situation is that traditional methods of doing this (such as call forwarding or remote call forwarding) are functions of the switch. These functions are eliminated when the switch burns up or goes under water. Case in point, about 34 central offices in Louisiana that were under water during Hurricane Katrina.

NeuStar offers a service called Port DR (Disaster Recovery), with which service providers can point traffic away from a disabled central office switch and toward another switch or technology that’s still working. This porting can occur within the affected service provider’s network, to an affiliated network, or to a competitor’s network. As I stated earlier, the actual process is largely the same as when you port your landline phone to a wireless phone or vice versa. Using the LNP database, NeuStar can restore services for anything from a single phone line to an entire area code. During Katrina, some of the 504 area code for Louisiana was actually redirected to Dallas, Houston, and Atlanta! Regrettably, this solution is only available to communications carriers. If you’re an enterprise user or other consumer of telecom services, about all you can do is nag your local provider to contact NeuStar to implement Port DR.

Just because you’re not a common carrier, that doesn’t mean that you can’t avail yourself of other services that are virtually carrier-grade. One service worth investigating is Velleros, Inc., headquartered in Morrisville, NC. As an emerging industry leader in carrier-grade mass-notification solutions, Velleros has developed a product called AlertSlinger, a telecom-grade service provider solution that’s capable of delivering content-triggered alerts and web-based applications for emergency notification.

AlertSlinger is based on patent-pending technology that monitors time-critical feeds for Internet-based information. For example, an All-Hazards Gateway module in the product monitors National Weather Service feeds for all 50 states, Puerto Rico, and the Caribbean, utilizing National Oceanic & Atmospheric Administration and Department of Commerce information for public messages. Information developed with the customer is then verified against an alerting database to determine precisely how the information is to be circulated and what the triggering event is, depending on the conditions.

For instance, consider a 911 center that has experienced a telephone cable cut. Most 911 centers are engineered with diverse routes. Suppose 24 circuits take one route and 24 take an alternate route. A cable cut that knocks out half the capacity will probably occur on a busy Saturday night, during a severe weather event, etc., blocking out all 911 calls. In the worst case, a 911 caller will get a recording that states "All circuits are busy now, please try your call again later."

With AlertSlinger, a number of things could happen with these calls. A listing of callers who tried to call 911 but couldn’t get through could actually be text messaged to another working device, such as a wireless phone or VoIP phone. The same kind of thing can happen for commercial organizations under the same circumstances. A bank that experienced blockage due to a cable cut could receive a record of who tried to call but was blocked. This record could be delivered to another device in a number of formats—email, instant message, and so on. That data in turn could be bounced up against another database, such as the customer billing database for the carrier or the banking facility, to identify the customer. After that, in order to maintain customer goodwill and retention, the organization could send a written letter of apology for the outage to the home of the caller, with a discount on future services or a gift certificate. Through effective use of technology, there are many ways to retain an otherwise teed-off customer.

There is value in a system like this in a disaster, since AlertSlinger effectively turns phones into automated emergency warning devices. Notification messages are sent to existing landline and cellular phones, handheld data devices (pagers and PDAs), VoIP phones, satellite phones, computers, and so forth. Messages can be sent via voice call, short message text, email, voicemail, or data session. Special emergency devices are not required.

With the capability to distribute information over any type of network connection—wireline copper, broadband VoIP, broadband data, cellular, etc., AlertSlinger provides an optimal solution. Therefore, additional investment in network infrastructure is not required for a carrier deployment.

AlertSlinger also provides the capability for push-type information services (Velleros CAMLOC and STALO products), enabling campus alerts, recorded announcements, and community interest broadcasts. Authorized personnel can create the information to be communicated via voice or text, and activate the alert trigger to send in real time.

AlertSlinger provides a simple web-based interface for non-technical users to act quickly, confidently, and accurately in times of crisis. Using drop-down menus to make simple modifications to delivery method or predefined alert trigger categories, subscribers can manage their accounts online.

AlertSlinger provides system redundancy by enabling deployment in multiple secure locations and also supports enhanced data encryption techniques for information protection.

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