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Prepare for Maintaining Contact with Employees and Customers

There are a number of steps you should take immediately to protect communications for your business. A major step is to assign emergency phone numbers and publish them internally to avoid breakdowns in communication in a disaster. (Make sure that at least your key employees have these numbers available offsite.)

When you think about it, phone companies and providers of enhanced Internet services have already paid much of the capital-intensive part of disaster recovery. Using vendor-provided services such as the following can be a quick and inexpensive way to improve your disaster plan:

  • Remote Access to Call Forwarding (RACF)
  • Voice over IP (VOIP)
  • Wireless phone and Internet access

The following sections provide some details on these possibilities.

Remote Access to Call Forwarding (RACF)

One really useful feature that may be available from your phone company is remote access to call forwarding (RACF). Many phone systems can forward calls from the original phone number to a second number simply by using a phone at the original number and dialing *72 or 72#. With RACF, however, you can forward calls without having to be at the original location. Even if your building burns down, taking your phone system with it, the phone company very likely is still working. With RACF, you can automatically redirect all your incoming calls to any number where service is working—perhaps even to your wireless phone—without even contacting the phone company. (Why is this important? Think how difficult it would have been to get through to your Bell South agent immediately after Hurricane Katrina struck.)

Consider the following true story: A medium-sized municipality in North Texas (population 7,500) added the RACF feature on their main lines. About a year later, City Hall burned to the ground. Can you imagine the number of calls that came in when people saw or heard the news? Virtually all of those calls were received seven miles away, at backup facilities in the county offices, simply by activating the RACF feature.

Just a few steps are involved:

  1. Call the special RACF telephone number.
  2. Enter your personal identification number (PIN).
  3. Enter the phone number from which you want to forward calls.
  4. Enter the *72 code.
  5. Enter the number where you want the calls to ring.

RACF runs about $1.50 per month per line. Where else can you get this kind of insurance so inexpensively? Get this feature installed on your phone lines today.

Voice over IP (VoIP)

Another essential consideration is Voice over IP (VoIP), sometimes known simply as Internet phone service. It’s available from a variety of suppliers and reasonably priced. Vonage, for example, provides VoIP service for about $25 a month. The great thing about a VoIP service is that you can get back in business almost immediately by relocating anywhere high-speed Internet service exists. It’s cheap, easy, and efficient, yet very few small businesses actually use it—and most should.

Many medium-sized businesses use high-capacity Internet access services such as T1 or primary rate interface (PRI) for trunk lines. VoIP-based services are available for them as well; for example, WorldCall Internet offers a platform that provides a PRI interface to your PBX, but sends the calls out over a high-speed Internet connection.

It makes for some interesting possibilities. Suppose your business is a medium-sized university, office park, hospital, or multi-tenant building, served by four PRI circuits. It might be advisable for you to cancel one of your telephone company services and replace it with a VoIP service. Use the new VoIP PRI for outgoing calls or long-distance access in "normal" times. In a disaster, however, you can transfer your inbound calls via RACF, command routing, or porting to your temporary location where a high-speed Internet connection exists. Ask potential service providers about each option and how you should prepare.

Wireless Services

Using a wireless Internet service provider (WISP) is a great option for small to medium-sized offices, not only for emergency communications but for protecting against telephone cable cuts. For example, my consulting service uses a regional provider called AirCanopy, which uses the Motorola Canopy product for providing wireless Internet in the unlicensed frequency spectrum recently released by the FCC.

Wireless phones can be indispensable as a means of command-and-control after a disaster. Be aware that there might be blockages after a widespread event such as a hurricane. But in that situation, voice mail would still work for inbound calls.

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