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Disaster Recovery Planning for Local Calls

In much the same fashion as redirecting 800 numbers, "local" telephone numbers can be redirected to alternate locations. And if you’re really clever about it, you can arrange your disaster plan to allow you to redirect incoming numbers yourself. This capability is important for several reasons. Consider the example I cited earlier, when I recommended that you immediately ask for a supervisor when redirecting 800 numbers. The same principle holds true when you call the local telephone company to redirect your local numbers. Now suppose you own a small heating and air conditioning company with 15 employees and are affected by a flood. Across the street, Citibank has a call center with 1,000 employees. Whose call do you suppose that telco supervisor will take first—yours or Citibank’s? Or suppose that when you call the local telco you get a busy signal because many other companies are out of service and they’re all calling. Your odds of timely restoration of your service just became about the same as being the seventh caller to a radio station for Garth Brooks concert tickets. By planning ahead, you can beat those odds.

As a result of installing remote access to call forwarding on critical lines, you’re in control. You simply dial the access number given you by the telco and follow the simple voice instructions. If you want to hear how it works, dial this number right now: (972) 224-4900. You’ll get the following voice prompt:

"This is your remote access service. Please use a touchtone phone. Please enter the number you want to be forwarded."

Since you’re not a subscriber, you won’t be allowed to go any further, but if you were a subscriber, the service would prompt you further:

  1. Enter the number that you want to forward—say, (214) 888-1300.
  2. Enter your four-digit personal identification number (PIN).
  3. After the PIN is entered, the system asks what you want to do. Enter the same call-forwarding code you would enter if you were actually at that phone. Generally this code is *72 or 72#.
  4. Enter the number to which you want your calls forwarded. This number can be your home phone, your cell phone—in fact, any working phone number in North America. (I’ve never tried forwarding to an international number, but there’s no technical reason why that won’t work.)
  5. Hang up. Immediately, all calls are forwarded to the alternate location.

What’s the cost for this service? About $1–3 per month.

I’ve recommended and used this service for large and small companies alike. One large client, a major airline based in Dallas, was plagued by the winter ice storms that sometimes hit the city. They had figured out the command routing for their 800 service a long time ago, and in fact were probably one of the first companies to use that service in the 1980s. The local service remained problematic for years, however. By setting up RACF on their local lines, the airline acquired the capability to forward hundreds of local lines to another call center every time Dallas had a weather event.

What’s more, as it turned out, the Lucent 5ESS switch that served the airline’s location had the capability to switch 99 "paths" at once to the alternate site. That meant that a caller dialing their number could be behind 98 other callers and still not get a busy signal! Moreover, the airline actually improved this service. By pointing their local numbers at their 800 numbers, they allowed the intelligent features in the 800 network to balance the unusual load and distribute it among multiple call centers. Finally, the data center manager for the airline accomplished all of this switching from the comfort of his own living room, and never had to call the service providers or leave during the ice storm—all for three bucks a month! You just can’t beat something like this.

Another example is a city in northern Texas whose city hall burned right to the ground. Even though the city hall building was gone, remember that the network was still intact. Despite the confusion of losing an entire building, calls from the public to the city were being answered at an alternate location—the county sheriff’s department—within an hour of the fire. The city operated in this mode for several weeks. When the time came to move into a new, temporary city hall, switching the phones there was just as simple a process, and occurred in minutes.

There’s no reason why you shouldn’t call your service providers about these resources today. Such services are extremely inexpensive insurance and go a long way toward maintaining command and control after a disaster.

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