Planning for a disaster is something we all know we “should be doing” but few of us are. This is the second in a series of posts that will provide a starting point for disaster planning and disaster preparation on the technology front. This post will cover telecommunications, and what do do while you’re down. The previous one covered backing up and restoring data, and the next will be on replacing equipment and restoring software.
“Myth: Disaster Planning is all about data backups.”
Most of the articles and discussion regarding disaster planning and recovery is about data and what to do before and after an emergency. This article will discuss telecommunications, as well as what to do while your are in the middle of a disaster.
Telecommunications is a fancy term for your telephone system. Sometimes it also includes a connection to the internet, and we will include it here, too. When we refer to “disaster scenario,” that can mean anything from accidentally deleted files all the way up to earthquakes and tsunamis that destroy a town. You should plan all along this spectrum. If your town is doing construction outside your building and they slip and cut a Fiber Optic line that supplies internet to your building, what will you do? Will that affect your phones as well? (Probably, yes.) Here are some things to consider when planning for disaster situations from a telecommunications point of view:
- Internet Redundancy: Internet has become very inexpensive. You can get a DSL or Cable connection to the internet for under $100 per month. While this may not be fast or stable enough for your day to day use, it may be enough to keep you in business when your primary internet connection is being fixed. Consider how much money you would lose if the internet went down for a few days. Now, consider how much you would spend on a couple of years of backup internet access and compare those costs. Like insurance, it might be worth it when you need it. Microwave and satellite connections are also available, so if the construction scenario described above happens, you can continue doing business even without a hard line.
- Telephone Redundancy: The standard basic telephone system that we have been using for a hundred years is one of the most stable technologies you have ever seen. 99.999% uptime. Most internet connections, VoIP services, and internal telephone systems are not that good. If your normal telephone system goes down, it is good to have a couple plain old telephone lines ready to conduct a skeleton business from. Many companies already have a couple of these lines for their fax, credit card, and alarm systems. If you don’t have any already, they are fairly inexpensive to keep as a backup. Keep some telephones around that you can plug into these in an emergency.
- Telephone and Number Redirection: If your office is inaccessible but your business is one where employees can work from home, there are many things you can do to facilitate this. If the system is Voice over IP (VoIP), employees can take a phone home with them and still make calls from your phone system. Or they can launch software phones on their computers and use your phone system with a microphone headset. Or they can log into your phone system (whether VoIP or not) and forward their direct extension to their home or cell phones. You can log into your phone system from home and change the greeting to let your customers know what is happening. It also may be worth having a VoIP backup system with a few lines at the ready so a few critical employees or managers can conduct business or be available. It only takes a few minutes to call the phone company and redirect your company’s toll free number to another location. If your building’s phone system is inaccessible, you can have all of your normal incoming calls going to a temporary VoIP system with a professional auto-attendant and phone tree which can all be controlled and accessed from your home.
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What To Do While You Are Down
Here are some things to do during an emergency to keep your business running and everybody informed about what is going on.
- Switch to Backup Systems: If your phone or internet goes down but the rest of the building is safe, it is time to switch to the backup. If this is not an automatic switch, you and your IT provider should have a plan in place about how this process goes.
- Inform Employees: If employees should not be coming into the office, call them and let them know. The business owner or managers should have– at their homes– a list of all employees’ home and cell phone numbers to initiate this.
- Work From Home: Many businesses can conduct a large portion of their business with some or all of their employees working offsite. If your company uses a hosted email and VoIP solution, calls and emails can continue as normal. If not, everyone has cell phones and personal email accounts and can do enough to let customers know what is going on.
- Inform Customers: Update your company’s telephone auto-attendant message, website, and social media sites to let your customers and vendors know what is happen and he status/safety of your business and your employees. The business owner should know how to do this, and have all the information to access it available at home.
Another term for disaster planning is business continuity planning. A good disaster recovery plan will include steps to keep your business running, in full or in part, while these things are happening. This includes backup internet and telephone connections, a plan for informing your employees and customers what has happened and what to do, and the infrastructure and training to continue doing business during outages.
Problems, outages, and disasters will happen. They can either cripple your business or merely cause a brief bump while you continue along as usual. It all depends on how well you plan and train for the unexpected.
[box]“Plans are useless, but planning is indispensable”
While this is a great place to begin your disaster preparation, please remember that technology is only part of it. Your IT Disaster Recovery Plan should be a part of your greater Business Continuity Plan that includes planning for temporary business locations; replacing inventory; contacting employees, vendors, and clients; etc. FEMA has a good website (available here) that will help in developing your plan.
Finally, remember that in a disaster, nothing will go according to plan. Things will get destroyed that you forgot were essential. Things will survive that you thought were fragile. Your whole plan may go south in a handbasket, but you will be in an far better place having done the planning. As Dwight Eisenhower famously said, “Plans are useless, but planning is indispensable.”
Note: We would like to thank Chris Iovane of Walnut Telecom Group for his expertise in developing the telecommunications aspect of this article.