VoIP As a Powerful Tool in Disaster Recovery

It’s not a question of if, but when a disaster will hit your company.  A prudent company has a disaster recovery plan, covering all components of recovery, and including a public relations/communications plan.  It should also include various scenarios for keeping the company running normally as far as is possible while the full recovery process unfolds.     

In short, not disaster recovery, but business continuity.

Obviously, the recovery steps and how long it takes to implement them depends on the nature of the disaster.  However, all have the common theme of an interruption to normal business that needs to be managed.

Communication

One of the prime difficulties during the recovery process is communicating with staff, suppliers, clients and of course the various service suppliers assisting in the disaster recovery.  In the past, before VoIP and cellular services, life was a lot simpler.  The phones went down and there was little you could do other than ask the PSTN supplier to reroute all your incoming calls to a different, and functioning, landline number. 

Nowadays there are a variety of different options, including cellular services, and Internet-based options like email, social media and of course VoIP.  The usual email route may not be immediately available, the PSTN and cellular phone systems could be compromised and the PSTN might have been removed during an upgrade to VoIP.    A simple bit of weather like a heavy electrical storm could take out both the cellular and PSTN phone services.

It’s not that ignorance is bliss in this situation, but rather a catastrophe in waiting.  For the larger company with several stakeholders, there are nothing investors and other stakeholders fear more than uncertainty.  Keeping them up to date with the situation and what steps are being taken to remedy can be vital to the survival of the business.

A VoIP digital phone system can be a powerful communications tool to assist with that communications process.   The steps involved will vary slightly depending on whether you have a hosted VoIP installation or operate an in-house installation.  A multi-site or campus VoIP implementation will also present recovery challenges, but other interim opportunities.

Remember though, that a viable Plan B and even Plan C for communications is an essential part of any continuity scenario.

What can VoIP do?

VoIP

Let’s assume firstly that the VoIP system is available and can receive incoming and make outgoing calls, either because it is externally hosted, been fixed as the first step in the recovery process, or suitable backup arrangements have been made.   Hopefully, if you have a hosted implementation, it is unaffected by the disaster. 

Consider:

  1. In a hosted environment plan with your service provider what to do in the case of an emergency.  Make contingency plans for a variety of scenarios from a limited loss of service to a complete business failure.
  2. For example, prepare to programme the VoIP system to:
    • Reroute all incoming calls to a specific landline or cellular number;
    • Play an informative voice message to all incoming callers letting them know of the disaster, what is being done to recover and likely timescales.  Make sure the message contains directions as to how to proceed;
    • Programme automatic diverts to cellphones for key individuals in the organisation. Obviously, this needs to be done with discretion for the most senior;
    • Prepare a selection menu for temporary use – “0 for information, 1 for sales, 2 for procurement…” and so-on, redirecting callers to pre-recorded messages and temporary numbers.
  3. In a multi-site or campus environment, is it possible to move the incoming PRI lines to another VoIP site and does it have equipment and software able to host an emergency communications centre.
  4. If the power systems are compromised:
    • Does the IT centre hosting the VoIP servers have backup power?   If so, it may still be able to function;
    • Do the desktop handsets have battery backup power.  An alternative in a SIP-enabled environment is to ignore desktop handsets and rely on SIP-enabled smartphones.

The key in this situation is preparedness and flexibility.  The important thing is to enable communications with the outside world.   VoIP gives a whole new series of opportunities to continue with communications during a recovery period.

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