Looking back, 2017 showed us that natural disasters can and do happen anywhere. The question is: How prepared are you to continue running your business in the wake of a hurricane, flood, or, as one of our clients faced, wildfires?
Back in 2017, a government customer – a county in a region where wildfires raged for weeks – had one application and underlying infrastructure they needed working above all others but their primary voice and Internet provider was suffering intermittent outages.
The emergency system enabled government officials to call out and citizens to call in to send and receive evacuation information, updates on the fire locations, and other alerts and notifications. Having it down was not an option, and yet that’s exactly the position our client was in.
West was working with the county on an unrelated project and our contacts there asked us if we could help. We wound up taking the lines we had just installed and turning up Internet service on them, enabling the county to quickly – literally within hours – have reliable connectivity for the emergency system up and running.
What we realized from this situation is organizations often don’t utilize their service providers for disaster recovery in the ways they could and should.
Here are five things that businesses and service providers can do to prepare for, deal with, and recover from natural disasters:
1. Talk about disaster planning out of the gate.
In an ideal world, businesses and service providers would discuss as early as the RFP phase the services providers can offer outside of the immediate scope of the contract. For instance, if a business is considering us for unified communications and connectivity, we can explain right then how that UC and bandwidth can be useful in disaster recovery scenarios. In the case of the county, we could have had the necessary IP ranges set up in advance and ready to go, making their failover time even faster.
2. Make sure your service provider is also your disaster buddy.
We consider our customers to be our partners and, therefore, we try to be proactive about disaster planning. Take, for instance, 2017’s three devastating hurricanes. We sent alerts to our clients in the affected regions as soon as we saw the hurricanes forming to remind them of a 24/7 phone number they could call for assistance, their account team and contact information, and other important details that can otherwise get lost in that moment. We also explained how we could help throughout the disaster.
Your service provider should be part of your disaster drills. If we don’t know your policies and procedures during these difficult times, it will be difficult for us to help.
3. Know what your service can do in the event of an emergency.
Oftentimes, when disaster strikes, you need self-service tools to be at the ready. Make sure your service provider has that capability so you can react quickly as needed.
When the hurricane and subsequent flooding impacted Houston, our clients were able to use their West portal to re-route calls destined for local offices to a number outside the region. Also, IT could reroute employee extensions, or DIDs, to their cell phones or softphones on laptops, enabling them to work from an evacuation location. Once the floods subsided and workers headed back to the area, companies could easily return the call routing to normal.
4. Make your environment flexible.
Cloud-based unified communications platforms are a godsend for disaster planning. They enable users to have the same experience whether they are at their desk, home office, or a hotel. Our clients have found that the Cloud has played a key role in business continuity as disasters unfold and then during their recovery phase. No matter how your physical work site is affected, you are able to serve your customers in a seamless manner.
When we partner with our clients on disaster planning, we recommend they move not just the basics like email and messaging to the Cloud, but also their contact center and voice and video conferencing – basically any tools they need to continue to interact with their business partners and customers. Our UC cloud applications, including Cisco Spark and WebEx, are delivered by a reliable, geographically redundant cloud platform.
5. Know your application priorities and connectivity options.
Our county customer was sure they were out of options because their primary voice provider was down. They didn’t realize the opportunity they had in our installed lines for certain applications that needed to come back online.
Because they knew that the emergency system was the number one priority, we were able to confirm our installed connectivity could handle the application. This is important – they had prioritized their applications and they had the bandwidth to handle it. Had they tried to bring everything back online, that wouldn’t have worked with the capacity at hand.
Work with your service provider to determine the handful of applications you absolutely require for business continuity and make sure you have a failover line that can support that traffic.
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