Wednesday, June 28, 2006

Dial VoIP in Case of Emergency

When officials in Orange County, Fla., installed a Voice over IP phone system in 2003, they quickly achieved the goal of cutting telecommunications costs by as much as 30 percent. But after a series of hurricanes hit a year later, county managers discovered another reason to love the technology.

To provide services for citizens affected by Hurricane Charley and two other storms in 2004, the host county for Disney World created a temporary emergency center in an empty warehouse that the county was planning to renovate. "It had nothing in it, including [no] communications infrastructure," said John Amiot, enterprise operations manager for the county.
So officials trucked in PCs and network gear that supported VoIP, and within 24 hours, the facility opened for business with a line of storm-weary citizens already forming at the door.
"Our people could cut checks and provide all the things that people needed in order to survive," Amiot said. "We were able to deploy in 24 hours because we had Voice over IP technology already in place."

Since then, the county has integrated IP telephony
into its formal continuity-of-operations (COOP) plans by installing it in a regional computing center.

Expanding Role

Business continuity plans are increasingly relying on new technologies to keep organizations running in the aftermath of natural disasters, terrorist attacks and more mundane incidents, such as local power outages.

"IP telephony and continuity of operations are an excellent marriage," said Jim Biskaduros, a client delivery executive who specializes in security and intelligence at systems integrator EDS.
In Orange County, the newly wired warehouse became an extension of its infrastructure. An IP network provided connectivity among employees and the county's main offices.

"It was as if we had just opened a new building," Amiot said. "This was in the center of one of the most devastated areas in the county, and it was strategically advantageous for everybody to come there versus getting them downtown while trees were down everywhere."

By the time the last of the storms plowed through the area, the warehouse had logged more than 226,000 calls. The system automatically routed some calls normally intended for headquarters to the site.

Other agencies are also discovering IP telephony's flexibility. The Department of Veterans Affairs turned to IP-enabled mobile communications trucks to keep Gulf Coast hospitals running after Hurricane Katrina hit last year. After finding success, the agency is extending contracts to formalize those backup communications tools and COOP plans.

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