Sandy and Athena - Lessons Learned!

In the last few weeks every person I spoke with in the Northeast was affected in some way by Hurricane Sandy or Winter Storm Athena. (I'm not buying that "SuperStorm" deal - Sandy was a HURRICANE!)

A community damaged by hurricane Sandy.

Our office lost power (until I started up our portable generator) and we also lost Internet. Luckily we had previously implemented a backup plan for our phone lines and when a customer called LeBlanc Communications, we were able to answer calls on multiple cell phones from our homes. No call went unanswered, and as a company owner, I knew my staff was somewhat productive (no forced vacation time). We also had our files available to us online, so everything was accessible, at least as much as we had some form of Internet.

How was your experience?
Were you able to answer your customers' calls?
How about your data?
Could you get to your files?

Let me take a few minutes to outline a few steps everyone can take to make the next outage not so painful.

Phone Line Failover

First, talk with your primary phone carrier (AT&T, Earthlink, Windstream, Cablevision, Verizon). Tell them you want to have a backup plan. Some names for this are "DTO" (Direct Trunk Overflow"), "Enterprise Trunking" or just a "Failover" option. For small companies, this could be a manager's personal cell phone. But for larger companies, you should have an auto attendant menu answering so customers know they have reached you, even if you cannot answer at that moment. But unfortunately, these major carriers don't have such a "menu" option (more on that in a second).

Automatic or Manual Failover

Do they offer an automatic failover option? What happens if you lose your service in the middle of the night and you are supposed to call them to manually activate a backup plan? Will you even know to do it? If they are swamped with thousands of businesses calling, will you even get through? (I think not!) Today's carriers (working with newer phone systems) can easily and immediately detect when your system is not responding and act accordingly. But you have to ask the right questions and it might cost you a bit more (usually about $35/month).

Virtual Auto Attendant Options

If you are lucky enough to have a multi-site company (particularly when your multiple sites are geographically dispersed), you can use your other office(s) to answer calls in case one site is down. But a better option is to have a specialized disaster recovery carrier offering you this service. One such carrier we use often is FreedomIQ.

The Freedom IQ logo.

FreedomIQ has a very unique offering that is affordable and compatible with ALL phone systems and carriers, as long as the carrier can forward your calls. Here is how it works...

Calls are forwarded by your regular carrier to a toll-free number in San Diego and/or NYC - answered by an auto attendant (perhaps the same greeting customers normally hear on your phone system). They are given choices, like dialing 1 for Sales, 2 for Service, etc., or spelling the name of the person they want. They can also dial the regular extension number of the person they want, just like always.

Meanwhile, each user has been preprogrammed into their system, with extensions, backup numbers, email addresses and a personal greeting.

If an emergency happens, customers calling can reach any of your staff via their backup number (usually a cell phone) and if not, they can leave a message to be delivered by email. Someone dialing 2 for Service can get 3 or 4 cell phones to ring simultaneously!

Cellular Saves the Day at LeBlanc

I have to send out a special thank you to our town's Police Chief and Verizon Wireless. This year I got a new iPad 3. While I had been a long-time AT&T Wireless user for our company iPhones, this time I decided to give myself some redundancy and use Verizon on the iPad. This decision turned out to be quite prophetic.

You may know that most smart phones today have a "hotspot" feature. This gives you the ability to share your Internet with up to 5 users. The AT&T wireless signal was too weak to be useable, but the Verizon Wireless (using 4G/LTE on my iPad) was so strong we were getting over 12Mb download speed! (Thanks to Chief Doug Fuchs of the Redding Police Dept for asking Verizon to increase the capacity of their towers during the storm!)

Wifi technology.

Picture this... there were five of us sitting in a warm and cozy office with plenty of lights, cellular phone service and really fast Internet, accessing the files we needed, answering calls and resolving the problems of our customers. We were "Cooking with Gas," as some would say, even while everyone around us was down hard.

Depending on the complexity of your business, there could be other factors to consider, and I'd love to discuss those with you if you get in touch with me.

Meanwhile, good luck cleaning up any remaining storm problems, both at home and work. I wish you all the best (and FEW outages) as the winter approaches.

Carlson and Carlson Answers the Call During Hurricane Sandy

The Carlson and Carlson Incorporated logo.

The most important vendor you have in a storm (both personally and professionally) is your insurance agent. One of our long-time clients is Carlson and Carlson Inc. in Riverside, Connecticut and New York City. They were prepared before the recent storms by having FreedomIQ PBX Disaster Recovery Service. Carlson and Carlson has a generator to power its office, but lost phone and Internet service from downed telephone poles. Despite having no regular carrier service, Carlson's agents got every call and could help and reassure clients.

Tripp Freeman, Vice President, said, "We cannot be down during times of natural disaster. Our customers expect more from us, and we were grateful we planned for this by using FreedomIQ and LeBlanc."

We are always looking for a better way to Give Your Network a Voice!®.

Michael LeBlanc, Founder and CEO
LeBlanc Communications Group, Inc.