Recommendations for Continuity During Disasters - InformationWeek

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9/7/2005
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Recommendations for Continuity During Disasters

One call-center company executive suggests ways to keep going, even without satellite phones.

No one has found a cure-all to prevent the widespread devastation caused by Hurricane Katrina, but companies providing call center technology know something about minimizing business interruptions.

And, what works for businesses could work for state and local governments as well.

Of course not all services can or must continue, but Melville, N.Y.-based CosmoCom, has a simple solution that would have allowed even local government to provide some services without satellite service.

Steve Kowarsky, CosmoCom executive vice president, said in an interview Wednesday that nearly every budget motel 200 miles away from the areas hit hardest by the hurricane has high-speed internet access. He suggests that companies and government agencies make emergency arrangements with those hotels and implement employee contracts that would allow them to send some employees to remote locations when evacuation orders are issued.

Kowarsky said that New Orleans could have provided a mobile call center similar to New York City's 311 government information line, which provides information and links to assistance on virtually every topic a city resident could imagine.

"The reservations would be made," Kowarsky said. "They could hop in their cars with their families and drive wherever they need to drive. This could potentially be something that's even more directly related to the emergency, allowing government to provide information, advice and help. It could even be used to create a call center that springs into existence after an emergency."

Though it could not have helped residents who lacked all communications, it could have assisted those who, through evacuation or other means, managed to maintain links to the rest of the world.

CosmoCom provides a web-based system, using an IP network to integrate a variety of call center applications and allow instant messaging, e-mail and phone calls. One of their clients, Trade-Van Information Services Co., came to them after hardening its call centers against typhoons in Taiwan.

The Taipei-based company provides companies with information services including cargo clearance, e-commerce, global logistics, land information, tax filing solutions. Its hardened call center did nothing when employees were unable to get to work. CosmoCom's On-Demand Call Center technology has since allowed employees to work from home using Voice Over IP.

"The Internet is providing infinitely long extension chords at extremely low cost," Kowarsky said.

Though it wouldn't solve every problem, a few location-independent, all-IP virtual call centers could lessen the impact in an area where the Federal Communications Commission is working furiously with private companies to restore communications networks. In a statement released Wednesday, FCC leaders said that will be as challenging a mission as they have ever confronted.

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