How Unified-Communications-as-a-Service (UCaaS) Protects State and Local Agencies’ Ability to Communicate in Disasters
March 9, 2018
2017 was a record-breaking year, and not in a good way. The New York Times reported that $306 Billion dollars of damage was felt across the country from natural disasters. This was the largest figure since 2005 when Hurricane Katrina caused over $215 Billion of damage, leaving New Orleans devastated.
With storms such as Harvey, Irma and Maria now household names, and California’s wildfires leaving thousands displaced, state and local agencies are tasked with the challenge of maintaining their critical infrastructure and assisting citizens with recovery efforts.
One of the critical pieces of infrastructure that citizens depend upon is the flow of information between first responders and officials. On-premises/legacy communications solutions rely on local power and connectivity to function. What happens in the event of a disaster the size of Harvey, Irma or the wildfires in California? When critical infrastructure is unavailable or destroyed, it becomes virtually impossible to place a call from a traditional business/agency phone line. While mobile devices offer some respite in a localized, business continuity scenario, the heavily oversubscribed cellular network is not provisioned to support the volumes associated with a regional disaster. So, what can your agency do to prepare?
Strategies to Ensure Agency Disaster Readiness
In July 2017, State Tech Magazine listed these four strategies to ensure your agency is ready for a disaster. While these are speaking specifically to Disaster Recovery solutions, the strategies can cover a larger range of technologies, and all state and local agencies can benefit. The strategies are:
- Set a clear roadmap for deployment
- Ensure vendor and geographic diversity
- Test Disaster readiness early and often
- Coordinate and integrate changing conditions
Let us look at these strategies, but from a Unified Communications point of view.
Set a Clear Roadmap for Deployment
You wouldn’t set off on a road trip without a roadmap, would you? The same can be said about whether you are deploying an on-premises solution, a hybrid cloud or a full cloud solution: the process is the same. You need to get a plan in place. Which features will you deploy first? What is the result you are working towards? Who is responsible for which sections of the transition? As the saying goes, “If you don’t know where you are going, how will you know when you get there?” The success of your deployment and disaster recovery strategy relies on a thorough plan of action.
Ensure Vendor and Geographic Diversity
According to this article on the Society for Human Resource Management, communicating during a crisis “is one of the most important elements of a workplace disaster preparedness event.” But if the power grid goes down and your communications infrastructure goes with it, then how is an agency to keep the lines of communications with citizens open?
This scenario is where cloud solutions such as UCaaS thrive. Thanks to the built-in geographic redundancy that UCaaS provides, even if one data center goes down, another server is primed and ready to take the load. UCaaS can be configured to operate differently according to need. Perhaps distressed citizens call an agency, but the local phones are not active due to an outage. A highly available, geographically redundant UCaaS solution can deliver that call to the appropriate individual through alternate means. Ivey Business School, Professor Claus Rerup, sums it up perfectly: “If you are going to make sense of something quickly, you need the ability to collect a lot of information but also parse the unimportant parts out.”
Test Disaster Readiness Early and Often
Another old saying is completely relevant here. “Practice makes perfect.” Athletes, competitors and performers spend years perfecting their craft and honing their skills. Why would a disaster recovery communications plan be any different? When a disaster strikes, your agency is on the front line in helping citizens stay safe and start to rebuild. If your workforce doesn’t know how to respond when their normal modes of communication are disrupted, how can they help your citizens? By practicing regularly and early, the workforce is better equipped to handle a disaster quickly and efficiently.
Coordinate and Integrate Changing Conditions
“The only constant in life is change.” Employees retire or move on to different roles. The workforce is in constant flux, creating a continuous cycle of change. It may seem obvious, but you need to ensure that every member of your staff is prepared to handle a disaster. Regular and frequent discussions of your strategy are essential to ensuring every member of your staff is prepared in the event your locality is hit.
Unified-Communications-as-a-Service is an Asset
Bob Boyd, President and CEO of Agility Recovery, a disaster recovery solutions provider says it best. “Not having a strategy for how you’re going to communicate during a disaster is a fundamental weakness.” Legacy communications solutions share this trait with their dependency on local infrastructure to function. UCaaS, with its built-in redundancy, protects your agency’s ability to communicate in the event of a disaster, moving unified communications from a risk to an asset. Learn more about how UCaaS can move your critical communications solution from the risk column to the asset column in our blog here or contact us.