The first step in disaster recovery planning is to determine key areas of vulnerability. The following is an overview of those areas and what measures to put in place to prepare in the event of a disaster.
Even though a center may be using an uninterruptible power supply (UPS), the first step in a disaster recovery plan is to hire an electrician to locate and properly mark all protected circuits. It is important to work with them to determine exactly which electrical equipment is essential to the operation of the business. Some were “givens,” like the call center switch and platform, network servers, and PCs and monitors for customer service representatives (CSRs).
Other issues that are a little harder to assess are items such as lighting requirements for ensuring the safety of employees during a crisis; heating and air conditioning considerations; and how functional the front office would need to be. Time should also be spent on examining what can be designated as non-essential during a disaster without jeopardising the safety of customers or their clients. In establishing priorities, adding up electrical load requirements, it is important to leave room for growth when calculating the size of the generator needed.
Fuel choices can include gas, natural gas, propane, diesel, or a hydrogen fuel cell. In addition, you need to determine where your generator should be kept – indoors or out, ground level or on the roof. There were stories during the blackout of 2003 that affected large portions of the north eastern U.S. and Canada, about generators being stolen and even being commandeered by emergency services. If you choose to keep a generator outdoors at ground level, make sure it is properly secured but readily accessible for service. Naturally each option comes with its own version of permits, regulations, building codes, and insurance premiums to consider.
Securing telephone communications can be achieved through establishing redundant T1 high-capacity telecommunications lines from an alternative service provider.
Circuit cards critical to the system should be purchased, labelled, and stored in a safe place. Where multiple sites are involved, other call centers within a two hour drive can share the same platform “pooled” available spare parts. In planning for a worst-case scenario, secure a commitment from your vendor that a complete replacement system can be shipped and installed in 24 hours.
This is the most critical part of disaster recovery planning. An epidemic, severe weather conditions that make travelling impossible or dangerous, or damage to a building can be managed if your CSRs can work remotely from their home. Remote CSRs are also a significant resource during a spike in call activities. For those employees who may become “trapped” at work, ensure that you have gathered enough emergency supplies including pillows and blankets, non-perishable foods, bottled water, and some personal items such as toothbrushes, toothpaste, and deodorant to make their stay a little more comfortable. One call center in an area with frequent crippling snowstorms even has a four-wheel drive vehicle at the ready to pick up and deliver employees who can’t get in or out by themselves. Some have chartered buses to pick up employees.
If you are fortunate enough to operate two or more call center locations, both the call traffic and staff from the damaged center can be transported to the alternate location. However, no one location could possibly handle the call volume normally generated by two, especially during a disaster. Therefore, it is important to determine ahead of time which clients’ call services are critical (life or death) and replicate their information at the alternate site. If disaster strikes, either a local toll-free service provider or the clients themselves can forward their number to the new destination. Calls can be answered by the CSRs at that site until the CSRs from the affected call center arrive to take over. Should both call centers become incapacitated, backup can be provided by entering reciprocal partnerships with like-minded call centers in other regions. In these cases, all parties agree to assist each other in a similar fashion should the need arise.
For the balance of customers, a new group of approximately 20 “Disaster Preparedness Partners” (DPP) has been assembled across North America with members of national and international trade associations: (ATSI) the Association of TeleServices International and (CAM-X) the Canadian Call Management Association. These groups are joining forces to share call traffic with each other in geographically diverse locations. The idea is to divide the balance of our customers according to call volumes and distribute a portion to each of the various DPPs.
This will allow centers to share an equal-sized portion of call volumes so everyone can all provide the expected level of service to new temporary clients while minimizing any adverse effects to their existing client base.
With careful planning – and with some help from your friends in the industry – you can feel confident you will be ready should a “disaster” come your way.
About The Author: Barbara Bradbury has been in the call center business since 1984. Currently vice president of major accounts at AnswerPlus, she coached her team to develop the customer service skills required to earn them the top-ranked call center in all of North America in 2004. AnswerPlus Inc. is a full-service, 24/7, inbound contact and emergency response center based in Ontario, Canada. Founded in 1961, AnswerPlus is a pioneer in the industry. For information call AnswerPlus at (800) 633-4072 or visit www.answerplus.ca.
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