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This page contains a single entry by Westley Annis published on September 15, 2008 7:10 PM.

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Hurricane Preparedness 202

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In 2005 we learned a lot of lessons when Hurricane Katrina swept through the southeast corner of Louisiana followed three weeks later by Hurricane Rita in the southwest corner.

Now, in 2008, Hurricanes Gustav and Ike came by with lessons of their own.

One of the biggest lessons was protecting your data. After Katrina, I sent in over a dozen hard drives that had sat in water for days and then were in a hot humid environment, waiting to be retrieved for at least two weeks. Of those drives, only one was able to be safely recovered.

That was one of the primary reasons for the founding of my data backup company, DEVACAPS.com. To give people the ability to get their data out of harms way.

But, the world has become even more dependent on communications then it was three years ago. More and more companies rely on email and so many are still tied to their land line telephones. When your business stretches beyond the local market, you simply can't afford to have your phone go unanswered because of a hurricane or other disaster.

For companies with a multi-state foot print, no big deal. Forward the calls from one office to another for the duration and all is well. For small companies, the answer is not so simple. Calls can be forwarded to a cell phone, but even cell phone coverage can get spotty at times.

In fact, after Katrina, many people could use their cell phones to dial out but couldn't receive calls because the switchboards that handled their cell phones were still in New Orleans, flooded.

What I was able to do for my clients is give them a VoIP (Voice over IP) phone service. I gave them a phone number they could forward their office phone to, a voice messaging system would answer the phone, play a voice recording and give the caller an opportunity to leave a voice message. The voice message was then sent to the clients email for them to pick up the next time they were able to check email or they could dial into the voice messaging system to listen to their messages.

Another issue that came up again was how to communicate with many people. For businesses, it was a matter of how to let employees know when they were expected to return to work. For local governments, it was a matter of how to let residents know when it would be safe to return home.

One thing we did learn from Katrina was that text messaging would work even when voice calls wouldn't. Since Katrina, a new Internet service has come out called Twitter which allows instant communication using either the Internet or cell phone text messaging.

For Gustav, I used Twitter to send out updates from the St. Bernard Parish Government about what was happening during and after Gustav. From a spur of the moment decision days before Gustav was to hit Louisiana until after the storm, I had 100 people following those updates just from word of mouth.

Local government officials have a tendency to use the same local media outlets they always use. What they fail to think about, is those outlets may not be able to reach all of the different places residents have scattered to to ride out the storm. And most businesses don't even have that kind of access to the local media outlets without buying expensive ad space.

Twitter can be that safety net. Local government officials can use Twitter and let the world follow them. Businesses can use a private Twitter account and only let employees follow them. Either way, it gets the people who have information in touch with the people who need the information.

By the way, you can catch my latest posts on Twitter on the left side bar of the home page, on my Twitter page, or, even better, join Twitter and follow me.

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