On September 11th, 2001, the collapse of the World Trade Center damaged a major local phone central office. There were thousands of people and businesses without phone service, without communication. Almost a month after hurricane Katrina, there were still nearly 350,000 customers without phone service. As if the devastation of lives and people lost were not enough, without phone service, people were not able to connect with their friends and loved ones. Business owners were not able to conduct business, losing thousands of dollars in revenue needed to help them rebuild their lives. By planning ahead for the next disaster, some of these families and businesses would be able to have an emergency back up communications system in place that would allow them to start communicating right away. An emergency back up phone system should have: a toll free number, outgoing and incoming message capabilities, be located out of your area, and be virtual with web based access.
A toll free number is going to allow anyone from any location, even a pay phone, to call into that number free of charge. For those people considering an emergency phone system for their family, you need to consider the possibility that you and your family may get separated during a disaster. If this happens, they may be able to find a pay phone and leave a message at the toll free number about their status and location. A local number is going to require a pocketful of change that they might not have on them. For businesses, the same may be true. If your employees need to call in to get status updates or check in with you, a toll free number will let them do so regardless of where they end up making that call from.
A phone system with outgoing messaging capabilities is going to be important in any number of scenarios. One situation where outbound messaging would be useful is when you are able to call out, but others cannot call in. For example, in a lock down situation where phone lines are not disabled, but you are not able to field calls from concerned parties, a status update can be left as an outgoing message. Another example would be a business that is still operating from their location, but the phone lines to their direct location are down. They can let their customers know they are still there to serve them.
With inbound voicemail capabilities, an emergency phone system can be used as a place to check in. With one central place to call and report status to your friends, family, business associates, etc. there will be less confusion. Everyone can use one toll free number and leave voicemail messages letting others know that they are okay and where they are.
The necessity of having your emergency phone system hosted by a company outside of your area is a smart idea for obvious reasons. If they are down the street from you when the disaster strikes, they are not going to be in any better shape than you are. If however, they are hundreds of miles away, they will be untouched by the emergency and ready to handle your calls. This is also why you will want your toll free number to be virtual.
A virtual phone number is not tied to one place. It is not affected by anything that happens to your local phone lines. A virtual phone number will be able to be forwarded to any other local number you wish. So, if your local lines are damaged but you have cell service, you can forward calls that come into your virtual toll free number to your cell phone. This would also allow you to transfer calls to a satellite office that was unaffected by the disaster so that they can continue to serve clients. A virtual toll free number will also be able to receive an unlimited number of calls at one time. In times of an emergency, you do not want people getting busy signals.
Lastly, with a virtual number you will be able to change forwarding numbers, load recordings, and check voicemail messages online. A scenario when this would be useful is if your headquarters are located at the heart of the disaster area, but you have other offices in an unaffected area. In this situation, someone can remotely access the virtual emergency phone system, activate it, upload outgoing messages to update callers on the status of the situation, give them direction of what to do next, enter in phone numbers where calls can be forwarded and received, etc.
Nobody wants to think about the possibility of disaster striking them where they work and live. However, the past few years have shown us that it is a very real possibility that we need to be prepared for. One of the major things that families and businesses alike need to consider is how they are going to maintain communications with friends, family, customers, employees and the world at large in an emergency. An emergency phone system will give you the ability to leave a message for others letting them know you are okay or open for business, allow others to leave voicemail messages that can be accessed by multiple users, have your calls forwarded to another location that has working phone service, and more. When a disaster strikes, the faster you can start communicating, the faster you can start moving forward again.