Disaster Planning: Include Your Virtual Phone System

Sadly, unexpected disasters can strike your area and business in numerous ways. While there’s no way to completely prepare for every type of disaster, having contingency plans and needed tools readily available can help you navigate through tough times.

Part of a disaster plan should address how you’ll communicate with your customers, clients, and employees. It may not be feasible to individually call each member of your team or expect team members to have access to their normal work environment. Instead, you may need to set up a communication system that can be accessed by employees once they reach safety. Including a virtual phone system with automated attendant, call forwarding, and hunt group features into your disaster plan can minimize service disruptions.One of the businesses that successfully implemented hosted solutions in the face of disaster and continued business disruption was the Louisiana SPCA. Here’s their story:

In a matter of hours Hurricane Katrina left the LA-SPCA without an office for their emergency animal rescue efforts. Their dispersed staff (only 4 of the 50+ pre-hurricane staff remained in the area after evacuations) scrambled to re-establish communications, while tens of thousands of pet owners called phones that were submerged under water, ringing to no one.

The LA-SPCA Halloo virtual phone system enabled SPCA staff to publish their new toll free hot line on their website within hours. The multi-level self-service menus and smart call-forwarding system enabled the SPCA to communicate effectively with a broad array of callers, despite far fewer local employees to answer phones. Residents had instant access to directions on how to report strays or abandoned animals, pet owners received immediate information to help them find lost pets, and displaced staff members could retrieve specific emergency status updates. Critical calls could be forwarded to available staff members and volunteers, wherever they were located, as staff members were each able to receive calls on their mobile phones.


Message notification also sent phone users email or text messages when urgent voice-mails arrived — a very useful feature when cell phone coverage is spotty in the wake of a disaster. The organization maximized volunteers’ phone time with a “hunt group” set up to roll calls automatically to the first available dispatch line. This allowed more callers to get through to someone who could answer their questions as quickly as possible.

When an alternate shelter was established two weeks later, the LA-SPCA entered new local land line numbers into the system via the web, and their multi-line dispatch center was connected to their phone system in minutes. The transition from the distributed, emergency ad-hoc network of mobile phones to an office-based set of land lines caused no disruption to customer service.

A subsequent move into more permanent space could be handled entirely by a volunteer, over the web – once again, no service interruption, no multi-day (or week!) delay waiting for an overburdened vendor, and no hardware or software to coordinate.

The Halloo virtual phone system eliminated the complexity typically associated with telephone service restoration, and allowed the Louisiana SPCA to focus on its critical mission of supporting the region’s animals and pet owners through their recovery from this unprecedented disaster.