Posts Tagged ‘Communications’

Do Not Reply to All

Monday, January 12th, 2009

You need not share everything onlineThe State Department suffered a recent embarrassment when it was disclosed that the main electronic communications system of the Department was nearly knocked out owing to what was, in effect, an internally originated denial of service attack. The root cause was traced to the practice of State Department employees selecting the “reply all” option to e-mail messages with very large distributions. This resulted in both an internal shutdown of sensitive electronic communications as well as needless abuse of the time of those who were copied on messages that they did not need to receive. We had addressed this topic, from the latter perspective, in both the earlier and current editions of Prepare for the Worst, Plan for the Best: Disaster Preparedness and Recovery for Small Businesses (Wiley, second edition, 2008). The recommendation put forward in that book was to reduce the “info-stress” caused by bombarding employees with unnecessary communications. Use some discretion in targeting your oral and written communications and watch productivity soar.

But the State Department’s mishap is useful in that it reinforces a lesson about organizing your critical communications: this “reply all” practice interrupted critical communications in normal operations. Imagine how much worse the consequences would have been if the Department had been operating in a disaster recovery mode. That is another reason why you must streamline your communications. This incident was a nuisance to the State Department; it could be devastating to a small business, with far fewer resources to waste. And taking the State Department’s lesson one step further: be careful about how you store your e-mails online with file attachments, particularly when multiple parties within the company are copied on the same message. This redundancy puts an additional burden on your human and IT resources. Consider alternatives, such as the use of a wiki, instead. This will streamline your communications and reduce the risk of further disruptions.

You’ve Got (Too Much) Mail

Tuesday, October 21st, 2008

IBM posted a podcast and report appropriate titled “You’ve Got (Too Much) Mail” that is worth checking out. It deals with the topic we called “info-stress” in the first edition of Prepare for the Worst, Plan for the Best: Disaster Preparedness and Recovery for Small Businesses. This is the phenomenon of being overwhelmed with unnecessary information through e-mails, facsimile messages, postal mail, telephone calls and other communication channels, such that you cannot claim time for what is truly important. What does this have to do with preparing for or recovering from a disaster? Should your small business be in disaster recovery mode, you will have to focus on the truly critical, so I advise you to weed out the info-spam time wasters now. You will benefit from an immediate improvement in productivity and reduced stress, even if disaster never strikes. IBM’s brief report contains some good suggestions.

Meet Me at the Forbes Small Business Exchange

Friday, September 26th, 2008
Forbes Small Business Exchange

Forbes Small Business Exchange

I have joined the Small Business Exchange of as the expert on small business disaster preparedness and recovery, where I am available to answer questions from members of the Exchange. I have just answered my first three questions and look forward to helping as many small business owners as I can. The Small Business Exchange is an online community for small businesses and I have found it to be a valuable tool for meeting potential customers and sharing expertise. I am an enthusiatic reader of Forbes and a long-term subscriber to the magazine, so I hope you will join me. Other members of the Exchange offer expertise on bankruptcy issues, credit card systems, financial strategies and other important needs for small businesses. Of course, you can also communicate with me through this blog as well!

When Disaster Strikes, Calls Often Do Not Go Through

Friday, September 12th, 2008
Hurricane Ike Approaches

Hurricane Ike Approaches

There were widespread disruptions in telephone service in Southern California following their recent earthquake, as callers overloaded both landlines and wireless systems. One wireless carrier reported an 800% increase in call volume following the earthquake, prompting emergency responders to urge citizens to restrict their calls so that 911 calls could go through (source: The Los Angeles Times). Such disruptions are common in the immediate aftermath of a disaster and are particularly frustrating as people are anxious to connect with their loved ones to assure their safety. These disruptions may cause particular hardship for smaller businesses, which typically cannot diversify their geographic risk to work from multiple, remote locations. However, there are simple, basic steps that every small business owner should take now to prepare for the inevitable future disruptions:

1.    Make sure that your employees and family members become familiar with text messaging, which often works even when landline and cell phone communications are disrupted. Cell phones have two communication channels: one for the negotiation protocol to establish the call, which has no real time requirements, and a data channel that transports the actual digital voice data stream, and requires real-time quality of service attributes that require capacity on the network. SMS messages are sent over the protocol channel; therefore they don’t arrive in real time, but with a few seconds’ or minutes’ delay. However, the protocol channel is never as busy as the data channel, so if the network is congested (e.g. all calls during emergencies), the protocol channel is the best bet. (SMS stands for “short message service”, or text messaging.)

2.    Here is a tip verbatim from the book: think in reverse for forwarding critical business calls. The cell phone is the natural backup solution for landlines. The question is how to automatically connect land- and cell-phone based service so that the cell phone service would take over once the landlines have failed. The problem is two-fold: once the landlines have failed, it is not possible for you to forward them to the cell phones. Moreover, in an emergency, such as an earthquake, you want to evacuate quickly and should not put yourself in harm’s way by returning to your office to deal with the phones. The solution is developed by thinking in reverse. Use the cell phone as your general business contact number. Program the phone in such a way that any incoming call is forwarded to your land-based business phone number when the cellular phone is switched off. If your land-based line fails (or you are unable to return to your office to access it), you simply switch on your cellular phone, and voilà. This is what I did on the morning of 9-11, when I evacuated the World Trade Center, but it was not safe to return to my office. I went home to shelter in place and turned on my cell phone to receive all incoming office calls.

3. I also pay $40/month/person to have a second cell phone with service provided by a different carrier from a different area code for major disruptions in cell communications services. This approach may be of limited benefit when a large geographic area is affected by disaster (such as the Gulf Coast post-Katrina when cell phone towers were all down), but it can help you if you are evacuated to another region and can access a non-local carrier. More importantly, it can help for a less widespread disaster, which is the statistically more probable event.

With Hurricane Ike approaching Texas, small businesses in the affected area should learn from the experience of our peers in Los Angeles and prepare accordingly for possible disruptions in communications.