COWs, COLTs, and Continuity
Harvey, Irma, Jose and Maria. The US is experiencing the worst hurricane season in over a decade, and we still have two more months to go before the threat ends.
Not too long ago, catastrophic weather events inevitably led to catastrophic communications failures. Those failures are no longer inevitable. After the last category 5 hurricane hit Florida in 1992, the state revised its building codes to mitigate the impact of future storms. Now AT&T, Sprint, and Verizon all say their Florida towers can withstand cat 5 winds.
Of course, hurricanes aren’t the only threat to communications. Wind drives water and, as we just saw with Hurricane Harvey, the flooding that accompanies a powerful storm can do damage long after the wind has vanished.
Mobile providers are prepared for these circumstances; their switching centers have been hardened, backup generators are in place, and maintenance tasks such as clearing brush away from tower bases in wildfire country are part of their daily operations.
But sometimes, no amount of preparation can save a tower. When an antenna does go down, a truck outfitted as a mobile cellular site (called a COW, for cell on wheels, or a COLT, for cells on light trucks) can move in to provide service until the permanent antenna is repaired. RATs (repeaters and trailers) and GOATs (generator on a trailer) can also be deployed to increase coverage when service has been compromised by spot failures in a tower system.
All of these measures can save citizens’ lives and help first responders coordinate efforts efficiently. However, good mobile infrastructure protects our society in another way as well: by allowing businesses to serve their customers under any circumstances.
Harvey didn’t stop her
It wasn’t until a few days after Harvey that I realized a co-worker I’d been in touch with all week was in Houston. Yet she’d managed to participate in meetings, answer questions, and perform all of the other tasks she’d normally be responsible for. When I asked her about it, she said she’d used her phone.
She’d checked in with loved ones, coordinated with neighbors, and found volunteer opportunities, all from a pocket-sized device. And she’d also continued to get her work done—with no interruption. Those of us here in San Jose would never have noticed our co-worker was in the middle of a disaster zone if she hadn’t told us.
Thinking about her situation and the apparent ease with which she continued her work made me realize how important mobile communications are to business continuity. And it made me wonder: How can companies use their mobile devices to strengthen their operations so they can keep functioning in the face of unexpected interruptions?
Harden your software environment
Keeping the hardware working is the responsibility of carriers. Keeping your workers’ mobile devices stocked with applications that will let them do their jobs, from any place under any conditions, is yours.
Today, it’s the norm for business software to be accessible through a mobile app. That may lead to a false sense of security; yes, it’s important for the sales support staff to keep the CRM up to date, but there’s a lot of important work that goes on in every organization that isn’t tied to a particular piece of software or a particular task.
Business leaders communicate ideas, sign agreements, and approve sensitive communications. If the CEO can’t approve an investor relations report or if the CFO can’t sign an agreement, the whole company might feel the repercussions. Of course, we’re talking about document management.
Document management systems are often overlooked in a business continuity plan because they’re not specific to a role. Yet that’s exactly what makes them so important; everyone uses them sometimes, and when leaders need to handle documents, it’s typically for a very good reason. With that in mind, businesses can take two steps to ensure their documents flow properly under any circumstances: ensure a powerful cloud-based document management system is installed on everyone’s mobile device, and make sure everyone tests it and knows how to use it.
A good solution will be intuitive, but the time to check that out is now, before the storm hits, the wildfires rage, or the waters rise.