911 doesn't work, try a FAX

Sean Donelan SEAN at SDG.DRA.COM
Mon Jul 5 09:27:46 UTC 1999

michael at memra.COM (Michael Dillon) writes:
>So as part of your New Year's Eve plans this year, all NOCs in buildings
>with elevators should make arrangements with their building
>superintendents for one of those keys that allows you to lock an elevator
>open at a specific floor.

I've done this before. Even have a 500ft spool of terminated telephone
cable from Radio Shack just for running down hallways and shafts.  However,
its a really bad idea.  The maintenance key on the elevator overrides
the fireman(person)'s recall circuit, and cause problems if a real emergency
happens in the building.

Besides, don't you people have butt sets anyway?

I'm a bit disappointed no one picked up the real lesson about using FAX
as a means to distribute emergency notifications.  The lack of receipt
confirmation in the Topeka case.  Most EOC's have multiple ways to reach
the media from the emergency alert system (This is a test...), or
dispatching a police cruiser to courier the message to the media.
If you use a 'BlastFax' product to distribute your media alerts, you
need to check the log to see which ones failed.  You also need to follow
up with key editors and station managers to make sure someone actually
picked up the fax off the machine.  If you can't make contact via one
method, you try the next contact method.

There are lots of different contact methods.  Each of their advantages,
and their drawbacks.  HAM radio works better during the recovery phases
than during the alert/warning phase.  Even radio networks like STORMWATCH
have activation problems for unexpected severe weather.  Satellite phones
have vulnerability in their earth-based switches.  AP newswire and CNN
do better on national/international events, but aren't so good for
communicating with smaller interests.  Even the military systems have
had interesting failures. Most of us are aware of the vulnerabilities
affecting pagers, cell phones, wirelines, etc.  The goal is to have a
mix of contact methods, in the hope they won't all be out of service at
the same time.

One key thing to remember about using less common communication methods
is the difficulty of training your staff on a long-term basis.  If you've
never acted as an observer for a disaster or disaster drill, you won't
believe how confused even trained people become trying to use some of
these systems.  Things which change how they are used when in 'backup'
mode (e.g. phones on the PBX which switch to direct lines when the PBX
fails) are very confusing because they 'work' but not how people are used
to them working.  KISS, Keep It Simple Stupid is the rule.

Although folks keep referring to what they are doing on December 31, that
really isn't a good enough reason to spend the time or effort on this.
Some other disaster is just going to come along and do you in on some
other date you weren't expecting.
Sean Donelan, Data Research Associates, Inc, St. Louis, MO
  Affiliation given for identification not representation

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