Florida Hurricane No Match for VoIP

Florida real estate company is relying on a surprising failsafe recovery system: voice over Internet (VoIP).

September 16, 2004

2 Min Read
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As hurricanes roar across Florida this fall, IT managers have had to rely on disaster recovery systems to keep their telecommunications equipment up and running. One large south Florida real estate company is relying on a surprising failsafe recovery system -- voice over Internet (VoIP).

Dave Michaud, IT director of VIP Realty in Fort Myers, Fla. thought he was ready for just about anything, but when Hurricane Charley hit with terrific force he had to scramble to keep the firm's 250 employees operating in their nine offices.

"In 10 or 15 minutes, Charley veered directly at us and went from a Category 2 hurricane to a Category 4," said Michaud. "I immediately shut down non-essential equipment to conserve battery power. Then I lost cable broadband and landline connections went down in some of our offices. Cell phones were a problem because a tower went down and too many people were forced to use it after the landlines went down."

Michaud recalled that he didn't initially think of VoIP being valuable in the disaster, because believed the relatively new Internet-based technology was fragile. He then checked to see if the VoIP system from AltiGen Communications was in operation. It was. "I just routed our calls over the AltiGen gear," Michaud said. "Before that I didn't look at it as a disaster recovery system."

At one point, Michaud needed to shut down key elements of the telecommunications system, but he couldn't from any of the Florida locations. Recalling that VIP's owner Charlie Ashby was on vacation in Paris, he contacted Ashby over the VoIP connection and had him temporarily shut down the system from France.VIP Realty's DSL and landline telephone service was down, too, although one lone PRI (primary rate interface) of a T-1 line remained up and Michaud routed VoIP traffic over it. Also a Wi-Fi connection between two VIP buildings continued to function. Most landlines, however, remained out for more than a week and cell phone service was spotty.

Michaud found a way to route calls from outlying offices -- in Sanibel Island and Captiva Island -- over the VoIP connection, too. "Everyone stayed in communication," he said.

The Internet phoning system gave VIP Realty a competitive advantage. "While everyone (else) was recovering," said Michaud. "We were servicing our current and new customers because we never lost contact with our clients. We were the only real estate company available in the affected areas. We did about $16,000 in rental business one day that we probably wouldn't have had."

"The AltiGen gear didn't look like a disaster recovery system when I installed it," he said. "But it does now."

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