Businesses must ensure back-up phone lines take different routes

The fire in a BT cabling tunnel in Manchester highlights the need for businesses to ensure that they not only have back-up...

The fire in a BT cabling tunnel in Manchester highlights the need for businesses to ensure that they not only have back-up telephone lines, but that their back-up phone lines follow physically distinct routes.

In the aftermath of the fire, disaster recovery experts said businesses should ensure that their telecoms providers run lines along multiple routes.

But duplicating telephone service providers is no guarantee of protection. Most telecoms service providers, including mobile phone companies, ultimately rely on BT lines, said Robin Gaddum, senior consultant at IBM

"There are some carriers, such as MCI, that are trying to operate a genuinely diverse routing service. But by trying to mix carriers you can end up being more likely to have a single point of failure than if you ask for diverse routing with a single provider," he said.

John Sharp, chief executive of the Business Continuity Institute, agreed. "It is important to check with your supplier the routing of critical circuits to ensure there is a separation," he said.

Companies should ensure that their back-up centres are not only geographically distant but are linked to different telephone exchanges, IBM advised.

"People think that if they have an emergency site 10 or 15 miles away from their main offices that is sufficient. But if they are on the same telephone exchange, they are going to have problems," said Gaddum.

First Option Hotel Reservations in Stockport is one example of a company that thought ahead. The firm has two high-capacity internet lines linked to separate telephone exchanges and carried on doing business with little disruption when its primary link was severed in the fire.

Businesses should also consider keeping emergency stocks of prepaid mobile phones in case of disruption to land lines, but they should bear in mind that a disruption to the fixed network could have a knock-on effect on mobile phones. Mobiles combined with GPRS data cards can provide staff with laptop access to the internet and e-mail if land lines fail, said Amanda Taylor, regional sales manager at Cellhire.

Disaster planning

  • Identify your critical business operations
  • Identify the resources used to deliver them, processes (including IT and telecoms) and premises (including plant and suppliers)
  • Plan to maintain your critical processes in the event of a crisis, recognising the importance of the key resources required
  • Inform all stakeholders of your business continuity capability and rehearse and maintain plans.

Source: Business Continuity Institute

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