BP has put in place a multi-level communications strategy, which includes using Skype internet telephony, to keep in touch with staff in the event of a major disaster.
Following an explosion at its Texas refinery in 2005, in which 15 workers were killed, BP revamped its disaster planning, covering major events such as hurricanes, explosions and avian flu.
The plan combines a worldwide network of crisis response centres. It uses consumer-oriented technology, public and mobile telephone systems, local internet access and satellite communications to ensure staff can be found and to re-establish contact across BP's supply chain.
Presenting at the Burton Group conference in Barcelona earlier this month, Ted Davis, group telecom director at BP, said, "During the hurricane season we lost telephony, but the internet was OK."
This meant staff were able to use BP's e-mail and applications. To cope with a failure that takes out a datacentre, the company is deploying a "road warrior" kit comprising Skype and eFax, internet-based faxing software. It has also doubled the capacity of its virtual private network to provide remote access in the event of a disaster. Davis said, "We like Skype because it does not rely on infrastructure."
Three hundred satellite phones based on the Iridium service are also being used in BP's global crisis centres.
BP has moved from a hub-and-spoke wide area network to two global providers of MPLS network services. Across 60 sites, users connect to the corporate network via the internet. Davis said this improves resilience, because in the event of a disaster, end-users would be able to connect via any available internet service provider.
To maintain communications if a datacentre is taken out, end-users must provide details of a non-corporate e-mail account, such as Hotmail, which is stored in BP's Outlook Global address book. To ensure it can be accessed, even when an online connection is unavailable, the address book is downloaded locally onto end-users' laptops.
Staff have been issued with phone cards to enable them to request help or register that they are safe. They can also register via a public website. This service is operated both by telecom provider Dialogic and BP in order to double up on resilience.