FreePBX and Emergency Operations – Guest Blog

The great thing about FreePBX is not just the software but the great community that comes with it. There have recently been some posts thanking “me” and the FreePBX development team for this great product. The thanks are very much appreciated and when I hear some of the real world stories that constantly surface I am always humbled as to what all of you end up doing with FreePBX.

The fact of the matter is that FreePBX is much more than the software but very much the great community made up of all of you. Without all your great ideas, contributions big and small, forum posts and everything else, we would not have what we do today!

So, with the community in mind, and the fact that the Maui beach is outside calling me (leaving no time to write this week’s blog…), I’d like to share a writeup by one of our very active contributors and OTTS Graduates, Bill/W5WAF…

FreePBX and Emergency Operations
or
How to be a Hero Without Really Trying
by Bill/W5WAF

I first became aware or asterisk in mid 2004 and began studying up on it. By Late 2004 I had convinced the it director here at the City of Vicksburg to let me spend about $1000 to set up a basic asterisk system and by March of 2005 I had a box of shiny new computer parts, a digium 4 port FXO/FXS card and a half a dozen SIP telephones.

In early April I had a system up that allowed calls from a couple of phones across the room. I was ready for the big step!

I was able to scarf up a couple of POTS lines that weren’t being used and tied them into the box, and behold! I was able to make calls in and out. My next strategy was to set up the phones on the IT department staff’s desks and let everyone play. Meanwhile, I began doing a justification for switching to a VoIP phone system.

Everything went well with the test. The users were pleased and I was ready to spring the justification onto the money people. My costs basically was for a $30,000 investment with an ultimate savings of around $7,000 per month. Ongoing costs would average $750 per month for the PRI.

As I said, I was ready to present my plan when we had a visit from a “lady” called KATRINA in late August. Although we are about 200 miles inland, we still had hurricane force winds power outages, but our biggest impact was the influx of refugees from the devastated area. There was never an accurate count, but estimates ran as high as 25,000.

Mainly to deal with this refugee influx, out city administration decided to set up a command center at the Vicksburg Convention Center which was also serving as a shelter. At about 2:30 in the afternoon, the day after KATRINA the Mayor burst in the IT offices and said “I need 5 phones in the command in an hour.” I looked at my boss and grinned.

The convention center is on the city’s internal fiber network, so it was an easy matter to reclaim all of the test phones from the IT staff and move them to the Convention Center. The mayor had his 5 phones in an hour. They served well for the nearly 4 weeks the command post was open. It is interesting to note that we had a National Guard medical unit on site. They wanted a couple of POTS lines brought into their command post. It took over a week for Ma Bell to get them in.

Because of the success here and the numbers I presented in the justification, I was authorized to proceed with a full fledged VoIP system.

Since then, we’ve had several emergencies, such as Flooding along the Mississippi River, an 8 inch snowstorm (OK it was only 8 inches, but this IS the deep south), In both of these we utilized the announcement capabilities of the system to record messages for the public and employees.

On Friday March 26, 2010 at about 9:30 am I received a call from the Emergency Management director to report to her office immediately. As I arrived there, the City Public Affairs Officer was also walking in. We both realized that this wasn’t good.

We were briefed on the situation, which was that a landslide at a construction site had placed the City’s main water main was in jeopardy. If this line failed, it would mean the entire city would be out of water.

We were asked to set up the command post in the IT training room. No problem since we have the phones and necessary POE switch stockpiled for just such an event. Then it was forward that phone here, this phone there, these lines to cell phones, set up a public announcement line, etc. The point is that the persons requesting these actions have come to expect us to easily be able to do this, and in fact, we are thanks to FreePBX.

WE WOULDN’T HAVE BEEN ABLE TO DO THIS WITH MOST PHONE SYSTEMS. Certainly not with the CENTREX system FreePBX/Asterisk replaced.

So here we are. Being congratulated and thanked for doing such a great job in an emergency situation. When it was so easy to do. Didn’t break a sweat, thanks to FreePBX.

Oh…one more thing…please don’t let my bosses know how easy it all was. It’ll destroy my mystique.

Bill/W5WAF

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