February 01, 2018 by Matt Beatty

Maintaining Communication with Your Community in Crisis

In October of 2017, Sonoma and Napa counties in Northern California endured devastating wildfires. The disaster spread quickly- causing casualties, consuming over 160,000 acres and over 7,000 structures. Emergency services were needed throughout the City of Santa Rosa. Not only were emergency responders, volunteers, and shelters imperative, but it became apparent that their internal and public phone communications were also crucial to the preservation of life and property.


Emergency Operations Center (EOC)

At the outset, Santa Rosa set up their EOC focused on the urgent needs to coordinate evacuation efforts, disseminate information to the public, and ensure that service workers were equipped with necessary resources. The day the fires began, City of Santa Rosa’s EOC was staffed with a team of 37 people. When the EOC’s phone number was released to the public, it became clear that they needed more staff to manage the deluge of calls they received. They counted around 3,500 calls with wait times up to 10 minutes and a 50% call abandon rate. The technology staff needed to communicate the impacts and help the EOC team manage the call volume to reduce the wait time and abandon rate.


Where We Came In

One of the biggest contributors to the success of the IT department was the fact that they had set up Brightmetrics™ prior to the fires. Because phone communications were imperative during the crisis, the staff relied on their phone data analytics.


Since the team had their phone metrics readily available, they were able to recommend adjustments to the EOC staff according to the call volume:

  • Their original staff number was too low to be able to manage the call volume. The team could keep an eye on the call volume and other metrics to predict how many extra volunteers were needed every day
  • As time passed, they were able to watch the call volume trend down in the late-night hours. This allowed them to reserve the bulk of their agents for daytime operations when call volume was at its highest
  • As the fires progressed to containment, the EOC was able to slowly close down and transfer the calls to the general emergency hotline. They were able to provide proof that the hotline was not going to be inundated with calls


Leadership had access to vital analytics about call patterns. The EOC was able to monitor trunk utilization and route traffic accordingly:

  • In the beginning of the fires, they received 9,000 calls citywide- mostly to the fire and police departments
  • With Brightmetrics, the team was able to monitor their usage and reroute certain trunk groups to ensure that their overall capacity remained adequate while allocating resources based on the top call destinations


In Case of Emergency

  • Use Brightmetrics Call Reporting to have a better understanding of your phone system to determine whether your phone system equipment can handle all the calls that may come in should your municipality be in a state of emergency
  • Plan for as much extra equipment as your municipality can store including laptops, headsets, and phones. For the equipment that you cannot stockpile, reach out to your technology partner to see if and how they would be able to assist you
  • Practice your displacement contingency plan in case your EOC has to be evacuated. Santa Rosa recommends having a backup plan in place that would encompass setting up communications again so that the team knows exactly what to do should the situation arise


In Conclusion

The City of Santa Rosa made the best out of a destructive situation through hard work from the city employees, volunteers, and emergency responders. We, at Brightmetrics (whose home is in Sonoma County), would like to thank everyone involved in this crisis management process along with our first responders. The emergency was managed at an extraordinary level and we are very grateful for everything that was done to contain the damage and keep our communities safe. We are humbled to have played a small role in the phone communication process and are proud to partner with the City of Santa Rosa.


Read the Case Study


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