While some of our users in southeast Texas are still recovering from Harvey, those in south Florida and the east coast are preparing for the impact of Irma. We’ve fielded several calls, emails, and support tickets on this topic, so I wanted to take the time to provide answers to the most common questions and concerns users have about our infrastructure and how their service may be impacted by severe weather.

Q: Will On Call Central go down if there’s a hurricane?

A: That’s very unlikely. On Call Central is hosted with Amazon Web Services (AWS), which manages the largest, most advanced data centers in the world. There are AWS locations throughout the United States and abroad. All locations have fully redundant power and data connectivity. You can read more about the capabilities of AWS global infrastructure here. We can relocate our servers to other AWS locations with a minimal maintenance window. This action only would be taken if there appears to be an imminent risk of impact, since any maintenance window itself involves a small degree of risk.

Q: Does this mean that my phone calls will always get to On Call Central?

A: Not necessarily. For phone calls to work, you need a functional path from the place of origin to the end destination. This path includes your patient’s phone, your office phone, your local phone company, and everything in between. For any phone call to work the entire path between the point of origin and the destination has to be functional. The infrastructure that makes up this path is complex, and is not owned or controlled by any one entity. Therefore, it is possible the the local phone infrastructure, for example, in Miami is impacted (thereby affecting calls to south Florida practices), but there is no impact on practices in California. Again, this is true of ANY answering service, not just On Call Central.

Q: How can I minimize my risk of being affected?

To minimize your risk of being affected, you should minimize your dependence on infrastructure that is most likely to be impacted by the storm. Mitigation steps can include:

  • Have a plan in case power goes out in your office. Your office phone system might go down if your power is out. This might mean calls can’t be forwarded to On Call Central even if both your local phone company and On Call Central are functioning correctly. It is a good idea to post your On Call Central number directly on your practice’s web page, as well as on social media sites. When patients call the number directly, it will bypass any infrastructure issues that may exist in your office.
  • Make sure providers do not rely exclusively on one physical device. This is good advice regardless of the weather, but it particularly applies to hurricane situations. It would be a bad plan to have all notifications to a provider be phone calls to a cell phone. Make sure notifications escalate to more than one device. This could be a home phone, pager, or even a spouse’s phone.
  • Use SMS for at least one notification to providers. Phone calls either work or fail in real time. SMS messages, by contrast, often can get queued by your wireless carrier, and generally will be delivered once a mobile device successfully reconnects to a mobile tower. You probably have experienced this before when, for example, you have received several SMS messages all at once. That’s your mobile carrier queuing SMS messages, and that’s a good thing!

Q: What if my local phone company has an outage? Can that affect On Call Central?

A: On Call Central acquires phone numbers from aggregators who, in turn, acquire number numbers from telephone companies all over the country. This is what allows us to acquire local phone numbers in nearly every area code in the United States. If your local phone company has a major outage that you expect may last several days, that could mean that your local On Call Central number may not work even though On Call Central itself is perfectly functional. If this happens, reach out to us on our support system, and we will acquire a temporary number for you that exists outside of the affected geography.

Q: How can we contact you in case of emergency?

A: There are four ways to contact us. They are:

  • Our support ticket system, the most reliable way of documenting a support request.  This is located here: https://www.oncallcentral.com/support/open.php
  • By calling 1-855-5-ON-CALL. During normal office hours, you can reach support by selecting option #2.
  • By calling 1-888-400-2514. By design, we contract with a completely separate call center that in no way relies on the same physical infrastructure as us. They will be able to contact the on call engineer directly. This number is for emergencies such as outages or system failures. Non-emergent issues, such as changing the provider on call, are more appropriately handled through your On Call Central web interface. Please do NOT use this number for non-emergencies, as it will slow down the resolution of issues for other parties that may be facing critical infrastructure challenges.
  • Our Facebook page: https://www.facebook.com/medicalansweringservice/. This is not our most preferred forum for support, as it isn’t monitored 24/7. We do, however, check it several times a day, and if there is an ongoing natural disaster, we will be sure to monitor it more consistently.  

Q: I want to create a temporary greeting due to the hurricane. How do I do this?

A: Open a support ticket here: https://www.oncallcentral.com/support/open.php. Select voice menu creation as the topic. Provide a complete script and instructions, including when you want the greeting to start, and end. Hurricanes are anticipatable events, so please plan well in advance and give us at least 48 hours to record your greeting.

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