Saturday, 14 July 2012

Microsoft Lync for Emergency Response

As a local authority we have a duty of care to our citizens and unfortunately sometimes that involves co-ordinating the civil authorities, Police, Fire, Health, Social Work etc, to deal with serious events both planned and unplanned and on a happier note organising and ensuring the smooth running of major public events and festivals.

We had a suite of rooms in the basement of our Headquarters that was designated as the emergency planning and response centre, it all looked impressive, big maps on the wall, whiteboards, 12 desks with PC's and bright red telephones. Seperate conference room and other offices for brainstorming during emergencies. It was used on average once every 2 years.

As you can imagine that is not a great use of building space, equipment and resources. Now that we have Lync we don't need it at all anymore.

With the ability to quickly see who is available using presence, pull them into adhoc meetings and video conferences from their own office and even include outside agencies with federation or just by sending them an online meeting request, they are able to join in despite not having Lync, our emergency response has completely changed.

With a large rural area to cover we can setup and have running a fully connected control room in any of our council offices or schools within a few hours. Computer suites in classrooms are ideally suited to this purpose allowing us to be close to the event if required but still fully connected through Lync to our teams and other agencies.

We have moved away from the concept of dedicated numbers and helplines, anybody phoning in to our contact centre can be quickly routed through to any of our locations or people at the click of a mouse. Our use of SBA's across the region with 2 in our major towns gives us a good degree of resilience and we have successfully used 3G mi-fi to video conference and share data using Lync. The ability of senior officers to be effectively there despite still being in the home 30 miles away has increased our level of response beyond expectation.

This was a control room for the Olympic torch procession that ran through South Ayrshire in June. IT received the request to set up some kind of room where Senior staff could monitor the route yet still be in touch at 1400hrs on Thursday, the room wasn't available until 1700hrs. I left the building at 1745hrs after two of us had setup 5 workstations ( laptops ) connect to Lync and Plantronics P540 phones, a 42"  LCD displaying the live feed from the BBC. A Polycom CX3000 conference phone and a dual monitor station for the Head of communications with twitter.

All the staff had to do in the morning was login and their desktop, phone and email was all there ready for them despite them normally working in different buildings.

Lync also allows us a flexibility that was not thought possible a few years ago. Officers in charge of gritting operations in the winter don't have to battle through storms and snowdrifts to get to the office to co-ordinate operations, they are able to work safely and effectively from their home using broadband and still be in full control as if they were sitting at their desks. 

Lync truly has removed the concept of work being a location now it is an activity regardless of where you are.

Oh and I got a small medal for the Olympic Control room setup. Shhh don't tell them how easy it was.

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