Hurricane Sandy’s Silver Lining

It’s hard to forget the devastating images of Hurricane Sandy. In the United States, Sandy affected 24 states, including the entire eastern coastline from Florida to Maine. Loss due to damage and business interruption is estimated at $65.6 dollars. More than five weeks later, many businesses are still without power and unable to operate. So where’s that silver lining?

AB Universal Messaging of Neptune City, New Jersey was right in the path of the storm. They are only blocks from the Jersey shore. Water poured into their offices and destroyed the operations room flooring and some computers. They were without power for 19 days. Their toll free numbers were down about six hours. Their point to point with their Nebraska office was down a day and half. Roads were washed out so operators couldn’t get to work. So where’s the silver lining?

“I am a lucky woman,” said Debbie Bibber, owner of AB. ”In my 40 years in this industry, I have never seen people, competitors, vendors, everyone drop everything and work so hard to help me stay in business. I have great friends in this industry who wanted to help. Even though the hurricane damage probably cost me about $15,000, we’re OK. The way people helped, I’ll never forget.

The Saturday before the hurricane hit, Debbie flew to Florida to set up an alternate plan. Tom Baur of CallStar in St. Petersburg offered to allow AB calls to be re-routed to their service, should everything be washed away. The team at Telescan worked tirelessly through the weekend to make this happen.

“I first called Roger Young,” Debbie said, “He told me ‘Deb, whatever you need, we’re here for you’, and they were. Robbie Parnell put in a good 40 hours the help utilize SIP trunking to allow re-routing. John Jones came in on his day off to write a program that would allow this to happen. Bob Vornberg pitched in to help make it work. I couldn’t have asked for more.”

Debbie also bought a last-minute generator, which it turned out, helped her stay in business without the re-routing. The generator was enough to keep the call center running, but not provide heat. Since most of her customers were without electricity and in many cases, severely damaged businesses, they had all calls routed to AB. At the peak, AB had 16,000 calls a day. Becky Retherford of Emerald Coast Answering Service of Lin Haven, Florida pitched in to donate two operators to help with the volume.

“I have a wonderful crew. We worked from 6:00 AM to 12:00 AM fully staffed answering calls. Even my kids and niece pitched in and worked 15 hours daily 7 days a week. I learned some good lessons. First, I am blessed with a wonderful crew and friends. Second, I am very glad to be with Telescan. I know they will be with me whatever comes. Third, you can never prepare too much. Whatever is the worst you prepared for, you should double it. Last, this industry has changed. People are more than willing to do anything to help one another in time of crisis. That means so much.”
Debbie has taken her lessons to heart and she’s “paying-it-forward”. She’s now helping out a New York call center that is still without power. Even in a hurricane like Sandy, there is a silver lining.