Central plans and prays

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Saturday, October 1, 2005

METAIRIE, La.--When Hurricane Katrina's Category 4 winds and rains pushed its way into New Orleans, where Alarm Monitoring Services is based only minutes away, the third party central station was uncannily prepared.
President Dera DeRoche-Jolet, who had already lived through her own share of natural disasters, called upon a contingency plan that included shifting incoming signals out of state and housing operators throughout the duration of the storm.
In a stroke of good fortune for the company, which has 15 percent of its 30,000 accounts in the area, a four-month journey to purchase a different location ended on Sept. 9, just one week after the storm wrecked havoc on The Big Easy.
"It was a total godsend. A blessing all around" that this deal was in advanced stages, she said. A week after the storm hit, DeRoche-Jolet had already begun work bringing equipment into the Monroe, La., central, which is more than four hours away, and she expects to begin monitoring at the site by the end of the month.
Back in 1998, Hurricane Georges threatened to crush the area and "I learned my lesson and I really worked hard for this--I had a plan," DeRoche-Jolet said. But not without a cost. At the time, she decided to evacuate and the storm did not bare the wrath that had been expected.
Some dealers disagreed with her actions at the time, she recalled. A few stopped working with the firm, which has been in business since the early 1980s. Katrina's force turned out to be completely different, if not entirely unexplainable, than Georges. And DeRoche-Jolet and her husband understood the possibilities if a huge storm hit.
So, they left the ISC East conference that was taking place in New York City a day before the storm hit. The couple first worked on fortifying their house and then went to the central station.
Once on site, "we said, 'okay we need to go into disaster recovery mode and we need to do it tonight,'" DeRoche-Jolet said. On Sept. 27, the company started monitoring their accounts at Dice Corp.'s Bay City, Mich., headquarters and disaster center. And, the next day, it began splitting monitoring time between Dice and Monroe, La.-based CentryTel.
Chief Executive Officer Cliff Dice said the transition has gone smoothly, however the disaster center had to work out how its staff would share the increased workload. No such event has called so greatly upon its services.
"When we think of disasters, we think short-term fixes--these central stations are not down long term, typically." He continued, "we all thought disasters were less than 24 hours and this one kind of shocked us."
Cassandra Ivy, operations manager at CentryTel, has worked with AMS since Sept. 28. Dice's facility handles monitoring from 7am to 5:30pm and CentryTel from 5:30 p.m. to 7 a.m.
As a Dice customer and a user of its Aegis monitoring software, AMS was able to work seamlessly with Dice and CentryTel, also a user of the platform.
"I'm very happy with the way it's been handled," Dice said. "She (Dera) hasn't been having any problems at all and her dealers around the country have been operating without problems."
As preparations are made to move into the new site and start repair work on the older one, DeRoche-Jolet worked in the early days of post-Katrina on contacting her customers and reassuring them that everything will be okay.
"I'm worried about my clients out of state that think we're underwater, and I didn't want people to think we're out of business," she said. "I want everyone to know we got through this disaster unharmed."