Drill Scenario

A major public telecom network center in Seattle has experienced a power outage, including the loss of backup generators.  This event is impacting routing for most mobile and local phone service in the entire Puget Sound region. 

Sample Drill Injects

The following sample drill injects may be used by the drill coordinator to test certain aspects of your organization’s preparedness and emergency communication plans. 

Inject 1

The Telecommunications Manager reports to Administer on Call (AOC) that phone lines are unable to complete outbound local and long-distance calls or accept local or accept inbound calls. The circuits to the phone carriers are up but there is no traffic.  Tickets are being opened with vendors via their web portals.  At this time the telecom vendors do not have an estimate for a return to normal service.

Inject 2

The Telecommunications Manager reports to Incident Command that the telecom vendor’s Twitter feeds are reporting a region-wide telecommunications network failure affecting their ability to complete delivery of local and long distance phone calls. Vendors are asking customers to monitor their email and Twitter for updates.

Inject 3

Staff begins reporting outbound calls from cell phones are beginning to fail, calls to landline numbers are not completing. Some regular cell phone calls to other cell phone numbers are completing, many callers are experiencing a long set up time before the call begins to ring.

Inject 4

Outbound paging to SPOK and AMS pages via phone lines are failing. Inbound pages are being received.  Clinical staff asks Incident Command how they can continue to make outbound pages including code call pages.

Inject 5

Staff is reporting to Incident Command that most cell phone calls are now receiving busy signals or calls are not completing.

Inject 6

Local TV, Radio, and news websites publish breaking news of a major telecom outage impacting the King, Snohomish, and Pierce Counties.

Inject 7

Staff begins reporting that patients and family members are starting to post to social media that they are unable to reach area hospital phone numbers.  Members of the public want to know if hospitals or clinics are closed or if they should show up for scheduled appointments.

Inject 8

Administration asks Incident Command if anyone has/is posting an official response on social media or the main website to provide status to the public.  

Inject 9

Off-site clinics are emailing hospital administrators that patients are complaining that they are unable to call into clinics and that clinics are unable to call out. They would like to know what is going on and does Incident Command have any advice?

Inject 10

Transfusion Lab reports they are unable to contact Blood Works NW to place blood product orders. Requesting assistance from Incident Command with contacting Blood Works NW.

Inject 11

The telecommunication manager reports that telecom vendors are reporting a major issue for core communications services in the Puget Sound region. Engineers estimate it may take up to 18 hours for full-service restoration.

Inject 12

The administration is asking Incident Command if vendors will be restocking supplies tomorrow if Supply Chain is unable to call in orders via phone.

Inject 13

Pharmacy reports they are unable to contact key vendors to place orders. Requesting assistance from Incident Command with contacting vendors.

Pre-DRIll Checklist

  1. Create a drill injects for the drill manager.
  2. Check if your organization has a Communications Plan. Print copies for Incident Command use during the drill.
  3. Check if updated departmental phone lists are available with alternate contact methods.
  4. Is your Command Center Phone Contact List updated and correct? Where is it published?
  5. Does your organization use PACE plans or other methods for documenting alternate communications methods?
  6. Provide information sheets on how to use a vendor website or email to send messages to text pagers.
  7. Create a worksheet about other alternate forms of communications for distribution to Incident Command staff.
  8. Does your AOC, Emergency Incident Command, or Telecommunications manager have or know which if any cell phones are registered with the WPS service?
  9. Provide information sheets on the WPS service and how it is used.
  10. Does your organization have cell phones with priority and preemption service (FirstNet, Verizon Healthcare registered phones)?
  11. Does your organization maintain a list of cell phones with access to priority cell services?
  12. Does your organization maintain an inventory of which staff is assigned GETS cards?
  13. Provide information sheets about GETS cards and how they are used.
  14. If your organization uses wide-area pagers is there a directory of pager numbers?  Are staff aware of alternative means to send pages rather than direct dialing a pager?
  15. Check if your Public Information Officer has pre-approved message templates to post to social media and public websites.
  16. Check if your 911 PSAP accepts 911 calls via text message.  How would your hospital or clinic contact EMS in the event of an emergency?  Would you publish information on your website or social media to inform the public how to contact 911 without regular phone service?


Things to consider

1- Does your organization have a Communications Plan?

Find resources for creating a Communications Plan; http://pushecs.org/resources/ideas_concepts/comm_plan/


2- Does your staff have email contacts and other communication methods for key vendors?

Do you have a list of your vendor’s key email addresses, websites or Twitter feeds. Many vendors will post critical information on websites or social media feeds when their support centers are overwhelmed with support calls during a major outage or incident.

Contact list templates http://pushecs.org/resources/comm_plan_resources/comm_contact_lists


3- Do departments have PACE plans documenting communication methods with outside entities or remote sites?

Have you documented the alternate methods of communications to use in an emergency; email, radios, satellite phones, pagers, secure messaging systems, runners?

Do your vendors and remote clinic know what alternate communication methods to use in an emergency. Is there a protocol in place to initiate the alternate communication plans?

See how PACE Plans can help organize your alternate communications plan; http://pushecs.org/resources/pace_resources/

4- Clinical cell phone services

If your organization uses smartphones data transmission may slow or stop during a cellular outage. Are smartphones set up to use your internal Wi-Fi network for data transmission?

Voice, data, and SMS traffic may see different impacts as the cellular network becomes overloaded, for example, SMS texting may continue to work even as cellular data services slow or stop.

You should be aware of what networks your messaging apps are using and how they work. For example, Apple’s iMessage MMS service is a data network service, not an SMS text message service, however, if the cellular data network fails Apple will send and receive iMessages via SMS. The application will lose some functionality such as group messaging. …As a workaround you may want to turn off cellular data and use Wi-Fi to continue using iMessage’s full feature set.


5- WPS Enabled Smart Phones

Do staff have cell phones on the WPS system?

WPS provides priority calling service on a cellular network. If a cell phone has this service enabled your drill inject may limit voice traffic to only these phones.

Learn about WPS; https://pushecs.org/resources/resource_pages/gets-wps_emergency_comm_svcs/


6- GETS card

The use of a GETS card with a cell phone or PBX phone provides priority access on congested landline and cellular networks. 

It is important to know where your GETS cards are located. Do staff keep their own GETS cards or are they distributed during an incident?  Who is responsible for distributing GETS cards.

Incident Command may need to determine who has or needs GETS cards and how to instruct staff on the use of the system.

Learn about GETS; https://pushecs.org/resources/resource_pages/gets-wps_emergency_comm_svcs/


7- Emergency Responder Cell Phones

FirstNet and Verizon offer programs to provide priority service for cell phones during an emergency. FirstNet cell phones use a band of the cellular network reserved for First Responders and Emergency Management. In many cases, these phones will continue to work when the normal public network becomes congested.

Learn more about Emergency Responder Cell Phone Service; http://pushecs.org/resources/resource_pages/firstnet-overview/


8- Alternate Messaging Paging and Secure Messaging Solutions

If your organization uses pagers, does the Incident Command Team and staff know how to send text pages via a vendor’s web page or via email?

If staff use pagers how many staff have their pagers forwarded to cell phones and do not carry the pager? Do you anticipate these messages will arrive if the cell network becomes busy? Do staff know where their pagers are and where to get fresh batteries?

Does your organization use a secure messaging application? If so, what network is used to deliver the messages?  If it is a cloud service does the message using the cellular or Wi-Fi network to deliver the message, can it use both?


9- Other Considerations

If your PBX is working are there enough phones in your Incident Command Center for all communication needs?

Does staff outside the command center have the phone numbers needed to reach the command center?

Is your phone system networked to other phone systems in locations outside the impacted service area?  Is your phone system set up to route calls to out-of-region areas so your outbound calls can “hop-off” from these trunks?