To the Rescue: VoIP Helps Deliver the Vote

Florida's Miami-Dade County, one of the most monitored regions in the 2004 presidential election, relied on an IP call center to handle the huge spike in voter volume that the county experienced on election day. The call center used 150 Avaya IP phones to handle calls from voters with questions regarding polling places, precincts, registration, and other voting issues, as well as from the election staff at the county's 749 precincts, including more than 14,000 requests for voter registration information. The "switch," which supports the election call center as well as Miami-Dade Fire Rescue (MDFR) and the Miami-Dade Emergency Management System, handled 70,000 calls that day, four times its normal daily amount, according to Michael Crisler, the county's program manager for public safety and cyber security. "It was the only switch in the country that could have handled that type of load," Crisler says. The call center was established two months ago in anticipation of need during the election. The county widely advertised a call-in line for voters with questions prior to or on election day. Now that the election is over, the call center will be used to support the 311 system, according to Crisler. The call center itself has more than 400 trunk lines; they usually support the county's 60 fire departments, emergency operations, and, when it becomes active later this month, the county's 311 system. The fire and rescue operation is the largest in the country, and the emergency management system is the largest in the Southeastern U.S., according to Crisler. Though the election marked the telecommunication system's highest usage to date, it wasn't the time of heaviest usage: The system had other, smaller, spikes in usage when the four hurricanes swept through the state earlier this year. The lines all have excess capacity, Crisler says. With a typical analog system, the extra capacity wouldn't have helped, because the trunk lines themselves would need to be moved then moved back, or the county would have needed to install extra trunk lines to support the election call center. With the IP system, however, the county was able to reconfigure the network to enable excess capacity. According to Avaya officials, the system server includes a backup processor for reliability, delivers 50 times the processing power of the previous platform, and can simultaneously manage tens of thousands of calls. If the primary servers fail for any reason, the local gateways continue to provide uninterrupted service. "There were very few abandoned calls," Crisler says, adding that the call center was able to maintain its goal of limiting hold times to less than twice the duration of the calls. For example, a person with a call expected to last two minutes shouldn't be on hold longer than four minutes. The call center was only part of the major upgrade the county made in its telecommunications system. The experiences of 9/11 prompted MDFR to also upgrade its communications network. The department wanted a highly reliable solution capable of handling sudden, large surges in call traffic and providing fail-safe communications continuity even in the face of a local or national catastrophe. MDFR serves more than 2 million residents and businesses within the county and its 25 municipalities, responding to more than 191,000 emergency calls in 2002 alone. The agency's sprawling territory made it imperative that any new communication network be simple to administer, allowing MDFR to focus its time and resources on emergency response. Related articles: CRM.GOV
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