Hurricane Irma, the strongest Atlantic hurricane in recorded history, is currently carving its way through the Caribbean on a collision course with the Dominican Republic, causing deep concern within the country’s BPO industry.
The category five “major” hurricane (according to US authorities) has wind speeds up to 185mph, and has already begun devastating the region – the Caribbean island of St. Martin has reported severe flooding and building damage, and Puerto Rico’s government has declared a state of emergency.
However, significant preparations have been made by all BPOs in the Dominican Republic to keep their employees safe from harm and prevent service dropouts, so normal service is expected to continue as hurricane Irma passes through.
Safe Space for Employees
With its business background in Florida, Talk2Rep is one BPO provider that has experience preparing for natural disasters. “It all starts by identifying the proper space and infrastructure for the facility,” said Jim Ryan, CEO of Talk2Rep. “We currently have 500 agents sharing space with the electric company of DR, which has an on-site generator that is fully prepared and maintained. The building also has hurricane-graded glass with cement walls. It’s almost like a bunker.”
Given that BPO facilities in the country have these safety measures, many staff are invited to sleep on-site after their shifts. “For BPOs in the country, the safety of our employees is of paramount importance,” said Stephen Ferber, CEO of Golden Gate BPO Solutions. “In preparation for the hurricane, we offer employees the chance to stay at our facilities, along with their family members if we have room, providing them with a safe place and plenty of food and water.”
According to Heriberto Rosado, a BPO veteran operating as a consultant in the country, 85-90% of industry employees live within the city limits of Santa Domingo. “The ones outside of the city limits are told to stay at home, and are paid as normal until it’s safe to return to work,” he said.
Considerations are also made for agents with low-incomes, or for single parents that may be affected by school closures. Whatever the case may be, BPOs can expect a drop in staff attendance during the hurricane. “We can count on a 20% shrinkage from a staffing perspective, so it’s vital to pad staff in advance and migrate calls where necessary,” said Ryan.
Business Continuity for Clients
As soon as hurricane Irma was reported on Thursday, the BPO providers opened up a dialogue with their clients to explain their plans for business continuity.
In the event of severe damage or service shutdown, call or chat volume may need to be re-routed to other centers, or even other outsourcers, which is not ideal as there is a deep reliance on the subject matter expertise of agents that have been trained for specific clients.
“As a company, we have our own disaster recovery plan, but also one for each client,” said Ferber. “If we’re the only provider that the client has, we’ll try to arrange something for them to have some people in their home location. On the end-customer side, we inform them at the front end of the call that there may be a delay, or that offices are shut because of a hurricane.”
These measures are put into effect as a last resort, as BPO facilities on the island are fitted with backup generators, and there are various points of entry in terms of telecoms and data into the country, so their redundancy infrastructure can be used for weeks if need be.
“Each company performs mock activities to ensure that everyone is prepared for natural disasters such as this,” said Rosado. “All call centers in DR have a good disaster plan and can run without local power for 2-3 weeks. Also, one of the many benefits of DR is that it’s in the middle of America, so has rock solid communications infrastructure connected directly to the US.”
Learning from Experience
This isn’t the first hurricane the Dominican Republic has had to deal with. Hurricane George devastated the nation 20 years ago, but the country learnt a lot from the experience. “Power lines were damaged and in some cases were inoperable for three or four months,” said Rosado. “After George, they moved all power cables underground, and made sure all constructions were hurricane-ready.”
Reportedly, the Dominican Republic is expected to be hit by hurricane Irma at around 2am EST on the morning of Thursday September 7, so we strongly hope that, with the country’s significant preparations for hurricanes like this, that everyone will remain safe over the next few days.