In the fall of 2014, the National Domestic Violence Hotline (NDVH) was able to fulfill a long standing ambition of opening multi-site operations by opening an office in Washington, D.C. This provides two primary benefits to NDVH:
- Multi-site operations gives the hotline a layer of redundancy, allowing for failover in the event of an emergency, as well as taking advantage of time-zone differentials to facilitate overnight operations.
- Establishing an office in Washington, D.C. allows the hotline to more easily showcase services to policy-makers, and to be an important presence in support of legislative work around victim services provision, including advocating for increased funding for operations.
NDVH was also presented with a sub-lease opportunity in an established law firm, that would provide the organization with three sizable offices, as well as access to common spaces for well under current market rates. As such, I put together and implemented a plan for housing operations in the new space, and standing up digital operations in the second quarter of 2015.
Set-up and Build-out
Upon examination of the current infrastructure, it quickly became clear that the existing build-out was insufficient – the current ISP was limited to a 3MB/S pipe, and the cabling was, to put in mildly, a tangled mess. Over the course of four trips, I oversaw the installation of new cabling, a new internet service provider that could bring in a higher bandwidth connection, telephony setup, and the provisioning of work stations and laptops on the new network.
Telephony was built-out using IP Phones that integrate with our primary PBX in Austin. While this was a cost-effective solution, it proved problematic at first, requiring the set-up of a site-to-site VPN to stabilize voice traffic.
This second site also presented challenges around keeping the D.C. staff connected with the home office in Austin. While NDVH has used Google hangouts on a limited fashion for many years, with this new satellite office, the agency has embraced the webcam as an invaluable tool, keeping standing hangout feeds online between the two call centers, and utilizing the service to provide remote supervision to chat advocates in real time.
Call Center Design
The final aspect of the set-up was the physical layout of the call center itself, which (much to my delight), I single handedly oversaw and implemented (not only did I pick out most of the furniture, I was also the one putting it together). While the Hotline’s footprint is small (about 160 square feet), through trial and error, we were able to accommodate four advocates and one supervisor, allowing the D.C. center to field more than 600 chats from victims of dating abuse and domestic violence per month.
While the first step in standing up D.C. operations was deploying digital services (Chat and SMS), long-term plans include adding voice capacity, which will allow for a greater level of redundancy in NDVH’s call center operations, ensuring that if either location were to experience some kind of outage, the other would be able to maintain operations and prevent down-time.