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LAN fax speeds environmental response.

With government funding in decline and environmental problems on the rise, it came as no surprise when in 1990 the New Jersey Department of Environmental Protection and Energy (EPE) found itself drowning in Action Line calls reporting incidents of environmental problems.

The situation was intolerable, particularly because calls arriving on the environmenral hot line sometimes concerned severe emergencies, such as toxic spills, requiring the immediate evacuation of entire city blocks.

Mike Tompkins, section manager, knew something had to be done to prevent emergency calls from being put on indefinite hold.

At the time, EPE workers were taking calls, writing down information on environmental incidents by hand, typing them up, then feeding them into a fax machine--sometimes several times in order to fax the information to all the remote environmental offices and agencies which had to respond to a given incident.

This manual approach--involving the call, processing the information, and sending the fax--took about 20 minutes. In 1987, the seven-person staff handled approximately 7,000 such calls that came into the office. But by mid-1990, the volume of calls had more than doubled (the department received about 22,000 calls in 1991) and, with the staff expanded by only a single worker, the situation had become overwhelming.

The solution was to computerized. The department hired a local consulting house, New Jersey Business Systems (NJBS), which installed a LAN and put together a custom application based on Borland's Paradox database program. The plan was to slowly phase in LAN fax after the application was stabilized. But while the initial computerization merged the note-taking and typing into a single function--PC data entry--bottlenecks still occuring as the staff waited for printouts and for use of a still busy fax machine.

According to NJBS project manager Paul Lobecker, the EPE needed the ability to fax directly from Paradox.

Borland International recommended GammaNet from GammaLink, Sunnyvale, Calif., a LAN fax server which includes an application programming interface (API) which made it possible to integrate fax functions right into Paradox menus.

Lobecker recalls, "The API was really the bottom line (in choosing a fax product). It had a lot of meat to it and let us integrate right into Paradox."

It was installed immediately and the single function of direct faxing from the LAN again replaced two functions: printing and then transmitting from the fax machine.

Tompkins says training was a snap because the system is just another Paradox menu choice. Given the facts of a particular incident, agents check a "decision tree" in the application to determine to which EPE offices the report must be faxed. Then, without leaving the application, staffers can choose the fax option and a customized fax menu pops right up.

Agents then simply check off the necessary EPE sites--listed by name in the fax phonebook--and faxes are sent automatically.

When successfully completed, or when a transmission fails, a confirmation signal (or an error alert) flashes on the screen so the staff knows the proper authorities have been notified.

"The old way, it used to take up to 20 minutes to handle a call from start to finish. Now it's down to five minutes and most of that is phone time," says Tompkins. "LAN fax saves time. Most importantly, it lets our operators answer the phones when they ring. That's the real work they're here to do."

Meanwhile, the fax machine is still in place, primarily because all the above-mentioned benefits derive from sending faxes, not receiving them.

The Department continues to receive faxes on the fax machine, reducing traffic on the LAN-fax phone line. Also, should the LAN fax capability ever go down, the fax machine serves as an emergency backup.

Finally, although Tompkins cannot definitively document the saving of lives due to LAN fax, he asserts that the capability enables the Department to provide an immediate response to environmental emergencies, which can contribute to saving lives.
COPYRIGHT 1992 Nelson Publishing
No portion of this article can be reproduced without the express written permission from the copyright holder.
Copyright 1992 Gale, Cengage Learning. All rights reserved.

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Title Annotation:Local Area Networks; Dept of Environmental Protection and Energy response time
Publication:Communications News
Date:Nov 1, 1992
Words:646
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