Aptela phone service helps ISP maintain customer support during Hurricane IsabelWhen Hurricane Isabel hit the mid-Atlantic coast last month, businesses lost power and phone service for several days, as well as access to their offices. Yet when the storm passed, those with remote tools and telework plans earned bragging rights.Take PatriotNet, a small ISP with 4,000 customers headquartered in Fairfax, Va. The company managed to keep its customer service lines open without interruption and even handled national sales calls that Friday \u2014 a day most in the region took off.\u201cWhen we made contingency plans, we certainly didn\u2019t expect to be denied access to the building,\u201d says Cynthia de Lorenzi, PatriotNet\u2019s CEO. \u201cFriday morning, we had no electricity at home, so we went to the office but couldn\u2019t get in \u2014 they didn\u2019t want us walking up four flights in the dark. We couldn\u2019t even get coffee \u2014 we had to go to the local hospital for coffee.\u201dBecause PatriotNet\u2019s 13 employees are equipped with laptops, everyone worked from home, connecting to the corporate network via dial-up connections, and using their cell phones to answer calls and conduct business. PatriotNet\u2019s tech staffers dialed in to the network via telnet, checking and managing systems remotely.Although the building\u2019s phone system was down, PatriotNet employees were unaffected because the company uses the Web-based phone service Aptela, from\u00a0e-cerv. Aptela provides PBX functions like individual extensions, call forwarding, follow me, voicemail and message management for small companies that don\u2019t want to deal with the complexity and expense of a corporate PBX. PatriotNet employees used dial-up lines to log on to the Aptela Web site, and programmed all incoming calls to cell phones or second land lines.\u201cWith Aptela, we were able to let our customers know what was happening,\u201d de Lorenzi says. \u201cOne was having a conference that week, and it was imperative that his DSL connectivity was working. He had electricity, but his DSL was down. We were able to figure out that the DSL connection wasn\u2019t the problem, but a power surge had blown his hub. He needed to know that,\u201d she says.Because many of her employees have long commutes, de Lorenzi found herself setting up an ad hoc telework center at her house. \u201cOne employee tried to get into the office, couldn\u2019t get in, so he drove to my house, just a few miles away. We both just pulled out our laptops and started working at my kitchen table,\u201d she says.Aside from Aptela\u2019s role, PatriotNet \u2014 and de Lorenzi\u2019s \u2014 progressive attitude about telework contributed to its success. The company\u2019s director of sales teleworks full time, and employees are encouraged to work from home on days they have a doctor\u2019s appointment, car trouble and the like. PatriotNet also does telework technology consulting in the area, and de Lorenzi is president of the Texas Technology Council \u2014 Texas is her home state \u2014 which brings telework seminars to the Dallas\/Ft. Worth area.\u201cI thought traffic congestion was bad in Texas,\u201d she says. \u201cBut telework is so much more important in an area as densely populated as Washington, D.C. If you\u2019re in this region, you just have to have telework."