Oncall solutions?
February 8, 2015 1:13 PM   Subscribe

Need a ultra reliable never fail way for my job to always contact me at any time. Are pagers still used, other ideas?

I'm starting a new job which requires me to be on call 24/7 365 (It's the Railroad). My phone isn't always the most reliable (Nexus 5 using Ting, Minneapolis MN area) and I need something I can count on. I was thinking about a pager, but I don't see anything that looks reputable. I came across Zipit Now, but don't see anything on there page for something to buy.
posted by andywolf to Technology (14 answers total)
This is what pagers are for.

Does your job not provide one? If they need you to be available 100%, I'd assume it would be on them to work out what device you need. The one time I was issued with a pager, it was one of these. Typically, pagers don't use the cell networks and rely on some other radio signal, which is low-bandwidth but more reliable.
posted by BungaDunga at 1:22 PM on February 8, 2015 [7 favorites]

Have you spoken to your work about this? If my work required me to be on-call forever, I'd require them to handle all the details.
posted by feckless fecal fear mongering at 1:27 PM on February 8, 2015 [17 favorites]

Also, I don't think you can just buy a pager and have your job be able to contact you with it; they need to have bought service for the pager, bought whatever equipment they need to send a message to the pager, etc.

The poor-man's solution is a dumb-as-rocks Nokia cellphone as a second phone just for your job. Get Verizon service, or whatever network has the best coverage where you're going to be. The cost of the phone and the plan should be picked up by your employer.
posted by BungaDunga at 1:28 PM on February 8, 2015 [2 favorites]

This is your work's problem. You don't want to be on the hook for problems with the infrastructure choices.
posted by odinsdream at 1:48 PM on February 8, 2015 [10 favorites]

Nothing is perfect. Cellphones and pagers have coverage areas. There is (or maybe just used to be) pagers which guarantee you get any page sent to you, but if you're out of the area the message just gets saved until the pager is in the coverage area.

You could use Google voice which gets you a phone number not tied to a physical device. You can then forward any calls onto any phone number you like. I don't recall if you can have it try multiple devices one after another.

A lot of IT organizations are using pagerduty.com to solve this sort of problem. You can have it email you first, then sms, then call whatever phone numbers you like in whatever order and whatever intervals.

But as everyone else says above, your employer should have a standard approach to this and they should pay for whatever services you need.
posted by DrumsIntheDeep at 1:51 PM on February 8, 2015 [1 favorite]

Pagers still exist; ER doctors still largely use them because they're super reliable. You don't need that level of reliability for most jobs that aren't life-or-death, though. Nokia brick type phones (or hell, even cheap smartphones) work fine for most cases.

Though, like other people have said, this should be your job's responsibility. If they're expecting you to be on call, they should have procedures around exactly what that means, including both factors like what technology you're using and things like expected response time from you and any additional compensation. For instance, I've seen technical on call rotations where there were three levels of on call (you're expected to be at a computer within five minutes, half an hour, and an hour respectively), each of which carried a different bonus on top of normal salary. This should all be written down in case something goes wrong, which, if you're working the kind of job that requires on-call time, something inevitably will.
posted by Itaxpica at 2:26 PM on February 8, 2015 [1 favorite]

All railroad services I'm aware of expect to call and hear you pickup to receive information, they aren't setup to handle a Pager. Seconding a plain brick or flipphone for exclusive call use with good antenna and battery. If you're going to be going out on the line a good backup phone is pretty handy to have.
posted by nickggully at 2:43 PM on February 8, 2015 [2 favorites]

It's the UP and nickggully is right about not being set up for paging (I just found out). I'm not on call yet but missed two calls today. The phone was next to me with the ringer on and no sound from it when someone called. I think I'll go with google voice forwarding to my wife and a burner and maybe even a landline. I'm just nervous as heck about something stupid like this screwing up a great job. Thanks everyone
posted by andywolf at 3:08 PM on February 8, 2015

I think it's unreasonable to expect this kind of response with a cell phone. I know for certain carriers just drop calls to voicemail if the load happens to be high the moment your call comes through, no matter what kind of phone you have.
posted by odinsdream at 4:16 PM on February 8, 2015

Google Voice (and as near as I can tell PagerDuty.com) have no SLA, meaning they don't guarantee that they won't just be randomly down. Google Voice allows you to ring multiple devices, including a computer via GChat. That would allow you to at least have a decent shot at getting the message even if your main phone doesn't. It will also allow voicemail to go to your email address, which is my preferred way of being notified that someone wants to reach me, YMMV.

FWIW Google has people on call and we handle it by simply having a list of people to call with the expectation that the first person on the list might miss the call because of whatever random reason.
posted by TeatimeGrommit at 5:14 PM on February 8, 2015 [3 favorites]

Surely if you ask your employer they will at least put you in contact with your new colleagues who can say how they handle this requirement.
maybe even a landline
Definitely a landline.
posted by books for weapons at 6:47 PM on February 8, 2015 [1 favorite]

FWIW Google has people on call and we handle it by simply having a list of people to call with the expectation that the first person on the list might miss the call because of whatever random reason.

This seems necessary. Otherwise you could never go on a plane or go hiking or get drunk... ever!
posted by aubilenon at 9:07 PM on February 8, 2015

I love Google Voice but I wouldn't use it for this. WAY too often I get texts several hours after the fact. If it's as important as that, I would go with two or three phones (dedicated work cell that is always charged, personal cell, land line) and the person calling needs to call all three repeatedly until answered... With a fallback person to call if too much time has elapsed.
posted by anaelith at 5:55 AM on February 9, 2015 [1 favorite]

If you can't use pagers, then you need to use a phone. Typically, where I work, there are two people oncall, in case one is unavailable (since realistically, nobody can ACTUALLY be available every single second). Failing that, the next best solution is to get a smart phone and a dumb phone, on two separate cell carriers, but that would require them to try two separate numbers (and any routing service, like Google Voice, would simply become a single point of failure). If they will try multiple numbers, I would put the first one as Google Voice, then your smart phone, then your dumb phone.

Get them to pay for the dumb phone and the dumb phone line.

Also, most phone services have an SLA for voice calls, but not Google Voice. But NO cell service has an SLA for texts. You are never guaranteed that a text you send will actually arrive.
posted by ethidda at 9:27 AM on February 9, 2015 [1 favorite]

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