Holiday Support

Providing effective support during extended holiday periods is a challenge. The following describes the process once used to achieve this. It has since been determined that the cost didn't justify the benefit. So until that assessment changes, regard the following as of historic interest.

In practice we use upon our general approach to after hours support, relying upon whoever is around and willing to help, with no guarantee of service during the holidays.


In order to provide some measure of support, we ask for volunteers to be available occasionally during the Christmas holidays. The person on call is expected to deal with a problem report as best they can. Should they not be able to resolve a serious problem, they will call a staff member who may be able to provide quick advice.


Compensation for being available will be 2 for 1 time off, i.e. one day off for each half day shift. The time will be added to the current annual vacation allotment, i.e. to be used any time in the vacation year. That applies to the person on call as well as to any staff member that volunteers to spend significant time on a problem.

Choice of Time

Volunteers can choose whether they want to be available in the morning or the afternoon.


For 2010, the goal is support for one half of each day from Monday December 27 to Friday December 31st inclusive.

The Phone

Rather than having the person on call carry a cell phone, with the concomitant problem of passing it between those on call, we'll rely upon voice-mail notifications for the single problem reporting number (x31100).

In addition, the phone will send e-mail to cscf-urgent@cs whenever a message is left. The catch is that we can't necessarily rely upon that, i.e. if the mail system or network is not working correctly.

The Usual Case

A volunteer will

At the start of the holidays:

  • forward their work phone to whatever phone they'll be using while on duty (indications are this must be done from the physical phone, so this step should be taken on the last working day before the holidays)

At the start of each shift:

  • update the voicemail message if they wish to

  • redirect the problem reporting number to their office extension

  • respond to pending voicemail

During their shift:

  • respond to voicemail notifications

  • stay available for phone calls if they've chosen to leave their phone number in the voicemail message

  • let cscf-urgent@cs know when they start working on a problem (including Nagios alerts sent by email)

  • check for and respond to problem reports on the newsgroup

  • be available to come in to work should a problem require that (but not when the weather presents a problem)

  • communicate with the reporter of a problem, either by e-mail or phone (whichever works), ideally by phone

  • create the appropriate work records (in ST, provided ST is available, otherwise by email to cscf-urgent@cs)

At the end of their shift:

  • disable redirection of the problem reporting number

When There's a Problem

At very least, volunteers are expected to be able to

  • safely restart a core or student system

  • follow existing diagnosis/restart (edocs) notes, which include some research systems as well

  • determine who to call, if they can't resolve the problem themselves

Choice of Volunteers

Should there be more volunteers than needed, preference will be given to those who meet the minimum technical requirements, and

  • have had the least volunteer activity

  • have a positive track record of using their vacation time

Using the Phone

We're using the same extension used for us to report outages that prevent the viewing of our bulletins page, i.e. extension 31100.

It can be accessed remotely via

or via the WWW interface at
The password is in the usual place for such.

Setting the Phone Message

Setting the greeting message on a phone extension is done by following the menu prompts, which will lead to:

  • 82 - greeting mode
  • 3 - select external greeting
  • 5 - record new message
  • # - end recording
  • 9 - set expiration for the temporary greeting (follow the prompts, use '*' if uncertain)
  • 4 - back to messages
  • 83 - exit

Forwarding Your Office Phone

Forwarding an office phone is done by

  • enabling forwarding to external numbers, by asking request@ist
  • pushing the "forward" button; it will start flashing
  • entering the phone number you'll be available at while on duty
  • pushing the "forward" button; it will stop flashing and stay lit
Forwarding is disabled by pushing the "forward" button.

The Schedule

The schedule has been added to our public Help Outside of Business Hours page during the holiday season.

The Start of the Holidays

At the end of the last work day before the holidays, the standard phone message about reporting problems will change to (something like):

This is the Computer Science Computing Facility for the David R. Cheriton School of Computer Science. Please describe the nature of the emergency, and leave a means to contact you should more details be required, and so that we can inform you of the problem resolution. We expect to be on duty for half of each weekday from Monday December 27 to Friday December 31st.
and leaving of messages will be enabled via the "Telephone Options" in

This will default to being done by the manager of client support.

The Beginning of a Shift

Forwarding To Your Office Phone

At the beginning of a shift, the volunteer will forward the report extension (x31100) to their office extension, via the "Message Notification" page of

Optional Voicemail

At the beginning of a shift, the volunteer may choose to temporarily change the phone message to (something like):

This is the Computer Science Computing Facility for the David R Cheriton School of Computer Science. Please describe the nature of the emergency. Please include a means to contact you should we need details, and so that we can inform you of the problem resolution. We expect to listen to this voicemail within 30 minutes.

Or, for those interesting in leaving their phone number, to something like:

This is the Computer Science Computing Facility for the David R. Cheriton School of Computer Science. Help is currently available at NNN-NNN-NNNN. Please call for help with the emergency.

In either case, use the temporary greeting feature (8 2 3) of Call Pilot and set an expiry date/time when you have finished recording the greeting.

The date/time of expiry can also be set via the "Greetings" selection in

The End of a Shift

Disable Forwarding To Your Office Phone

At the end of a shift, the volunteer will disable forwarding of the report extension, via the "Message Notification" page of

Voicemail - Nothing To Do

If you chose to provide a more detailed message during your shift, the use of the "temporary greeting" feature for the voicemail message should cause it automatically revert to the message set on the first shift. So we won't need to change this back to the standard phone message until the end of the last shift of the holiday period.

The End of the Holidays

On the first work day after the holidays, the client support manager will:

Building Access

No special provision is made for parking lot plowing, so if you can't find a reasonable parking spot, you're not expected to come in to work (even if that's needed to resolve a problem). In practice it's likely not a problem, as no special provision has been made/needed for other staff on duty over the holidays.

Building access is usually done either by going to uWaterloo Police and borrowing a DC door key, or signing out a key before the holidays. Some CSCF staff have a permanently assigned DC door key. The approach to be taken each year is apparently variable; we've yet to hear from the police if changes are expected this year.

Regardless of how you end up at work, let the police know that you're here, either in person or by calling x22222. That way they can check when doing their patrols.

Reimbursement for Phone Calls

Should chargeable phone calls have to be made (i.e. long distance to the reporting person), volunteers will be reimbursed for the cost of the calls.

Why We Use Voicemail

It turns out that neither the campus phone system, nor the commercial phone system the campus connects to, can change the forwarding of a number remotely. We have to be on campus to change the forwarding. Coming in just to change phone forwarding isn't a good use of time. That's why we're relying voice-mail, as that can be changed remotely.

Our Clients

Aside from an e-mail announcement of this service, it is documented in the public description of after hours support.

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Topic revision: r16 - 2012-10-31 - BillInce
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