I just finished looking at our fax reports this morning. Members ordered 43,340 faxes to Congress, the President, and Secretary Napolitano yesterday. This compares to 44,732 faxes on Monday. As Director of Technology at NumbersUSA, it is my job, among other things, to make sure these get delivered.
Looking over the reports, I see that we delivered 55,617 yesterday and 31,844 the day before. Imagine what these numbers would look like on a busy day! Of course, delivering the faxes is no easy task. Granted, we don’t have a team of interns printing out each fax and feeding it into an array of fax machines!
Seriously though, think of the steps involved to send a fax. We have to convert each of the web submissions into a fax, match that up with the correct phone number for the recipient, determine the order that the faxes should be sent in (this is the hard part), and then ship those off over the Internet to a machine that sends the fax over the phone lines. Many NumbersUSA members have probably seen the fax software on their own computers if they have modem. Of course, the modem we use is a little more advanced so that we can send more than one fax at a time. To deliver 55,617 faxes yesterday, we had to send an average of 39 faxes per minute. Again, imagine a busy day!
The hardest parts in the process of sending a fax is dealing with invalid fax numbers or even worse, numbers that can’t receive as many faxes as we can send! This is where queuing comes into play. If a Member of Congress can’t receive as many faxes as we want to send them, we have to make sure that we redirect some faxes to their home offices. We also have to make sure that we are always trying to send a fax whenever their fax machine is not busy, out of paper, or unplugged. At one point in our history, we had so many faxes to deliver that we had to print them out and hand deliver them!
Believe it or not, each Congressperson doesn’t always keep the same numbers throughout their tenure. Sometimes they change offices, move their fax machines, open new home offices, etc. Also, sometimes their “good” numbers aren’t public. People in our office then have to make a few calls to try to find the valid numbers. With 535 Members of Congress, if each Congressperson changes a number (even a district office number) once a year, that is at least two of these scenarios each business day! In practice, on any given day we have a few more than that. Once we do find a good number for that representative, we then have to take all of the faxes intended for the invalid number and redirect them to the good number.
Also, at times we have a member of congress who, quite frankly, doesn’t want to hear from his or her constituents. They limit their public fax number to only receive a few faxes an hour or day. In these cases we have to seek political or find creative solutions (like asking our members to use the phone instead of sending a fax!)
The point is, we want to make sure every fax is delivered as quickly as possible. It is my job to facilitate you as you voice your opinions to Congress, but without giving away some of the technical secrets and challenges, it’s almost a full-time job for one of the guys on my team. But we consider that our privilege.
There are also costs involved. Each fax costs us about five cents to send, not counting personnel maintenance costs. Yesterday, to send those 55,617 faxes cost us about $2780.85. Not to be cliché, but imagine a busy day! Faxing will always be free at NumbersUSA because we have donors who are willing to ensure that their and others’ voices are heard. And for that, I say, "Donors, thank you. You help me do my job!"
Well, I’m going to get back to reading the fax report. It seems we have about 20,000 faxes that need to be delivered today. Some of these are spillovers from yesterday; others are faxes to numbers we have had problems with. Our staff and machines will keep attempting to send the faxes until we get them through. Later I get to look at our email report, but I’ll save that blog for another day! In the meantime, send some more faxes to Congress. They need to hear your voice!
SOLOMON GIFFORD is Director of Technology for NumbersUSA
Updated: Fri, May 29th 2009 @ 8:22am EDT