Mobile Future

Calling, texting and emailing: communicating after the quake

After the 5.4 magnitude earthquake struck southern California, cell phone networks were overloaded with calls when millions of southern Californians tried to get in touch with their loved ones.

Verizon Wireless spokesman Ken Muche said their network had "1.4 million calls per minute" during the hour of the earthquake, which is 400% more calls than usual.

Historically, after disasters like this earthquake strike, cell phone calls were often unable to get through the clogged networks. But, with today’s savvy cell phone users texting and emailing, they have found many other ways to get around this challenge.

Because text messaging and emailing travel differently over wireless networks than voice calls, these options proved to be great ways of communicating. AT&T spokesman Geoff Mordock pointed out, "the good part is you can send the same message to a lot of people at the same time."

Text messaging and emailing, instead of calling, takes some strain off of the overloaded networks to keep them open for emergency situations. While someone is calling their grandmother to tell her how they felt the ground shaking, an injured person trying to call 911 might be unable to get through for help.

In Los Angeles Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa’s office, officials used Blackberry’s PIN messaging to communicate with their colleagues at emergency centers – avoiding the caller traffic jam.

For the first time, UCLA put its new emergency text messaging system into action, asking its students to stay calm and to beware of possible aftershocks.

However, as more Americans rely on their cell phones as their primary tool of communication, it is expected networks will be slower during times of crisis.  Fortunately, the telecommunications companies are continuing to build up their infrastructure, increase capacity, and develop new methods of communication.

So while there will inevitably be more disasters, thankfully, there will also be more ways to get in touch with loved ones in times of crisis.