What the Tech? Restoring Cell Service in an Emergency

AT&T says it is deploying its Cell On Wheels trucks to areas in Louisiana and Mississippi to help restore cell service to residents affected by Hurricane Ida. AT&T and Verizon confirm some of their cell towers are not in operation as of Monday afternoon.

Many people along the Gulf Coast report they are unable to make or receive phone calls.

Of course, if there are no towers, phone calls will not go through the cellular provider’s network. Fortunately, smartphones will search for a connection with the next nearest cellphone tower.

Everyone else’s phone is doing that too so operating cell towers get overloaded with traffic which prevents them from offering the bandwidth needed to make and place phone calls.

In an emergency, text messages and messages sent through a messaging app such as WeChat, WhatsApp, Facebook Messenger, and Twitter will likely go through because they require a very small amount of bandwidth to go through.

Zello is a walkie-talkie app used by emergency rescue workers and volunteers to share information during disasters. Zello is simple to use, just a big round icon on the screen to send an immediate voice message of a few seconds. It has been widely used in the past during Hurricanes and is being used again on the Gulf Coast.

CajunNavy is a popular Zello group from Louisiana that is active on the platform, sharing information on people in need of rescue, tornado warnings, and information about closed roads, schools, and power outages.

To find those groups, Zello routinely tweets out a list of active Zello groups or channels. You can connect to those channels by scanning a provided QR code from Zello’s website.

Since the voice messages are short, Zello has a good track record of working when cell coverage is disrupted. It does not at least have some internet connection to work. That could be from a cell tower or WiFi connection to the internet.

It is a good idea to download one of these messaging apps before a disaster as trying to download an app during a cell service disruption will likely fail.

 

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