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In case of emergency, send text message

When disaster strikes, the media will be there. For those of you without a TV, Internet connection, newspaper, or friends, a bridge in Minneapolis collapsed Wednesday night, leaving the city in turmoil. There was an unsurprising spike in call volume, as friends and family called one another to see if everything was all right. Imagine, though, if you were calling a loved one to see if they were affected by this tragedy, only to hear the message “current network not available.” That can only add stress to the situation.

The sad truth is that most cell carriers cannot handle spikes related to unforeseen events. This is obviously problematic for involved parties, since this is one of the many reasons people carry cell phones: in case of emergency. But if call volume cannot be handled in such situations, then what good does the phone do for someone who uses it only in emergencies?

We are thankful for T-Mobile, who had extra radios installed at towers near the scene within two hours of the collapse. That’s the kind of reaction that warrants high praise. They were able to double the call capacity, and even though that might not have been able to cover all the calls, it certainly was better than AT&T, which lollygagged. They were reportedly “poised to send cell sites on wheels” to the scene, but “network difficulties were over before that could be done.”

Sprint didn’t see many dropped calls, which should be expected, since they don’t exactly have a ton of subscribers. Verizon saw about one in five calls dropped at the peak of call volume, though that’s not exactly a bad number.

The solution to this, according to emergency officials: send a text message. “[U]sing a cell phone to send a text message almost always works when phone calls don’t get through.” This is a viable solution in our modern times, since there are very few phones remaining that don’t have text messaging capabilities.

This isn’t the first time texting has been recommended in the event of an emergency. It proved to be the best way to reach Virginia Tech students this spring during the shootings there.

Do us a favor: go teach someone older and less tech-savvy how to send a text message. It might end up saving a life some day.

[Chicago Tribune]