Tuesday, April 26, 2016

Cell Phones in a Disaster

The question comes up all of the time. Are cell phones a good solution for communications in a disaster? The short answer is don't count on it. Cell phones do have a few characterizes that are admirable however their reliance on an operating tower in the vicinity makes them a very poor solution.

Cell phones typically have a range of no more than 45 miles. In many cases their range can be as small as 25 miles. They have to be within that distance of an operating cell phone tower. This may not be a problem in a metropolitan area but rural areas may have few options for nearby access. Cell phones are dependent on the tower itself. If the tower(s) cease to operate there will be no service and your cellphone is not much more than a glorified pocket camera. (continued below...)

In an actual disaster towers that do remain active will soon become clogged. Everyone will have the same idea and attempt to locate the ones they love. This situation could possibly shut the system down within minutes. In a clogged system the best possibility to relay a message to another person by cell phone is a text message. A standard SMS (not iMessage) has the best chance to reach the recipient. The small footprint size of text can "sometimes" make its way through a congested cell phone system. 

Keep in mind disasters can also take down the power grid. Most cell phones consume a large amount of power and must be recharged every day or two. Without connectivity to a cell phone tower the cellphone goes into search and acquire mode. This is where the cellphone is "seeking" an active tower. Typically this draws much more power and can reduce the cellphone battery operating time in half. 

For the category of dependable communications in the event of an emergency mark cell phones off your list. It can be a hit and miss depending on the circumstances. Their possibility of usefulness is better only at the beginnings of a disaster while the network isn't clogged, towers are still up, and there is enough electricity to operate the device.

There are better options. Keep tuned in for more. 

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