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How to Communicate with Loved Ones During an Emergency

Which technology can help you communicate with and find your loved ones?

By
Eric Escobar,
November 19, 2015
Episode #198

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Recent terrorist attacks—like those in Paris and Beirut—have left the world stunned and saddened. After the initial attacks were over, there was a vacuum of information. Residents didn’t know what was happening, who was affected, which regions of the cities were safe to travel through, and, most importantly, if their loved ones were alright.

While this is an extreme scenario, there are many other situations where the ability to communicate with friends and family during a natural or manmade disaster may be very difficult. So, which technology can help you communicate with and find your loved ones?

Text Messaging

During a disaster you should expect that normal utilities, such as the Internet, cell towers, and phone lines, are going to be extremely busy. This is because everyone is trying to contact the people that they think might be affected at once. The situation is similiar to everyone in your neighborhood going to the store at the same time: lines would be extremely long and supplies would run out fast. The utility industry was built for general use and not to handle everyone on it at the exact time.

Because of this, you want to be able to get your message out using as little data as possible. The best way to do this is to send your simple run-of-the-mill text message. Text messages use an extremely small amount of data and therefore can get through much more easily on a busy cell tower. Phone calls are less effective because they use a constant stream of data, and have to maintain a constant connection in order for the audio to be heard for both parties.

You will also be helping alleviate congestion on your cell tower so that more people can use it. Be aware that if you have an iPhone, then iMessages (normally shown in blue) may have some issues getting through the congestion. You will be able to see if your text message seems to take a really long time to send.

In this situation, you may want to send a normal SMS instead of an iMessage. You can turn of iMessage temporarily by watching this video. You can also turn on the feature “Send as SMS” which is in “Settings” -> “Messages” -> “Send as SMS.” If this is on, your phone will automatically default to sending an SMS if your iMessage can't get through.

On a quick note, telecom utilities like cell towers often have battery back-up and direct links to other information hubs. This means a simple blackout or loss of power for a few hours should not be an issue.

Wireless Internet

The next best way to communicate is through the Internet. In recent years, the Internet has had to increase speed and bandwidth (like increasing more lanes on the freeway), in order to be able to allow people to watch Netflix, Hulu, and YouTube. Video takes a lot of bandwidth, and luckily, during a disaster, most people are not going to be sitting down to a movie.

This means that if you have power, the Internet is a great way to exchange information. You can use all the standard ways of communicating, like email, Skype, messenger, and Facebook. I also recommend once you’ve coordinated what you need to feel safe, you should keep your conversation as minimal as possible in order to cut down on congestion. Just like any utility, such as phone lines, if everyone in the world watched Netflix at the exact same time, there would be a noticeable decrease in the speed of the Internet. During an emergency, the Internet will be used heavily. Keeping use to a minimum in an emergency means that it will be faster for everyone that needs to use it.

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