Thursday, February 24, 2011

Text messaging comes of age in a disaster

When I started my phd text messaging was seen as a trivial application, as was also the situation for twitter and for facebook, but as is shown in the New Zealand Christchurch earthquake disaster, these platforms have been invaluable.

Text messaging factoids: a cell phone tower covers a small distance. Most have little power and so cant reach far. In NZ most cell phone towers are not shared by the different telecos, but with threats of deregulation telecom had to share parts of the main network.
Also the towers when they are not plugged into main source power have temporary generators that last approximately 10 hours, and then will only function if the power is back on or connected to a generator.

What this means on a practical level: any one cell phone tower can only take about 60 calls at any one time. SMS is so much smaller so is more likely to get through.(This is now being recommended by the PM and civil defence and telecos during the Chch earthquake emergency) Also if the towers get busy, an sms bounces around till it finds a gap. A call cant do this, so just gets a busy signal. Sending pics and videos similarly take up more space, so can clog the towers when there are emergencies. (And so telecos are requesting people dont do this during the Chch earthquake emergency)

A further interesting telephone related fact that comes to light in the Chch earthquake disaster, cordless phones in people's homes require electricity to work. Donations of analogue, corded phones are being called for. This type of phone can work where electricity is still not operating.

Other social networking that has evolved;
Twitter and hash keys #nzeq, #chch to follow real time news
Use of trademe, to advertise free accommadation and labour:
Google freely provided a person locator really early on
Telecom making public phones in chch free
AirNZ cheap flights in and out of chch,
Distribution of solar charges for cell phones...
Facebook for accommodation relocation
Studentarmy, Thousands doing the suburban clean up, and
Telecom and vodafone are working together
(eg Vodafone New Zealand asking people to Donate corded analogue landlines to CHCH at any @telecomnz stores)
Help from the world has been amazing

Thankyou world.

Some light relief from flying cars:
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