Reliance on Mobile Phone Services
Mobile phone technology is ubiquitous in our culture. Nearly everyone has a mobile phone, and given the recent developments of their capabilities, it’s easy to see why. Phones can function as GPS units, mobile media devices and mini computers in addition to the more basic features such as text messaging, e-mail, and phone calls. Perhaps because of this as well as the widespread use of such devices, many emergency communications services rely on mobile phones to disseminate emergency messages and alerts. This has resulted in varying levels of success.
In some emergency situations, mobile phones have provided most, if not all, of the emergency communication. In the recent shootings at the Sikh Temple in Wisconsin, people trapped inside the temple used cell phones to contact those outside. One woman phoned her niece from inside a cupboard to warn her not to go near the temple. While this event was horrific, it was on a small enough scale that mobile phone technology was the best form of emergency communication. Reaching small numbers of people doesn’t overload a mobile network, while an event on a larger scale, such as the London Subway Bombings in 2005, the reliance on mobile phone communication overloaded and crippled the mobile phone networks, essentially rendering the emergency response departments unable to communicate with the victims or with each other. In large-scale emergency events, mobile phone emergency communications have proven themselves to be unreliable.
Having multiple modes of emergency communications, such as radios, digital signage, speakers, and alarms, can often save lives where a single mode of communication could fail. Even in small-scale emergencies, while mobile phones have proven useful, it’s impossible to predict the nature or scale of an emergency ahead of time. It is also impossible to predict how an emergency will be perceived by the people involved. A low-risk situation could still cause wide-spread panic that overloaded a network.