Send Instant Messages Instead

By Wayne Rash  |  Posted 2011-08-24 Print this article Print

Fortunately, there are other means to communicate besides making phone calls. The easiest for most people is simply to use Short Message Service (SMS) texting. This is because text messages require very little bandwidth, and they're not particularly time-sensitive. You can, for example, text "OMG-A Quake!" to your friends and the message will probably get through.

Now that more and more emergency operations centers and 911 call centers are being equipped to handle text messages, this can be an effective means of getting help if you really need it during a disaster. But there are other things you can do, if you plan ahead.

For example, you can encourage employees who happen to be amateur radio operators to keep a radio at work. Your company can even buy the radio for them, and you can encourage employees to get their ham radio licenses. It's important to know that these radios can only be used for true emergencies, such as threats to life or safety. You can't use ham radio to do anything related to conducting your business. But if an employee gets injured during a disaster and the landlines and mobile networks are out, your resident ham radio operator can use the radio to call for help.

Another option is to employ alternate communications, such as Skype or instant messaging. Just because the phones are overloaded, that doesn't mean you can't reach out on the Internet. It still might be possible to place voice over IP calls, send email, instant messages or social networking posts.

You can, for example, send out a Tweet saying that everyone is safe or tell your employees not to come in until next Monday. Because you can do this with a bandwidth demand similar to SMS, the chances are very good that your messages will get through. This is especially the case because you can send a Tweet using SMS if you like.

The bottom line, of course, is to plan for an emergency in which the phones, both wireless and wired, don't work. Plan how you would handle this for something short term, such as after the Tuesday quake, or something long term, such as a major hurricane that would disrupt communications for days.

Test alternate communication methods; try out VOIP in case it will still work for you, and send out some test Tweets. While you're at it, do the other things that the emergency services recommend in disaster situations. Have plenty of flashlights and batteries along with an adequate stock of first-aid supplies for your company. Stock up on bottled water. Most important, have a plan because you won't be able to phone home after the quake to find out what your plan should be. 


Wayne Rash Wayne Rash is a Senior Analyst for eWEEK Labs and runs the magazineÔÇÖs Washington Bureau. Prior to joining eWEEK as a Senior Writer on wireless technology, he was a Senior Contributing Editor and previously a Senior Analyst in the InfoWorld Test Center. He was also a reviewer for Federal Computer Week and Information Security Magazine. Previously, he ran the reviews and events departments at CMP's InternetWeek.

He is a retired naval officer, a former principal at American Management Systems and a long-time columnist for Byte Magazine. He is a regular contributor to Plane & Pilot Magazine and The Washington Post.

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