Hurricane Matthew – Social Media, Cell/Mobile Phone & Modern News Stories

(Image courtesy of WEATHER.COM: Hurricane Matthew Photos

As someone who has an interest in radio communications and in particular what happens during major incidents be it natural disasters or terrorist type attacks to the various radio or cell/mobile phone systems. (Yes Mobile/Cell phones are radio!!!) I have been watching things unfold with Hurricane Matthew.

In recent years we have seen the impact that sudden increase in traffic can have on mobile and radio networks. Brussels being the latest example of that which brought the mobile network to its knees for a long period of time and also the issues with the Belgium Astrid (emergency services Tetra) network.

Now for Hurricane Matthew the various cell providers in the USA have been giving out some great advice and letting the public know that they have engineering crews ready to move to resolve issues as well as having Cell On Wheels (COWs)(Basically a system built on a trailer they can deploy quickly) as well as other systems.

Generators ready and fuel tanks topped up, various switching centres (the bits that link all the sites together) hardened (built to withstand a lot of water and wind).

So they have done as much as they can with forward planning and give the following advice:

"Limiting social media activity will help limit network congestion and help keep lines open for emergency situations.

"During an emergency, many people are trying to use their phones at the same time. This may congest the network, leading to “fast busy” signals on your wireless phone or a slow dial tone on your landline phone. If this happens, hang up, wait several seconds and then try the call again. This allows your original call data to clear the network before you try again."

All good advice, don't load up videos, don't Skype, etc, keep the network clear as possible

Then we have news outlets (even the good old Aunty Beeb (BBC) asking people to upload photos, and videos via websites, Whatsapp. or Twitter. Some of these same sites carried the news articles from the Cell operators about reducing the amount of Social Media data. Do they not read their own articles? Are they being irresponsible? Or just satisfying the demand for instant news?

So this is now the normal that we will see. Any major incident or natural disaster and the news agencies want you to upload pictures and videos but at the same time this can and is causing issues with the networks.

The general public and the vast majority of business users do not think the same way as people who deal with critical communications, they just expect things to work as they pay their monthly subscriptions to the network operators. They don't understand the technology that is behind in trying to deliver the service (why should they know they are the end users).

The critical communications world should learn from this as the likes of the UK Emergency Services move onto a commercial mobile phone network and have the plans in place. For critical communications its a whole new ball game.

John Dundas

Consultant (and director) at DundasTech Limited

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