Jason Ogaard: Getting in touch during emergencies
Our Internet and cell phone network infrastructure is not designed to handle all possible users at one time. It actually makes very little business sense to build up an infrastructure that can handle the maximum possible load all of the time.
There would be an incredible amount of free resources most of the time. Resources cost money; money that doesn’t need to be spent.
Amazon.com actually dove into the hosting business as a byproduct of handling huge amounts of traffic during the holiday season. To handle the traffic, Amazon had to set up a lot of extra servers, and for 11 months of the year, those servers sat idle. Eventually, someone came up with the idea to sell those extra resources as hosting for websites (and other things).
It makes much more sense to build up a network to handle the average (or a little more than average) number of users at one time. The problem is when traffic spikes, it’s because there’s an emergency. During the hours following the Boston bombings, every cell phone and Internet provider were hammered with traffic. Most of it was people trying to find out if a loved one was OK. And that’s a fine use for it, but there are first responder services that rely upon the network to help as many people as they can.
Should you ever find yourself near the center of a national emergency, there are several things you should do. First, don’t call anyone. The phone lines are going to be over-utilized and these lines are important for responders to coordinate rescue and relief efforts. If you can, you should temporarily change your voicemail greeting. Let everyone know of your status in the greeting. That way, when they call, they’ll at least be greeted with an update when they don’t go through.
Send text messages instead of calling. Text messages utilize the same network as the phone service, but they use a lot less bandwidth than a call. Keep them brief, again letting people know of your status.
With the advent of social networking sites such as Facebook and Twitter, there are likely to be hundreds of people in your circles who wondering about you. Try to find a hard wired connection with a computer and update your status. During previous emergencies and for the Boston bombing, Google set up a person finder. It’s a simple site that allows you update your status. Google will do the same in the future. If others are trying to Google your name, it will show up at the top of the search results.
If you need help, update everyone in your circles with that information, too. Obviously, you should try to seek out the help you need, but people can and do slip through the cracks during an emergency. People in your circles could help you by trying to contact emergency personal for you.
It’s a good idea to have an extra charger that runs on batteries for your phone. There’s a good chance that the power will be out in an emergency and your phone could be your only connection to the outside world for some time.
— Jason Ogaard was born in Bemidji and is a software engineer for FICO, a Minneapolis based public company providing analytics and decision-making services, including credit scoring credit bureaus.