If you haven’t heard, a 5.4 earthquake struck Southern California today just before noon. If you were in the area, you probably tried to call out on your cell or landline and I’m guessing you also experienced congestion. In a disaster, immediate communication with loved ones is a top priority. Today’s quake rendered two-way speech based communication devices (outside of CB radios and Walkie Talkies) a waste of time. The tech savvy instead opted for text based communications including Facebook, Instant Messages (IM), text messages, email, and Twitter. These alternatives proved to be very valuable backup communication tools.
As a native Angelino, I know that after an earthquake hits the drill is to check in and report your status to your loved ones. When everyone I needed to call was within 50 miles of the epicenter, the drill quickly became tricky. Calls to family members from my cell and landline were highly unsuccessful. As I listened to repeated busy signals, it was clear my first response was failing and I required reinforcements.
That’s when I decided to broadcast my status on Facebook and share with others the facts I had collected – “…felt the earth move. That was a long one! 5.8 – Chino Hills.” Within minutes over 20 similar updates followed that friends and family were OK. Including “…shaken not stirred despite being on the 38th floor in downtown LA.” Another said “Thank god for twitter. Can’t get on cell phones. Wish all family and friends were on twitter.” Even our own resident “Pollyanna” reported that she was “…shaking and baking on the 47th floor.”
Next, my IMs began to pop up on my laptop screen. Before I knew it, I was typing away details with additional friends and family. Then the cell phone that was rendered useless for phone calls began to beep to alert me to new text messages, more good news. I continued to let my fingers do the talking and thankfully, within the hour, it was clear that everyone was fine. Even though it was in text form, the stories, updates, and insights made the whole experience less lonely. I’m glad to have availed myself to so many channels of communication because currently there is no one size fits all solution.
Today was a reminder that emergency communication needs to be quick and reliable. We may love our Blackberries, iPhones, landlines, wireless networks, and social networks but we can’t trust them 100%. When everyone reaches for the same default communication device, the resources of the network are bound to be strained. A variety of distribution channels are needed to broadcast our messages effectively, meaning we need backups to our backups.
If you have not yet explored the alternative quick, and inexpensive communication options that text based technology offers, I suggest that you make them a part of your family, personal, and company emergency preparedness response so that you are not left out of the loop when it matters most. Taking the time to audit and research the best solutions for your family, friends, and coworkers will provide valuable peace of mind in the future. Perhaps it is time to take Russell’s advice and become a follower.
Lastly, please let this be a wake up call and take time to review your disaster preparedness plan. For more information visit: http://earthquake.usgs.gov/learning/preparedness.php