Next time a hurricane hits, families will turn to their smartphones to stay in touch, track the storm and find the shortest gasoline lines.
To handle the load, wireless carriers are turning to time-tested disaster plans – but on an exponential scale. The gates will be released on a barnyard-dubbed herd of backup support: cells on wheels (COWS), cells on light trucks (COLTS) and generators on trailers (GOaTS).
But will it be enough to handle some 600,000 South Florida households without land lines, plus the seemingly endless hunger to Tweet, Facebook and upload videos of broken trees, gasoline lines and blocked roadways?
No one will know for sure until a storm hits. But the violent storms that tore through the country earlier this year provided a look at the demands of a data-dependent age, and the challenges required to meet them.
In tornado-ravaged Joplin, Mo., Facebook became a critical channel to finding lost family and asking for help, said Joplin resident Don Lawellin, 54, who used mobile technology to keep in touch.
With cable Internet connections down for several days, about two-thirds of the town counted on wireless phones for news. Organizations took to Twitter to spread the word of where to find supplies and emergency stations -- even for re-charging phones.
And a cellphone network is the only reason Lawellin’s mother, Edith, is alive today. A service from Alarm.com used wireless networks to send a tornado alert warning to her home security system, waking her up. About a minute later, the only thing left in the duplex was the closet Edith hid in.
The heavy use put a toll on wireless services, which were spotty -- but generally worked, though not necessarily on the first few tries.
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