When disaster hits, it’s better to send an SMS message

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sms message in disaster eventIn the aftermath of the Boston Marathon Bombings, the mobile networks were flooded. Four days later during the near day-long manhunt in a suburb of Boston, the networks in that area were hit hard again. It was a similar situation in 2005 with the London bombings. Whether natural or man-made, major disasters are times when mobile networks are put to the test.

And in those times there just isn’t enough capacity available when everyone tries to call their friends and loved ones. But SMS messages will get through. How? To answer that question, I’ll quote from Scientific American interview with Brough Turner. He’s an engineer and entrepreneur in mobile networking. In the interview he discusses the impact on the networks after the Boston Marathon Bombings and answers the question why sending an SMS is better than calling:

“The SMS messages have a relatively light footprint, first of all. The second thing is that they’re asynchronous. If they can’t get through this instant, they keep trying. If it gets over the radio to the cell site, it will get through. Even if it’s delayed for 30 seconds or something. With voice you’re either connected or you’re not, and when you are that means that the traffic channel is tied up until you’re done talking. More likely, it means you never get connected because traffic channels are already saturated.”

Basically, because of how an SMS message is sent you are almost always guaranteed it will arrive. It may not be as instantaneous as we’ve come to expect, but it will get there. Whereas a voice call probably won’t connect when there’s a high demand on the network.

And honestly, in an emergency or mass disaster, a short text message from a loved one can be enough to put you at ease. My step-son was a teenager living with his mother in that Boston suburb during the manhunt. We worried about his safety and whether or not he was home, or if he was in the area where the police were most active. His father did eventually get a text message from him saying he was home safe. That’s all we needed to know. One short message that made it through the network load comforted us.

While I hope you never experience something similar, please remember to use an SMS message rather than call your loved ones. They’ll thank you for it.


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