Keeping in contact during crisis: Mobile service during emergency situations

May 25, 2016 by
Sylvester Batsirai Madondo photo
Sylvester Batsirai Madondo photo 
Nomophobia is the fear of being without mobile phone contact.

In the event of a natural or man-made disaster, severe weather, remote setting, or an unprotected plunge into liquid or from heights, this type of anxiety can become very real for regular device users.

Alberta residents recently felt the fear when Fort McMurray wildfires struck and telecom providers in the city subsequently struggled with ‘power outages, fuel shortages, and the threat of losing key pieces of infrastructure as they worked to keep communications services online for emergency responders and the eventual return of their customers’. All over the province and in any similar devastation that occurs the world over, strained or nonexistent cellular capacities have little -if any- room for use by residents trying to get ahold of loved ones.

TELUS and Shaw Communications, the two main area operators, both have ‘crucial structures’ in place in the most heavily-damaged neighbourhood of Beacon Hill, where widespread power loss forced the use of generators that required dangerous refueling missions to keep running. Still, if TELUS’ Beacon Hill cellular tower had gone down, coverage would have been lost to the entire region and even landline services would have been affected, said a general manager for the area.

Recently, an app developed in Australia that is able to maintain mobile phone connectivity in disaster zones with no cellular signals won a $279,000 award from the Pacific Humanitarian Challenge sponsored by the Federal Government. The software, built with similar technology to that of CB radios, lets people use data, talk and text over encoded messages and infrastructure-free service where there is no cell phone coverage.

Project lead Dr. Gardner-Stephen noted that while the app was designed for disasters, it can also be used in remote communities where there is no cellular network for normal communications.

The Serval Mesh app has already been downloaded from the Google Play Store over 100,000 times.


Posted in: TELUS