Earthquake-report.com is an expert in following earthquake consequences in every corner of the globe and has reported on every major earthquake over the last 12 months. As we are following the events from minute to minute (and report about them in this site), we are starting to get a clear picture of what is going wrong. Communication problems are one of the major returning problems and we are convinced that they are avoidable.
Except that earthquakes themselves can be destructive all over the world, today's major earthquakes have certainly one major effect in common :
Major mobile connectivity problems when an earthquake strikes
Result 1 : people cannot reach each other and are highly concerned about their family members and friends in other locations.
Result 2 : all communications (data, voice and text) are wiped out, including those partly used by emergency services
Result 3 : people are rushing to their cars to drive home (during working hours), to schools, etc and create chaotic traffic (even more chaotic if some roads are blocked by cracks, debris, etc)
Coping with saturated mobile networks
Especially earthquakes which occur in or near major cities like Vancouver, Tokyo, Christchurch, New Delhi, Istanbul, Santiago de Chile, etc. are very dangerous for knocked out communications.
Lines can be knocked out by saturation or by technical failures.
We have to look into both reasons to find (easy, fast and cheap) solutions.
If the earthquake generates only minor damage, the lines generally are back to normal in seconds to minutes as people will calm down and continue what they are doing.
If a person, however, hears about injured people, destruction and casualties, he or she will not rest until being in contact with their loved ones. This is perfectly normal human behavior.
Can we prepare people how to handle their phones just after an earthquake ?
The answer is NO
Why : almost everybody will think that his family or friends are the highest value on earth and do merit "priority" service.
Teaching and preparing people on what to do in cities with a population on several hundred thousand, is UTOPIA.
Can the authorities and Networks manage behavior after an earthquake ?
The answer is YES
How ? : in following a few stringent "scenario" rules like :
a) by cutting/limiting VOICE communication based on earthquake alert levels for high magnitudes and limiting bandwidth for medium size earthquakes. In case of a partial cut to services, all the people in the network could receive a text message like "Only text messaging is allowed until further notice due to an earthquake".
The levels of triggering such automatic cuts and according messages would be provided in cooperation with seismologists/geologists based on their MMI estimate (mainly based on historic data).
A technique called "Cell broadcasting" allows text messages to be sent to all cell phones in a specified region in a matter of seconds!
b) by reserving the full bandwidth to text messaging
c) by blocking all graphic internet data (pictures / advertisements / videos) for internet data traffic - text only takes a very small portion of the data bandwidth capabilities
d) by reserving enough bandwidth for voice and data for authorities and all kind of rescue services.
If the automatic triggering would not be accepted, a similar system can be triggered manually by organizations like FEMA (USA), ONEMI (Chile), etc
The discomfort of some will give comfort to everyone.
About technical failures
During 1 year of reporting we came across a number of remarkable findings like:
- A rather small earthquake in Peru made mobile connectivity almost impossible due to power outage.
- The September 2010 Christchurch damaging earthquake revealed an astonishing and remarkable connectivity. As during so many other earthquakes, power was immediately cut, but because of batteries the Mobile beacons continued (overloaded) to do the job.
The simple solution to cope with technical failures:
- Batteries which guarantee communications for at least 2 hours should be mandatory for every mobile mast and station / substation
- Construction standards for stations and masts must be able to resist a 1-in-1000 year earthquake, depending on the area/country. i.e. to build them to similar standards as other lifelines such as hospitals - which are required to have minimal damage given a large earthquake.
The cost of all these measures is minimal compared to the chaos that would come with a tragic earthquake.
Authorities should impose all of these measures. The results would be astonishing.
Today's technical wonders should be used at maximum to sustain a well organized society, able to handle big earthquakes.
Examples of earthquakes where Mobile networks where down due to one of both mentioned reasons
August 23, 2011 : Virginia earthquake - As gottabemobile reported, it is wreaking havoc on the cell networks from Verizon, Sprint, T-Mobile and AT&T. No one cell company seems to be immune from the massive burst of cellphone traffic.
September 18, 2011 : Himalaya earthquake Sikkim, Nepal, Bangladesh, Bhutan, China