According to a number of sources, some Texas and Florida residents used social
media to report emergencies during Hurricanes Harvey and Irma because they
couldn’t get through to 9-1-1. In some cases emergency workers were able to
respond but in other cases, good Samaritans who saw the pleas for help online
organized and responded first.
The good news is that, according to the Federal Communications Commission,
communications systems held up well
. Only 4 percent of the cell sites in Hurricane
Harvey’s path were knocked out, which is an improvement over the more than
1,000 cell sites knocked out during Hurricane Katrina. This implies the problems
were more about call volume than inability to connect.
This poses a number of problems for emergency managers to consider when
planning for future disasters:
How can the 9-1-1 system be bolstered to handle a very high call volume?
How to ensure the populace knows to not rely on social media but to call 9-1-1?
What to do if and when citizens self-deploy and potentially make an already
bad situation worse?
How to identify duplication when people put calls for help out on both platforms?
How to handle social media calls for help
now that you know you
The changing way society uses technology has forced governments and first
responders to adapt
. Hurricanes Harvey and Irma will transform the way emergency
communications happen, both through technology and the people-factor. Strategies
about handling these changes should be decided well before they are needed.