How Texting Can Play a Role When Disaster Strikes

Disasters can take many different forms, ranging from a temporary disturbance to ongoing destruction lasting anywhere from days to weeks or months at a time. While we can try our best to prepare for the worst in these situations, we won’t always be able to predict the severity of a crisis or take action until after the damage has been done. In events like these, communication plays a crucial role in the success (or not) of response and recovery efforts. Of the different possible ways to communicate, texting offers a simple, cost-effective solution for people and organizations to stay connected, streamline information and provide relief during times of crisis.

Both natural and manmade disasters can have ripple effects that cause major disruptions to wireless cellular networks, making it virtually impossible for phone calls to go through. For example, immediately after the 2013 Boston Marathon bombing, emergency phone lines were overloaded by voice and data bandwidth while people tried calling for help. A terrorist attack had basically crippled the wireless network and made it very difficult for runners, their families and the community at large to connect with first responders and other support systems when they needed to most.

Similarly, hurricanes, tornadoes and wildfires have historically wrought havoc on entire communities and halted communication between individuals and their loved ones. Just this past year, the wildfires that consumed Northern California knocked out 77 cell phone towers throughout the area, making it more difficult for people to call for help. Two Category 5 hurricanes also left 73% of the U.S. Virgin Islands without power for more than two months.

Be proactive.

When news stations first issued warnings for Hurricane Irma, St. John’s Sheriff’s Office (SJSO) in St. Augustine, FL didn’t know how bad the area would get hit. They prepared for the worst-case scenario and put a communication plan in place that would allow their staff to maintain contact throughout the hurricane – even after the power went out.

SJSO utilized Zipwhip’s business texting to keep track of employees’ whereabouts and make sure that everyone was safe. They also took advantage of the keyword feature within the Zipwhip application, which enabled SJSO to provide important directives instantaneously to all staff for several days until it was safe to open the Sheriff’s Office again.

Fortunately, texting does not use as much bandwidth as phone calls. So, when emergencies happen, and cellular connections get disrupted, people are typically still able to send and receive text messages to one another. Having a two-way conversational tool available can ultimately help disaster and relief organizations work more efficiently to alleviate crisis situations.

Stay informed and inform others.

Emergencies like flooding, fire and crime are, relatively speaking, easy to recognize and bring to the attention of proper authorities. But sometimes the root cause of disaster is less obvious. Poisoning for example, is a serious problem that can be found in drugs, consumer products, animals, isolated environments and food. If you were exposed to poison, would you know who to contact and how?

The American Association of Poison Control Centers (AAPCC) is comprised of nurses, pharmacists, and physicians across the nation’s 55 poison control centers that help people who have poison-related questions, concerns, or emergencies. In an effort to make poison control expertise even more accessible to the public, AAPCC recently text-enabled their business landline (the Poison Help Hotline) to give people poison control at their fingertips. Their text messaging service helps get critical information to clinical experts fast, and is available to everyone, every day, every hour, for free. If you need to reach the Poison Help Hotline, text or call 1-800-222-1222.

In preparing for disasters big or small, communication is vital. Making texting a part of that plan ensures having accessibility to notify appropriate authorities when a crisis happens, and to make sure that your loved ones are safe. The effectiveness of communications systems during a disaster can be the difference between life and death for those affected.

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