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Minneapolis Bridge Collapse: Again, Non-Working Cell Phones

Filed under: Little Words   Tagged:

From the Times coverage: “Cellphones in the area were disrupted after the collapse, possibly because antennas were overloaded with calls.” As I’ve asked before, how long have we had since September 2001 to address this problem again?


Our cities are falling to pieces while we’re spending all our money on anti-terrorism. This upsets me even more. They don’t have to blow us up, they just have to patiently wait.

The cellphone issue is a result of communities deciding how much radiation they want pouring down on them. Really, the bigger issue is controlling military spending so that we can afford to address our aging infrastructure. I, for one, do not want more cellphone towers, I want roads that work, people who care enough to help one another and clean water and quality public education. Let’s complain about that rather than advocating for private companies to put up more antennas. Focus people.

Sure, I agree, but when there is a disaster (natural, terrorist, infrastructure), don’t we want people’s phones to work when they’re trapped under rubble?

But wait: There’s more!

I request that authorities figure out crisis management plans that do not revolve around electronic media. When the electricity goes out, it’s hard to go to a website for crucial information that should be posted the old-fashioned way in affected areas, distributed by people going through affected zones, etc.

Also, authorities have to figure out ways to be frank about whether an affected area is safe….

I support that! I was on a city bus in Bed-Stuy recently and overheard some teenagers talking about their cellphone plans. They all had some variation on restricted minutes, restricted calling areas, restricted texting, etc., all (apparently) because it was cheaper. So, obviously, cities should find non-cell and non-web solutions to disaster management—think, again, of the incredible absurdity of Virginia Tech’s posting updates about the shooter situation on its homepage, despite the obvious usefulness to the people who were checking it and not, say, cowering under a desk or in their car on their way to class—but what would they be? Skywriting? Loudspeakers? Goodyear blimps? Seriously, what’s the solution?

I wish there was just a single and simple solution.

What is needed is a a way to provide many different ways for people to share and retrieve information from a variety of sources.

Oh, and one other minor thing. The infrastructure (cellular and network) to support it.

If you think our bridges are bad, you need to compare cellular and network to Europe.

I know plenty of people had lots of frustrations today (when post-tornado flooding disabled the New York subway system), but I experienced something like the combination of information sources you suggest, Bernard. As I dressed for work, listening to the radio as usual, the foreign news was interrupted by an announcement that many of the trains were down.

At the Union Square station, calm, clear announcements in English and Spanish directed a remarkably unpanicked mass to working trains. (I heard it wasn’t such a pretty scene at Atlantic Ave., though.) At work, I checked the Times’ City Room blog for transit updates. Only one of these sources, the internet, wasn’t free or public. What else could be added for maximum effectiveness?

Here’s a timely Times story about just this question:
Compared with commuters in many of the world’s leading cities, subway riders in New York live in something of an information vacuum once they enter the system’s 468 stations.

“I think the senior management of the M.T.A. and the political structure of the state and city are oriented towards megaprojects and not towards what the system means for riders,” said George Haikalis, a longtime transit researcher. “The money being spent on the Second Avenue subway could easily produce a first-class communications system. There’s common sense that’s missing.”

Of course, the scale of New York’s subways, which deliver 4.9 million rides each weekday, dwarfs any other system in the country, making it much harder — and more expensive — for the authority to maintain and improve its communications system. On Wednesday, the authority’s Web site, one of the busiest in the country, was updated frequently and received a record 44 million hits. (A hit is a request for a single file on a Web server.)

However, untold numbers of people had trouble getting through to the site. The firewall software that screens users on the network could not handle the surge in traffic, so technicians tried to free up capacity by asking employees to limit their online activities and by disabling bandwidth-consuming functions, like videos of old board meetings, on its Web site.

“To say the Web site was down is not correct,” said Christopher P. Boylan, a deputy executive director of the authority. “It was just at its maximum capacity.”

Besides the [stations’ white] boards, there are still other time-tested methods: the phone line, which plays recorded messages, and the public-address systems. (However, 92 of the 468 stations lack such systems.)
Worth reading the whole story!
Related: Cellphones swamping 911 system, from the L.A. Times:
The problems are aggravated by call surges — such as when multiple motorists call in about the same accident — staffing shortages at 911 dispatch centers, and technological hurdles. Cell calls are more easily interrupted or lost and take longer to handle, officials say, reducing the number of calls each dispatcher can field.
Many people are unaware of such deficiencies until they desperately need help.

Elementary school counselor Brad Edwards said he waited eight harrowing minutes last year before a dispatcher picked up his cell call about a boy who had collapsed on a Los Angeles schoolyard and begun foaming from the mouth.

“The fire station is just a few blocks away. I could have run there faster than it took them to help me,” said Edwards, adding that the boy survived.

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