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In Case of Emergency: Text Messaging Is The Best Mode of Communication

An emergency medicine physician friend of mine sent me a link to a fascinating article about why cell phones aren’t good communication devices in major disasters like 9/11.  When I was in NYC during 9/11 my cell phone didn’t work (the lines were all busy).  Here’s what the article had to say:

“So why do text messages get through when phone calls can’t? For one,
SMS text messages are very short, so they require very little capacity
when they are transferred over the network. The second reason is that
text messaging works by allowing messages to be stored and sent through
the network.

If there is a delay in connecting to the network, the phone will
store the message in its memory and it will continue attempting to send
the message until it gets through. By contrast, voice is a
delay-sensitive application. If a sustained connection can’t be made,
the person on the other end won’t be able to understand what you are
saying. And so the call cannot be completed.

While it’s quite common for cell phone networks to get overloaded
during serious emergencies, there isn’t much that can be done to fix
the problem. The main reason is that it just isn’t economically viable
for carriers to build their networks to handle a tenfold increase in
capacity in every inch of their footprint.

“People have to remember that this is a commercial service,” Golvin
said. “It was never designed to be an emergency network. And it just
doesn’t make business sense for carriers to try to build it that way.”
This post originally appeared on Dr. Val’s blog at

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