Cell Networks Buckle After Earthquake: How To Work Around Their Failures

Virginia just experienced a 5.9Magnitude earthquake which was felt throughout the East Coast up through New York and over into Ohio. Several of our writers experienced the quake in a multitude of ways. After the shaking died down, there was a common topic among our Twitter followers — the failure of cell networks.

We don’t know if there is significant cell infrastructure damage, but based on early reports the jammed cell phone networks are tied to overloaded systems, not toppled towers and power outages.

The reports on Twitter cover all major carriers and point to a slow return to normal. The cell service will likely take ups and downs throughout the rest of the day as cell phone users on the East Coast continue to make more calls than normal.

So far we have reports that Sprint, Verizon, AT&T and T-Mobile are all experiencing service disruptions.

Sprint posted the following update to their Twitter page;

Customers in East may experience intermittent delay making/receiving calls after recent earthquake. This is a temporary mass calling event.

As did Verizon;

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Seeing no reports of damage to our wireless network. There was some network congestion in the East after tremors. Continuing to monitor.

Other carrier haven’t share an update yet, but the consensus is that things will return to normal as call volume decreases.

How to Stay In Touch After an Emergency

Earthquake warningAs soon as a major event, like the earthquake on the East Coast, is over there is a natural desire to reach out to friends and family members. Because of this mass desire cell networks fail, much like they do at major events. In order to get around these failures, there are some things you can do.

Text – Sending a text message is much less taxing on the cell phone network, and can be accomplished even when the voice network is essentially out of commission. Instead of trying to call everyone you know to check on their well-being, send a group text message. This will likely reach the recipients faster and should work when you are unable to make a call.

Text Apps – If you have zero cell service, you can connect to a WiFi connection and use one of these texting apps to send text messages to your friends and family to let them know that you are ok.

Update Social Networks – If you have access to WiFi, or have text updating enabled, you can post a quick update to Twitter and Facebook to let everyone know you are ok. Here’s a primer on how to update Facebook and Twitter with a text message.

Email - If you don’t have access to the cell network, turn on WiFi on your iPhone or Android device and connect to an open hotspot nearby. Look for a coffee shop or library and get online. Many users are reporting that the WiFi networks and hardwired connections are still up and as fast as ever along the East Coast.

Skype and WiFi Calling Apps – If you use Skype or another calling app on your smartphone or tablet, connect to WiFi and make a call over WiFi. These apps should work for calling friends and family, but keep in mind most of them do not recommend that you use them for emergency calls.

Do you have another method for staying in touch after an emergency? If so, please share them in the comments below.

Stay safe out there.

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Image via dweekly

Comments

  1. dj books says

    My cell phone service was disrupted after the quake so as soon as I got home I turned on my phones wifi connection plus the wifi calling feature. I have tmobile btw. Called my pops in NC and a few other relatives.

    • John Drew says

      The 5.9 magnitude earthquake
      that hit Virginia and rolled through much of the East Coast Tuesday
      caused more inconvenience than damage. Case in point: Although no
      cellphone towers were knocked out, high call volume meant massive
      service interruptions for users of AT&T, Verizon, Sprint and
      T-Mobile.
      But one cellphone-based service managed to work as normal, according to Bloomberg: RIM’s BlackBerry Messenger.

  2. Robert says

    Ham radio. I couldn’t make a call, so I pulled out my handheld and chatted with some buddies while everyone ran around with a useless cellphone for a half hour. Barring disruptions to the laws of physics, on which radio is based, I should be good for most disasters. And people call it useless…

    • John Drew says

      get a blackberry;

      The 5.9 magnitude earthquake
      that hit Virginia and rolled through much of the East Coast Tuesday
      caused more inconvenience than damage. Case in point: Although no
      cellphone towers were knocked out, high call volume meant massive
      service interruptions for users of AT&T, Verizon, Sprint and
      T-Mobile.
      But one cellphone-based service managed to work as normal, according to Bloomberg: RIM’s BlackBerry Messenger.

  3. Kevin Z says

    I just ran in circles screaming like a 7 year old girl.  That usually does the trick for non-events.

  4. Anonymous says

    Hello everyone,  when mobile service are down and events like this happens Earthquakes, Tsunami, New years eve. I use http://www.sehwah.com to contact my daughters and wife. 

    On that site  I can send free text messages from the site and they can reply and I will be able to read it.

    Hope eveyone is safe!
    Mike

  5. Jonathan Ryan says

    I work for 911 on comms support and jo public are blocked from using the cell phone network by the government in times like this. All cell numbers below a 13 priority are blocked by the networks as soon as anything like this takes place.. You will get network bizzy all the time. Your best bet is to nick a fire officers cell phone or police as these guys will always have ability to voice and data calls , when you have been kicked off the networks..

  6. Edjez says

    Our teams use http://geochat.instedd.org – works great via SMS; and those with connectivity still chat via normal chat clients, email, etc.

    SMSs not only consume less bandwidth, but they require less power to exchange. After a disruptive event, unless you *know* you’ll be close to electricity, you want to have extra juice in your batteries. You may want to have any of those 3rd party AA battery-operated ‘rechargers’ or something as simple as a car 12v power adapter for your phone could make a huge difference.

    One thing I have not read is whether if your cable-based internet works; if microcells managed by you will continue to work well even if some nearby towers get ‘knocked’/ shut down.
    As a backup, there’s HAM, or satphones- but this is my line of work so I’m not a reference point for how many backups normal people should have!

  7. common sense says

    How about landlines people? Like they did in “The day after tomorrow”…but it seems common sense to me.

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