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Wednesday, April 17, 2013

Cell Phones and Bandwidth at the Boston Marathon


Cell phone traffic was jammed on Monday in Boston.  Despite early rumors that Boston police decided to shut down cell phone towers following the blasts, fearing more duffel bag bombs could be remotely activated, wireless carriers said the issue was that the cell phone network was simply  overloaded. 

Whatever the cause, thousands of runners and tourists – as well as people from all over the globe trying to reach someone in Boston – created a communications frenzy.

Then something amazing happened. Strangers opened their doors and laptops to other strangers and allowed them to log in to their Facebook and Twitter accounts to post updates on their safety, whereabouts and plans to get out of Boston.

The Massachusetts Emergency Management Agency sent out a tweet telling people to try using text messaging, saving bandwidth.

And Boston's first responders put out messages on their scanners, asking citizens to tweet straightforward directives like "runners in bars and restaurants near the marathon, need to remain indoors until a street sweep for possible explosives can be made" and "people should get away from the area as quickly as possible."

CommCore notes that the same communication vehicles used so positively to help a frightened populace also produced unconfirmed reports and premature speculation — further compressing the cycle of reaction and production of misinformation about the disaster.

The day after the Marathon, the front page of Google had a link called Resources Related to the 2013 Boston Marathon Explosion. It featured a central location for key phone numbers and websites for victims and their families to use. And there's a 'Google person finder ' - a Google project - that is currently tracking more than 5,000 records of people trying to connect. Imagine if that resource had been available on that in New York or Washington on 9/11.

Prediction: As social media evolves we will figure out how it can help (or hurt) in moments of crisis. Social networking techs will find more ways for their sites to become critical emergency tools when cell phones go down.

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