Between tropical hurricanes, wildfires, flooding and other severe weather across the United States, we’ve incurred $15 billion dollars in damages from natural disasters alone in 2017. Even more concerning than just the money in damages were the amount of people stranded without cell service.
While our wireless carriers have done everything they can to keep us connected, mother nature sometimes has other plans. Puerto Rico, for example, saw a majority of their cell towers go down due to hurricane-force winds from two major storms. When cell service went down, the number of “missing” people were very high for the simple fact that communication was limited with family and friends. We’ve seen temporary cell site deployments, drone launches and generator shipments that have helped to restore power and wireless signal and therefore over time, the number of missing people has drastically decreased, but the stories of stress and anxiety that have been circulating will not be easily forgotten. It is hard to imagine the feeling of not knowing if friends or family members are safe for weeks at a time.
In our research, we came across an article from No Jitter, entitled “How to Keep Communicating When Cell Service Fails”. They’ve brought up the question: When cell service isn’t available, can you still communicate using your smartphone? Why, yes, you can! And we want to share it with you! They’ve sourced a few applications that use Bluetooth or a Wi-Fi signal to power apps that can help you stay in touch during the most crucial times. You have to pre-install the app when you have signal, so make sure to plan ahead – safety first!
Straight from No Jitter, here are some of the more popular applications to keep you connected:
- FireChat — since making its debut in 2014, this free messaging app has become a popular means of communicating when government entities restrict or shut down Internet use during protests, such as been the case in in Iraq, Hong Kong, and Ecuador. Messages are encrypted to ensure privacy.
- Serval App and Serval Mesh — supported by a social change organization called the Shuttleworth Foundation, the Serval Mesh project aims to allow communications in communities that aren’t served by a mobile phone operator. Based in Australia, where 75% of the land mass lacks a wireless provider, Serval Mesh provides a way to call and text others in the immediate vicinity. The New Zealand Red Cross has been working with Serval Mesh for communications assistance during disasters.
- Signal Offline Messenger uses Wi-Fi signals to communicate directly to other smartphones located within 200 feet. You can send one-to-one or group messages. Think of this as a modern-day form of a CB radio. The app stores messages and chats in a database and for review at a later date.
- Among many similar apps are Near Peer, Vojer, goTenna, and Bridgefy (and, on the lighter side, there’s even ZombieChat, a “post-apocalyptic communications tool for when zombies take over the planet.”)