Emergency Response and Hastily Formed Networks

The April issue of the Communications of the ACM contained an article about hastily formed networks. A hastily formed network is a network formed in response to a disaster or crisis of some kind. For example, the response to Katrina last summer and fall. Some students at SI collected material about the various responses to Katrina.

Today I came across another story related to disaster response. It seems Tom Evslin and Jeff Pulver are trying to convince the FCC to mandate an emergency voice mail system for people affected by a disaster. Phone calls to people in the disaster area would automatically be routed to voice mail. This would only happen if there was no answer on the line. Whenever the person reached a working phone they could leave a message for their family, telling them that they are alright.

As any Red Cross emergency volunteer will tell you (Mary is my source for this), names are a lousy way to locate people: they never get input the same way twice; they are not unique. Phone numbers are great but the phones weren’t working. However, ever since telco switches went electronic, there has been no hard connection between a phone number and the physical line it is linked to.

Those evacuees who had voice mail could leave greetings saying that they were safe and giving their location. Family members could leave each other messages. Our proposal, over-simplified, is that phone companies be required to provide voice mail free to ALL of their subscribers when those subscriber lines are in an emergency area and/or have been down for twelve hours or more. Then everyone who had a phone line will still be reachable through his or her old phone number even if the line itself is drowned or unreachable.

A further post on the price of emergency voicemail.