Boston Bombings Show the Value of Connections

April 29, 2013

Elaine Weidman-Grunewald, Vice President of Sustainability and Corporate Responsibility at Ericsson, recently commented on the Boston Marathon bombings. Highlighting ELERTS, she stated, “Systems such as ELERTS’ are making use of this huge resource [smartphone apps] as a way of improving public safety.”

Reposted from

By Elaine Weidman-Grunewald

Growing up in Boston, I always went with my family and friends to the Boston Marathon, every year. Sometimes it was spring weather, sometimes we were battling the cold, but we would always make it. This was the kick-off to spring and the summer.

As a Bostonian living in Sweden, the bomb attacks on the Boston Marathon left me feeling hopeless, following events from afar, wondering if family and friends are safe. The natural thing to do is to call, but when everyone else tries to do the same thing, the network can quickly be overwhelmed, and then it is hard for anyone to get through. Rumors of disruptions to the mobile phone network just added to the uncertainty, but Ericsson in the US quickly confirmed no networks were down.

Operators in Boston tried to beef up their voice capacity, but also informed customers to try other ways of getting through. One urged people to use text messages and e-mail in order to free up voice capacity for public safety officials. The separate capacity available over data networks also meant that people who turned to non-voice communication had a better chance of getting through.

Reuters/Dominick Reuter

One friend of mine, who has worked some 30 years as a first responder, started a company called ELERTS, and among other things they offer real time reporting for the Mass transit system in Boston. They offer a few “MBTA See Something, Say Something App.” Their service was up and running last week. And last week his team posted on about the advantages of using data networks in such emergency situations. Their messaging service uses the data network, and got messages through even when those being sent SMS were being delayed. Other messaging services using the data network, such as Google Talk, were also getting through. And Google put their Person Finder to task, helping people locate each other during the incident.

Smartphones and data networks offer new possibilities to get through to family and friends, but also to report in real time, to capture and transmit images, videos and other information that can be vital to police and law enforcement when trying to figure out exactly what has happened and who is involved. They can help guide emergency services to people in need of rescue, apprehend perpetrators and help members of the public minimize risks. Systems such as ELERTS’ are making use of this huge resource as a way of improving public safety.

The use of smartphones enabled by mobile broadband and LTE technologies is growing all around the world, but the systems are still largely underutilized when it comes to emergency response infrastructure. Whether it is an earthquake or a terrorist attack, in Boston or anywhere else on the planet, we need to make the most of the technology that exists. And we have to continue to modernize public safety systems around the world.

The networks are there. They can put people in touch. They can help our first responders. They can save lives. Of course we will see much more of this in the future. Let’s help to direct more people to use these services.

Written by Elaine Weidman-Grunewald

Elaine Weidman Grunewald is Vice President of Sustainability and Corporate Responsibility at Ericsson. She joined Ericsson in 1998, and she is responsible for a number of public private partnerships which explore the use of Technology for Good, i.e. the use Ericsson’s core technology to solve some of the world’s most compelling challenges and help to achieve the Millennium Development Goals , including the Millennium villages, Connect to Learn, and Refugees United. She is a leading advocate of Technology for Good and represents Ericsson in a number of external fora including the Broadband Commission for Digital Development and the United Nations Global Compact.


Crowdsourced Situational Awareness

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