Quake Shakes Confidence in Communications

August 23, 2011

Today we experienced a 5.9 quake at the ELERTS office in Massachusetts.

Our building swayed and shook for about 20 seconds, as did many east coast buildings.  No alarm was sounded.  No evacuation orders given. Building management had no way to communicate with tenants, to give instructions.  There was a failure to communicate inside a defined structure, our building, which was experiencing stress.  Fortunately, this quake didn’t cause serious damage.

Earthquakes are not the norm in Massachusetts.  But unusual events can be the most dangerous.  Our guard is down.  We don’t have contingency plans.  There is no established way to get instructions on how or where to evacuate, if necessary.

Immediately after today’s quake, National monuments were closed and evacuated.  East coast airports shut down temporarily.   Railways slowed trains to 15 mph.  Workers streamed out of the Pentagon and Capitol Hill offices.  A police spokesperson said, “The police department was “hampered” by “signals jammed” and inability to quickly communicate with other agencies.”

“Due to overload of cell phone usage, there are reports of cell phone congestion.  We request that members of the public use email or text messages if possible to communicate for the next few hours, except in cases of emergency, so that emergency officials can continue to receive and respond to urgent calls,” was the troubling but official advice from FEMA.  For First Responders, this relatively small disaster highlights the need for a nationwide emergency communication system, which ten years after the 911 attacks, still has not been decided on.

A national mobile alert system could also be useful in times like these, to notify the general public. However no such system was in place today.

We have the technology.


Awareness is everything.

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