When a natural disaster strikes, whether it’s a hurricane, wildfire, tsunami, or earthquake, they all have devastating repercussions. Among the effects caused by these tragedies are the family members desperately trying to reach their loved ones to see if they were alright. When Hurricane Sandy hit the northeast coast, the FCC reported that nearly 25% of the cell towers had been knocked out. USA Today noted that the limited technology and access to satellite networks inhibited the rescue efforts.
The 2010 earthquake in Haiti also showed how not having a well-developed wireless infrastructure can be detrimental. Haitian engineer, Charles-Edouard Denis, spoke with IEEE Spectrum about the impact of the earthquake on Haiti’s cellular infrastructure.
“Right after the earthquake, the only company that was still working was Haitel, but its network was quickly overloaded. It remained operational mostly because it utilized almost exclusively 30- to 60-metertowers that are built to withstand hurricanes and earthquakes. Digicel and Comcel were not operational at all, and since between the two they have more than 3 million subscriptions, a lot of people could not communicate,” Denis said.
“Most of the people trapped under the rubble were trying to use their phones to call family members to let them know where they were, but the service was not available, and no one came to help them. At a quarter to five in the afternoon, some people were not at work. They left early to either stop at a friend's house or at a supermarket. So family members had a hard time identifying the location of their loved ones and therefore could not help. Since Digicel has more than 2 million subscribers, this lack of telephone service caused a lot of deaths,” Denis explained.
Not only is there a need for more spectrum, because the demand for mobile spectrum is surpassing the available supply, there is a need for a stronger wireless infrastructure that is able to withstand strong winds in order to better assist people during natural disasters.
Darrell West, director of the center for technology innovation at the Brookings Institution, told USA Today that, “We need to make sure that there are strong backups because mobile has become integral to people's lives, and in a time of disaster sometimes it's their only lifeline to the outside world."