Jeff Pulver (pulver.com) and Tom and Mary Evslin (Fractals of Change) have filed a petition today with the FCC to try and improve the ability to reach and communicate with people during disasters that disrupt normal telecom systems.
After watching how difficult it was to locate and establish communications with the many thousands of displaced Katrina victims, and realizing how there are currently available technical solutions to these kind of problems, Pulver and the Evslins are asking the FCC to make sure this kind of widespread communications nightmare doesn’t happen again in this country.
Jeff Pulver summarizes the request:
We primarily ask for a mechanism to ensure that individuals are reachable after a public crisis that causes communications networks to go down. We propose a solution that we think could provide immediate relief before the next hurricane season and before more elaborate rules might feasibly be established. We ask simply that the FCC require any provider obligated to provide E911 services to establish an alternate communications service for affected customers via either: (1) activating for each customer a voicemail service that would be accessed by incoming callers dialing the customer’s phone number, or (2) providing expedited local number porting to an alternate service provider selected by the customer, including porting to a number outside of the geographic area and/or rate center. Either of these proposals would provide a technically feasible and reasonable means of ensuring that consumers remain connected during emergencies.
This seems like a very reasonable and sound idea. Many observers realized that during the chaos of Katrina those with cell phones or VoIP phones/services were much more easily reached then those without those kind of services as their phones could still work when they took them somewhere else and they had the ability to leave messages on the voice mail attached to their numbers to inform friends and families of their status and whereabouts. But unfortunately a large percentage of the victims of that disaster didn’t have these kind of services (as would likely be found in any disaster that effects a large low-income population), and the idea behind this petition is the local provider could easily attach voice mail to or provide call forwards for these numbers in a time of crisis, and that would greatly improve overall communications.