More than a phone – your mobile can be a life saver

Caption - One of TSTT's network monitoring centres keeps track round the clock of the performance of its networks

The Easter holiday blackout brought home for many of us, how important it was to have a functioning mobile device in the event of a national emergency. Our ability to stay connected to our family and friends and to participate or stay abreast of recovery efforts were greatly enhanced through access to mobile devices and connectivity to the Internet.

In this article, we offer some helpful tips on how your mobile device can improve your level of preparedness in the wake of any natural disaster.

Mobile devices are an integral part of all the critical stages of disaster management before, during and after an emergency. It is in this vein that bmobile partnered with the Office of Disaster Preparedness and Management (ODPM) to deploy a nationwide emergency SMS broadcast service to alert the public about impending disasters. As was seen during the Easter blackout, access to the Internet and social media became a central point for the public and the media to receive and exchange information. This facilitated a better grasp of the scope of the problem as well as access to news alerts and updates from the relevant authorities on restoration work in progress.

In the hours immediately after the start of the blackout, bmobile’s voice and data traffic doubled, which meant that people were awake and actively communicating on their mobile devices. This was possible because over 90 percent of TSTT’s systems remained up and running.

The blackout highlighted the importance of mobile communications and serves as a cautionary tale for things people should do, supported by mobile services, to improve their ability to manage their circumstances during an emergency.  Simple things for individuals and businesses to do include:

(A)    Have back up power at the ready. For cell phones that means either an extra battery that is always kept charged or have a solar powered or hand wound charger available that can also work on tablet devices. For computers, UPS systems that can also support your wired broadband access modem.

(B)    Avoid exhausting stored power and limit the use of the device to critical communications.

(C)    Save links to important media and emergency management websites and social media accounts. More and more these are becoming important touch points for disseminating information.

As the level of devastation in emergencies may escalate the web blog mhealthinsight.compointed out other activities that could be pursued that integrate the mobile phone to improve the effectiveness of emergency responders. For example:

a)      Emergency Management Organisations can develop a register of key ‘community emergency coordinators’ mobile users and where they live per community. For remote parts of T&T, this would enable responders to get feedback on the severity of damage and injuries in an area and determine how to prioritise the deployment of resources. These Community Coordinators can use their mobiles to upload video and pictures to the disaster management agency’s website to give them a heads up on the scope of devastation

b)      This register could also include details of any special skills (electricians, engineers, carpenters, doctors etc) that the community may have and that may come in handy in the aftermath of a disaster 

c)      You can keep critical details such as next of kin mobile numbers, their own blood type, drug allergies and the like on their person e.g. taped to one’s arm or written in semi permanent ink on someone’s arm

d)      Emergency Field Operators can use a Mobile health app to get access to the medical records of individuals being treated in the field. This could help speed up medical evaluations and treatment

e)      Emergency Management agencies can place information videos online covering relevant health and safety issues, emergency response updates, locations of resources or supplies. These videos can be accessed via mobile by communities to help them take care of themselves as best as possible until relief arrives.

Implicit in all of this working effectively for victims and emergency workers is access to a mobile communications networks. Network operators like TSTT need as far as possible to have the necessary infrastructure to support these activities before, during and after an emergency. It is also equally important that business activity can be sustained as far as possible because the crippling of economic activity in an area increases the length of time required to have life return to normal.

The needs of individuals and businesses in normal times and in the aftermath of emergencies have in fact played a major role in investment decisions TSTT has made to its network. In addition to building state-of-the-art communications networks, the company’s drive to have “always on” communications cannot be possible without significant back-up power. This philosophy is driven by TSTT’s commitment to support national development through reliable communications. 

TSTT’s massive backup power system was evident during the Easter blackout as its services continued throughout the period with minimal interruption. In real terms that meant tens of thousands of customers who stayed up could follow and share updates on social media, prompting posts like –

“I was very impressed with bmobile service last night, not a call was dropped and twitter was up and running. Thanks good job” from mauriejoe

 “We knock bmobile when things go wrong but last night’s massive blackout shows that even as power goes they still pumping with 4G and all” from andrewmanswell

This was possible because of work started 5 years and tens of millions of dollars ago. As the company’s portfolio grew to include more mobile users, subscription TV and even more broadband users, the company took the decision to move the infrastructure for providing these services closer to the communities that needed them.

Reliable communications is a critical component for quality of life, business and investment confidence so TSTT went the extra mile.  Collectively TSTT’s back up power for the 800-plus exchanges, cell sites and remote  installations of varying sizes has a power capacity equivalent to the usage of over 6000 homes but delivers services to hundreds of thousands of households and businesses.  

“It was rewarding to see that the network surpassed the expectations of customers during the blackout. The outage validated the effort, funding and planning that we invested and continue to invest to make our networks the most robust and resilient in the country” said acting CEO George Hill.