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I Downloaded an App. Suddenly, I was a Rescue Dispatcher. ( 172

Holly Hartman, a journalism teacher for 22 years, writes an incredible story: After watching nonstop coverage of the hurricane and the incredible rescues that were taking place, I got in bed at 10:30 on Tuesday night. I had been glued to the TV for days. I read an article about the Cajun Navy and the thousands of selfless volunteers who have shown up to this city en masse. The article explained they were using a walkie-talkie-type app called Zello to communicate with each other, locate victims, get directions, etc. I downloaded the app, found the Cajun Navy channel and started listening. I was completely enthralled. Voice after voice after voice coming though my phone in the dark, some asking for help, some saying they were on their way. Most of the transmissions I was hearing when I first tuned in were from Houston, but within 30 minutes or so, calls started coming in from Port Arthur and Orange. Harvey had moved east from Houston and was pummeling East Texas. Call after call from citizens saying they were trapped in their houses and needed boat rescue. None of the volunteer rescuers had made it to that area from Houston, but as soon as the calls started coming in, they were moving out, driving as fast as they could into the middle of Harvey.
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I Downloaded an App. Suddenly, I was a Rescue Dispatcher.

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  • And that I can only communicate with drones or their pilots.

  • by Dirk Becher ( 1061828 ) on Monday September 11, 2017 @10:58AM (#55174089)

    Suddenly, I was a vietnamese callgirl.

  • I've been relaying messages for someone in the Miami-Dade area. She has internet connectivity, but not cellular. Her only method of communicating with her mother is via cellular (call or text), and she doesn't have any other text type gateway apps set up. However, she does normally use Zello which is non-functional for her even though she has data. So I'm not sure if Zello is overloaded there, or if it requires more bandwidth than is currently available. Either way I'm posting this to point out that Zell

    • Google Voice, it's free and gives you voice, sms, and voicemail access online with free US domestic calls.

  • This is how I became an instant air traffic controller. I stumbled upon this app, thinking it was a game, when suddenly I saidYou are cleared for takeoff

    I followed it up immediately with the clarification This channel is reserved for drones and drone pilots only. Please clear the channel for them. Thank you for your cooperation.

  • by mattr ( 78516 ) <mattr AT telebody DOT com> on Monday September 11, 2017 @12:08PM (#55174551) Homepage Journal

    Wow. This article describes what I tried to do in 1995 for the Kobe earthquake, 20 years ago. But it suggests ways things go wrong as well. In the linked article the journalist put massive effort in and helped some people. But she also told everyone repeatedly that help was coming, even when she knew there were no boats in the water. I do not want to judge, since it sounds like she was doing a superhuman feat that nobody else was there to do and that was the best that was humanly possible. In the end compassion directed her to make some decisions and compassion later haunted her enough to write the article, and explain everything so that others can help in the future.

    At that time I was at a new Internet provider that opened for business just before the quake, and I hoped to get Tokyo University to act as a call center to pick up calls for help. There was no news coming out of the area and no phones, but Internet lines were working. We would put it together on a web page and coordinate grassroots disaster relief, sharing people's needs and who could bring help there. In the end we couldn't do it for two main reasons. News organizations refused to cooperate by sharing what they saw from a helicopter, and Tokyo U. said there were too many bureaucratic problems with cooperating. In the end while I was able to provide some support on my own, mostly by relaying information and helping people who were in the area to upload pictures, there was a limit to what was possible. And then the most amazing site was created by a Stanford student if I remember correctly. Nowadays there are lots more systems. I believe the phone company or was it Yahoo made one that lets you say if you are safe.

    Since data connections are usually more resilient than voice service (and even voice over data apps degrade) there will likely continue to be a need for data-based systems in emergency situations. I don't know why the emergency support dropped to such a horrifying extent that nobody else could help. I hope the article stimulates more people to recognize the need for better support of communities in disaster areas. If 911 gets overloaded or ignores a key communications channel like this app, then perhaps there should be a way to bring more people on board from different walks of life in an emergency and coordinate online. In fact anyone online even far away from the disaster area could have done so. This journalist took up the challenge but it shouldn't have to happen that way ever again.

    • Re: (Score:2, Insightful)

      by Anonymous Coward

      I'm in Houston. I saw what happened.
      As for flooding, there are areas of town that often flood. Those living there are prepared and are used to it. But with Harvey, many areas of town flooded that had not flooded before. These were the areas where the rescues and Cajun Navy were most evident and needed. While I'm sure if you look hard enough you can find someone or some obscure report somewhere that predicted this would happen, it was mostly unexpected. Thus the mayor recommended people not to evacuate

  • Ham Radio (Score:5, Interesting)

    by MountainLogic ( 92466 ) on Monday September 11, 2017 @12:29PM (#55174729) Homepage
    To a great extent this is why ham radio [] is still around. I applaud folks good intentions to jump in and help, but counting on cell towers to stay up is courting a bigger disaster. There will be storms/earthquakes, etc that will take down the cell towers, the fiber that connects it, the electricity the supports it,and the diesel supply chain that keeps back-up generators running. Ham radio frequencies can reach hundreds and even thousands of miles to areas outside of an impacted area and are often the only line of communication in a disaster. We also need to enable the FM receivers that are built into modern cell to support broadcast of "critical, need to know information."
    • In gods own country, yes.
      In Europe not so much.

    • Out of curiosity, how much help did HAM's provide during Harvey. I'm generally skeptical of the bold claims made by the HAM's I've known (many look to be a couple bacon cheeseburgers away from needing a rescue themselves), so this sounds a good disaster to measure what percentage of the communications they handled for the Houston area. Where can we get some stats?

      • by mysidia ( 191772 )

        Out of curiosity, how much help did HAM's provide during Harvey.

        The Ham groups typically work with the state and local emergency management agencies directly.

        After the dust settles: I'm sure there will be the ARES division report summaries showing how much traffic the hams passed and how many man-hours their groups put into it, Although you might need to subscribe to QST or find the corresponding ARES groups and attend their meetings to learn the info; it's not like there will be press releases with

        • MySidia,

          Good point about the softer side of the network from the Portland 911 system [] event. On a larger scale, all it took was one a misplaced if/break statement [] to prove a "trivial" Unix patch can bring down even the most robust network. ( As a C programmer I have to take issue with the article blaming the compiler and not the programmer and their test tools/environment, but then than's just my world view).
      • Moof, Hams are perhaps a little too good at getting press coverage relative to their impact. I would agree that Ham radio is falling by the wayside, due to the ubiquity of cell phones. Without a doubt cell phone are ubiquitous, easier to use for the general population and provide much greater and richer range of services. Indeed cell should be the perfected initial line of communication. This wonderful cell technology is predicated on a brittle infrastructure of cell towers.

        I happen to live in the mo
        • by adolf ( 21054 )

          The Ma Bell microwave towers are magnificent structures. Many of them have their electronics mounted underground in a bunker that is mounted on springs -- even in tectonically boring regions.

          They're part of the Long Lines project, which was paid for in part by Cold War fears (and funding). They didn't create this robust microwave infrastructure for consumer profit; they created it for government cheese.

          The cell phone networks could be upgraded to be similarly robust/redundant, but we don't have any cheese

  • by p51d007 ( 656414 ) on Monday September 11, 2017 @12:35PM (#55174777)
    Ham radio operators have a similar type thing we can use called echo-link. You can't download it unless you have a Ham radio license though. Sometimes I don't have my mobile radio with me, so instead of carrying a walkie-talkie around, I can punch up a repeater using echo-link and use it similar to a walkie-talkie. 99% of the time, I'm just copying the mail on the weather spotters repeater.
  • I am not a rescue dispatcher but...

  • Try this then: trance music + police band.
    You have to play with the volumes of both until you get the right balance, but once you do it's strangely pleasant to listen to. Obviously, cities like Baltimore and Chicago have more chatter than Halifax.

    I actually use this as background when I played Eve, it was a perfect level of 'activity' that made it seem so much less of a boring empty universe.

    Probably NOT as entertaining if you are, in fact, an emergency services dispatcher. []

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