Managing without mobiles

When was the last time you left home without your cell phone?

What proportion of the the emergency contact numbers in your continuity plans are for mobile devices?

Do you have a plan for what happens if the cell network in your area goes down just as you’re having a crisis? If you think about it, it’s possibly more likely to happen that way, if the network is overloaded by a sudden high volume of calls, disturbed by a physical break (from a storm, for example), or because it’s shut down by the emergency services for safety or security reasons.

At the time of writing – Winter 2011 – telecoms companies in Bangkok, Thailand, are “confident there will be no outage” despite the severe floods in the region, which are expected to get worse.  The companies are working on resilience for their standby power generators and batteries, and expressing relief that many base stations are on rooftops in Bangkok, keeping them well clear of the ground level flooding.

Mobile outages are far less frequent than in previous decades.  When cell phone technology was new, there was less capacity on the networks, and less flexibility to reroute capacity when high volumes of traffic were experienced.  Times have changed; the phone companies have more capacity and good procedures for managing such events.  But they aren’t infaliable.

High profile examples of significant mobile outages include London, England during the 7 July 2005 bombings; the New York, USA, power outage in 2002; in addition to the more ‘routine’ outages following storms and weather incidents across the globe.

The London bombing outages – caused in most areas by network overload but, in one small area, because the network was asked to revoke access to the public in the mistaken belief they could prioritise communications between the emergency services – resulted in serious lessons learned.

If your company has a significant contract with a telecom company, you may be able to negotiate (or pay for) some resilience measures.  For example, an extra base station or transmitter on your property.  But it won’t mean you shouldn’t consider what happens if mobile communications cease.

  • What contact would be lost with whom?
  • Is the reliance on cell phones for conversation, or for email and internet access too?
  • What landlines are available?  Are the numbers known?
  • Are there conference calling facilities that could be permanently opened in the event of an incident, allowing anyone who’s lost mobile access to make contact from any telecom device?
  • Are default meeting locations available in case of total telecoms failure?
  • Can teams on the ground manage without telecoms (and management) until they’re are restored?
Telecoms provider Verizon, offers some tips for consumers.


 

Have you managed a real incident without access to mobile phones?  Have you rehearsed a scenario where cell phones were unavailable?  Tell us about it by commenting!

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