Wireless companies have not yet found a system to deal with outages caused by the inevitable dramatic increase in cell phone calls placed during an emergency. From Eweek:
The inability of students and others at Virginia Tech in Blacksburg, Va., to make cell phone calls during the April 16 shooting tragedy added to the chaos surrounding the events of the day, students and others have reported in media interviews.
According to the article, Verizon is the only wireless carrier admitting to call blocking during the emergency. Cingular claims to have experienced higher volumes but no service interruptions.
“We did see some call blocking,” [Verizon's Spokesperson] said. “We did also see some heavy text message traffic. A lot of folks have learned that it’s much easier to get a text message through at that time than to get a voice call through.”
Verizon has set up a COLT (Cell on Light Truck), while Cingular has added radios to nearby cell sites. Sprint says they don’t offer service in the Virginia Tech area, and instead rely on their affiliates. T-Mobile did not return calls for comment. Each company’s spokesperson acknowledged that cell phone service in emergencies has been a constant problem. Cingular spokesperson added that text messaging is a good alternative.
“We had no problems with text messaging,” [Cingular's Spokesperson] noted. “It’s a great alternative in these situations.”