Tuesday, June 10, 2008

Cell Broadcasting

You will find many websites that cover cell broadcast and its applications to emergency warning but wanted to add an article here on Losantiville. Most text-based emergency warning systems out in the United States now works on a point-to-point system. In theory this should not be a problem but because each cellular provider has their own separate towers, point-to-pint creates shortfalls in getting emergency messages out. Say for instance you are from Cleveland but travel to Cincinnati for business. While in Cincinnati, a weather warning is issued for Hamilton county. The cellular service providers in Cincinnati send out a text warning but your Cleveland based number may not pick up the warning since that provider may not own any towers near your location.

Cell broadcasting avoids this by using point-to-area technology. Instead of each carrier sending out a message, cellular towers within the effected area broadcast a message to ALL phones within range of the tower. Up to 15 pages of 93 characters can be sent during an emergency. Cell broadcast does not require the phone to send a return signal which reduces the bandwidth requirements. The London bombings in 2005 demonstrated this technology. Unfortunately, most handsets in use today in the United States are not cell-broadcast capable.

Adapting this standard for the United States would drastically improve college and university options for responding during emergencies. The same technology that could be used to warn citizens about pending weather disasters (such as tornados) could also provide all students, faculty and visitors on a particular campus with critical information regarding disasters on the college grounds. Adapting cell broadcasting would help alleviate the redundant costs colleges and communities spend on emergency warning systems. Further, cell broadcasting technology allows visitors from outside the community to receive the same warnings as locals.

Readers of this blog know I always advocate a comprehensive approach to solutions. Rather that pursue site specific warning systems, communities should push for cell broadcasting as an effective means of the maximum number of citizens. Cell broadcasting is also cost-effective providing maximum coverage for a relatively low cost. Yes, handsets would have to be retrofitted however this cost is minimal compared to the potential for lives to be lost due to a lack of information.

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