California earthquake impact on cell service will be severe

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SAN DIEGO – Many Californians’ first instinct in an emergency is to pick up their phones – a lifeline for loved ones, first responders and the latest online news. But when the “A large” happens, you shouldn’t rely on your device to work for you, experts say.

This finding is part of a a wealth of information and predictions about a major earthquake made by a US Geological Survey team before the state of California “ShakeOut” exercise Thusday. This is the latest iteration of a landmark 2017 study known as the The HayWired earthquake scenario.

This report provides a comprehensive overview of the aftermath of an earthquake larger than magnitude 7.0 in a densely populated area of ​​the state. In HayWired’s case, it’s Hayward’s fault in the East Bay area.

“The HayWired scenario is named, in part, to recognize society’s reliance on wired and wireless information and communication technologies,” explains the study overview.

A HayWired scenario graph shows the time it will take to restore varying amounts of service to various critical communications services after a major earthquake. (Photo: USGS)

Cell phone towers, experts say, should withstand tremors in some cases and are located further away from other hazards, although they are vulnerable to the potentially large power outages that accompany major earthquakes. Meanwhile, cellular equipment on poles and buildings are vulnerable to the “extreme risks of shaking, liquefaction and fire” associated with such a large earthquake, meaning serious disruption is likely.

In Alameda County, voice and data service was expected to drop to 7% because it suffered the most damage, the most power outages and the biggest sudden increase in user numbers in the scenario. As the Los Angeles Times Notes, this is equivalent to 93% failed phone calls to New York in the moments following the 9/11 terrorist attacks.

The places where people need to use their phones the most will be the least equipped to handle the load, and service will be most spotty in the busy times soon after the disaster strikes.

“The percentage of demand for voice and data services that is satisfied is at its lowest when it is most needed for public health and safety immediately after the earthquake,” the analysis said.

Key issues include obvious issues – like interference with callers reaching 911 or family members to confirm they’re okay or asking for help – but also more complicated issues, such as medical systems. who have difficulty accessing patient records.

HayWired even considers the effect that service issues – which could last to some extent for days – would have on mental health:

“For a population accustomed to using the Internet and mobile data to manage their lives, the impact of service outages will exacerbate the emotional and mental challenges of an earthquake. In a small amount of literature on the emotional aspects of limited mobile phone use, Hoffner et al.

Study contributors suggest a range of ways California could help mitigate the effects of earthquake damage on access to cells and data, including renovating old buildings and infrastructure to make them more resilient overall and making telecommunications equipment less dependent on commercial electric power.

To verify the full document here and find out more about earthquake preparedness on Ready.gov.


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