Communications in Crisis Situations

Alexia Jones

On September 11, 2001 the United States found itself transformed from a peaceful country to a country facing violence from a viscous terrorist attack. The crisis we survived illustrates a need to look at all sources of communication from phone systems to the black box that records information on airplanes.

When the towers of World Trade Center collapsed, many people along the east coast lost phone service. Reporters tried to call from phone booths to report on the tragedy while relatives tried to contact family members. All received busy signals. People resorted to using the Internet to inform friends and families that they survived. Internet service providers switched from multiple routers to other emergency connections. With emergency lines the calls roll over to the next available phone line making it possible for calls to get through as lines become available.

During the emergency, cellular phones provided vital communication for many people. Victims called their loved ones reassuring them they would be okay, or, in some cases to say their final good byes. When the towers fell, the main receiver that makes it possible for cellular phones to work fell with it, severing cellular communication for thousands of people. However, one victim managed to use a cellular phone to call police from the rubble of the WTC and give specific directions to locations of trapped people.

Black boxes, located in the tail end of airplanes, collect two kinds of data: flight data and voice data. Microphones and sensors located throughout the plane collect and store this data. This information is stored on memory boards that can endure extreme heat and pressure. The black box enables investigators to piece together details of what transpired during the last thirty minutes of a flight. For example, this technology has confirmed what victims on flight 93 reported to loved ones from their cellular phones. Brave heroes did fight back, in what has been described by the media has a gruesome fight for control of the plane.

And now, as the world wages its war on terrorism, modern technology will enable us to receive and communicate information in ways not dreamed possible as few as ten short years ago.