While cell phone users on the East Coast are bracing for Hurricane Irene, the Federal Communications Commission is looking into the previous outages and network overloads caused by Tuesday's earthquake.
The magnitude 5.8 earthquake that was centered 40 miles northwest of Richmond, Virginia was enough to cause havoc on, among other things, wireless networks that have sprung up much later than 67 years ago when the last quake of that magnitude occurred.
The wireless providers unanimously stated that the outages and service interruptions were caused by network congestion as users flocked to the airwaves to contact family members and loved ones, or simply to get word on what was happening.
Rather than tie up voice lines, many did as the Federal Emergency Management Agency advised, to instead use email or text messages. Many also took to Facebook, Twitter, or other social media for communications and news on the crisis.
No significant damage to any of the physical infrastructure (cell towers, etc.) was reported, but the difficulty in communication was enough to alert the FCC to some very dangerous possibilities.
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We were very concerned with the fact that 9-1-1 calls were also congested, the FCC's Public Safety & Homeland Security Bureau chief told CNN. We want to make sure that people who need emergency help are able to get it.
Although the potential effects of an earthquake cannot be overstated, a hurricane adds the risk of extreme wind and water conditions, which can seriously affect outdoors communications equipment even if physical damage does not occur.
Towers and dishes can easily be blown out of alignment by hurricane-force winds, as many of those who endured Hurricane Katrina can attest. More than 1,000 cell towers went out of service during the 2005 hurricane, leaving countless people out of their main source of communication. One of the issues in that case was the amount of time that passed during recovery efforts -- the widespread loss of power rendered cell phones and cell towers alike useless when their batteries ran down.
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