In case of emergency, text message

Twenty five years after AT&T encouraged phone customers to “reach out and touch someone,” today's modern-day cell phone equivalent should be “reach out and text someone” — particularly in case of an emergency.

In the event of a natural disaster or other emergency, when phone lines are down and cell phone networks are overloaded with calls, a short text message — typed into a cell phone using the keypad — is more likely toget through.

That was the message Friday morning at Brownies Hardware, where earthquake business survivors were honored and city leaders reinforced the need for disaster preparedness.

Burt Benrud, vice president of New Orleans' renowned Café du Monde who was on hand at the small business celebration, said he did not know to try text messaging when his family evacuated to Alabama, but luckily the teenagers in the group did.

“Everybody had a cell phone, but all of the circuits were busy,” said Benrud. “It was the members of our fourth generation who figured out they could text message each other.”

A text message takes up less room on the network and is more likely to get through,” said Joe Farren, Director of Public Affairs for the Cellular Telecommunications and Internet Association, “The text message is the best way to communicate in an emergency.”

Text messages are also more likely to transmit because they don't require a strong signal, and they wait in a queue when the network is full, said Cingular spokesperson Lauren Garner, who added that the company encourages the use of text messages in order that phone lines can be kept open for emergency services calls.

“If you only have one bar, you can still send out a text message,” said Garner. “It's a fast way to let your families and friends know you're safe.”

Although text messaging is still largely the domain of teenagers — 38 percent of teenage internet users text message compared to 25 percent of adults — overall text messaging is increasing. About 7.3 billion text messages are sent nationwide every month up from about 2.9 million about a year ago, according to the CTIA.

Currently, the California State Assembly is considering a bill, AB 2231, that would require all cell phone and text message providers to transit emergency information notices produced by the Office of Emergency Services to their customers.

Being able to text message her friends calmed the fears of 18-year-old Katrina survivor Nekeisha Maxie, who relocated to San Francisco with her family after the flood waters destroyed their Baton Rouge home.

“I was worried about my friends and then everybody just started text messaging,” said Maxie. “We were asking the basic questions, 'Where are you at, how are you, where's your family?'”

beslinger@examiner.com

Bay Area NewsLocal

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