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Using Walkie Talkie Apps for Disasters

Updated: Jun 6, 2023

What People Learn Post Hurricane Harvey and Irma

What People Need to Learn About Using Walkie Talkie Apps in Natural Disasters

Regardless how prepared people are, nature appears to be always ahead. The most highlighted natural disasters in 2017 were the Hurricanes, Harvey and Irma, which struck some parts of the United States and the Caribbean Islands in August/September 2017. Hurricane Harvey was a category 4 storm and considered as the most damaging natural disaster in the US history. It caused 180 billion in damage and affected 13 million people. Hurricane Irma, on the other hand, killed at least 134 people and caused massive damage across the Caribbean Islands and several states in the US.

The profound impact these hurricanes had to her affected areas made people write articles about how to make use of today’s technology in dealing with natural disasters. One of the most highlighted was the right communication tools for use during a disaster. People are aware that the usual means of communication are limited or even unavailable completely as cell towers most likely shut down during disasters. Thus, they looked for an alternative that is more applicable.

Many people would say that two-ways radio walkie talkie has been proven as the most appropriate means of communication for disasters. But the thing is, not everyone has a radio walkie talkie device. So, people tried to look for another alternative that utilizes a tool that everyone has, such as a smartphone.

During the Hurricane Harvey, a volunteer organization used a walkie talkie app to mobilize their rescuers, and there were also stranded victims who sent messages asking for help via this app. All of a sudden, people found out about this relatively unknown communication app and downloaded it to their phone as a precaution towards the upcoming Hurricane Irma. And that was how Zello App made its way to fame.

The aftermath related to this was the many frustrated comments on App Store and Play Store from users who downloaded the push to talk app as anticipation to the disasters. Since many of them downloaded the app without knowing exactly the features and limitations, they put a lot of expectations to the PTT app beyond what it can actually do.

So, what do people need to learn about using walkie talkie apps for disasters? Here are some of them:

Walkie talkie apps work on cell networks or a wi-fi connection

Unlike the two ways radio walkie-talkies that work on a radio network, walkie talkie apps work on a wi-fi connection or cell networks. So, when the disaster takes down the cell towers, the apps rely solely on a wi-fi connection to work. It becomes an issue when the power is down at the same time since that means the wi-fi connection is unavailable as well. In such situation, walkie talkie apps are not usable in any ways, until either the power is restored or the cell networks back in function.

Communicating using Walkie talkie apps may take several steps longer than with two ways radio walkie talkies

Compared to the two ways radio walkie talkies, it potentially takes many steps to start communicating with walkie talkie apps since they follow the mobile device platform’s interface. To give you an idea, here are the steps to open an app from a locked smartphone screen:

1. Unlock the screen.

2. Scroll through the device screens to find the app’s icon.

3. Press the app’s icon.

4. On the app’s home screen, press the group/channel/contact name to open the chat room.

5. Start talking/sending voice messages.

In an urgent situation, such as in the middle of a hurricane, it can be troublesome having to go through all the above steps just to send a message. Luckily, there’s another mobile app that helps in such cases by shortening the steps into one single step only. With Fast Talkie, users can communicate with their walkie talkie apps directly from a locked screen. It makes communicating with push to talk apps faster and easier, which is crucial in the middle of disasters.

The use of walkie-talkie headsets is required for better communication with walkie talkie apps

In a situation such as in the middle of a hurricane, there must be a lot of things going on outside the house. Thus, it may be difficult to hear clearly from a mobile device without an additional tool. To solve this, a wired or bluetooth headset will be a good help as it eliminates the noise by going directly into the ears. A headset is also very helpful in communicating with walkie-talkie apps since users can send and hear messages without having to touch the devices. It’s fast and practical which makes it suitable for use with walkie talkie apps in urgent situations.

You need to join groups/channels or add the other users to communicate

Just like how it is done with the two-ways radio walkie talkie, users need to join a group/channel or add the other users’ contact first before communicating with them. Without doing so, downloading push to talk apps will not do any good nor be helpful.

The above information applies to all walkie talkie apps there are in the market. However, the differences in interface and features on each app may also have direct impact on functionality and ease of use crucial in disaster situations.

For example, using a headset on Zello App requires several steps to ​setup the headset’s buttons, whereas on VoicePing all you need to do is just to plug the headset into the smartphone and you’re all set to send and listen to messages via the app. It’s very useful in the middle of a disaster as it can be challenging to remember details or instructions.

Another example is the text messaging interface. VoicePing’s conversation view makes following the conversation way easier compared to Zello’s texting interface.

By knowing the differences regarding push-to-talk apps, people can know what to expect when they’re using them for urgent situations. They will also be able to choose the push-to-talk app they’re most comfortable with and create backup plans to anticipate the drawbacks of walkie talkie apps at the same time. This way hopefully, more people are being helped by push-to-talk apps, instead of feeling frustrated and disappointed by them.

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