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The big lesson the tsunami can teach us about VoIP

At the time this post was last updated,the estimated death toll from the South Asian tsunami exceeded 120,000. First things, first.

At the time this post was last updated,the estimated death toll from the South Asian tsunami exceeded 120,000.

First things, first. If you want to give money for food, medical care and other basic necessities, here's some info on how to do so. And if you want to donate wireless communications equipment so that people in the affected regions can communicate with each other, there are efforts underway.

Which brings us to the subject of this post.

Although I haven't yet seen any direct connection between IP telephony and the unspeakably tragic act of nature, oneposter to this bloghas underscored the importance of telecommunications systems staying on at all times.

While it may indeed be unlikely that VoIP - or even Internet access for that matter - has achieved significant penetration in most of the affected regions, the tsunami does call into play what could happen should a giant wave or other natural calamity strike closer to our own shores.

Living near the Pacific Ocean, this is a vital issue for me. I'm from Portland, Oregon, awired city (on broadband and caffeine). I often go 70 miles west to Seaside, Oregon, where a tsunami spawned by a major Alaskan earthquake came ashore 40 years ago.

The Atlantic Ocean has fewer crustal confluences than the Pacific, so East Coasters are not all that directly concerned about tsunamis. Yet the Pacific, despite its name, is turbulent below the seafloor. So what would happen to the communications infrastructure if a tsunami hit a sea-level coastal community such as Seaside? Don't shrug it off: the National Tsunami Hazard Mitigation Program considers Seaside one of the most vulnerable areas on the Pacific Coast. True, only 5,000 people live there, but what about other open-to-the-ocean enclaves such as the Ocean Beach neighborhood of San Francisco? Or much of Santa Barbara?

With homes flooded, plugged-in PCs would not be operational. So, maybe, the affected and wired would, along with more immediate belongings, take their VoIP-enabled laptop and flee to higher ground. Once on higher ground, the accumulated stress of calamitous events causes a family member to experience heart palpitations.

It doesn't have to be a tsunami. It could be a something caused by a hurricane, tornado, blizzard, even a nasty gust of wind on a sunny day. Or an infrastructure-damaging event spawned not by evil currents, but by evil minds.

You know what I'm saying here? We need to get on the ball with national VoIP E-911 as well as, of course, cell E-911. It's coming, but not soon enough.