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Wildfire, fire management and air quality news for western Montana and the Northern Rockies.

Idaho Fire Exposes The Limits Of Cell Phone Technology

Cell phone.
Residents of Bayview, ID are being asked to avoid their cell phones to allow for better firefighter communications.

Many have abandoned their landline telephones for the convenience of cell phones. But local emergencies, like the 2,000-acre wildfire burning in Bayview, Idaho can expose the limitations of that technology.

Cell towers in North Idaho are having a tough time handling the call volume. Bayview residents are being asked to avoid their cell phones to allow for better firefighter communications.

Missoula's Office of Emergency Management Director, Adriane Beck, says cellular technology is becoming more robust, but those towers can only handle so much traffic.

"In a crisis or emergency the first thing a lot of people reach for is their cell phone either for data usage or to receive updates or to talk to family and friends. That certainly can stress the infrastructure."

Beck says Missoula has safeguards to maintain cell service during emergencies, "that allow select emergency officials to have priority codes that they can utilize in those situations that essentially kicks them to the front of the line."

Cellular companies can also provide portable cell towers that can be used during periods of high call volume.

Missoula County residents can register their cell phones to automatically get alerts during emergencies. That can be done at Landlines are automatically enrolled.

Edward O’Brien first landed at Montana Public Radio three decades ago as a news intern while attending the UM School of Journalism. He covers a wide range of stories from around the state.  
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