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HP Palmtop Phone Home!

HP Palmtop Phone Home!

By David Shier

On January 17, 1994 at 3:30 a.m., I, along with everyone else in Southern California, was awakened by a major earthquake measuring 6.7 on the Richter Scale. Although I was lucky that my home did not sustain major damage, there was no immediate way to inform my relatives and friends that all was well.

Any major disaster makes communications difficult, if not impossible. For one thing, power plants have remote sensors which alert the plant that many power lines may be down. In an effort to prevent further damage to the power grid, as well as prevent people from being electrocuted by the downed power lines, the power plants go into an automatic shutdown mode. The power company must then inspect the area before bringing the power plant back on-line. In this case, power was off for more than 12 hours as far north as Santa Barbara.

More importantly, the phone system was affected. This was more due to an overload of calls than anything else. The first thing that happened was my phone went dead. This was normal because the first thing the phone system does when it senses a heavy overload of calls is to go into "emergency mode." Then phone lines are only available to police, fire departments, and other emergency services.

I was eventually able to get a dial tone, but it was still next to impossible to call anywhere within Southern California. This was due to the fact that about 90% of the available phone lines were allocated for calls outside this area. I could call outside Southern California, but no one could call in.

The best way for me to get the word out was to send an E-Mail message on my 100LX (by the light of a flashlight) to my brother in Virginia. Since the text can be transmitted much faster than talking (and with greater accuracy) I could get more information out and tie up the limited phone lines less. Also, the message allowed my brother to relay the information without forgetting a detail or misquoting me.

I use acCIS [ON DISK] on the 100LX. It provides a phone number list for selecting the CompuServe node to be used. I had the phone number for the high-speed node in Columbus, OH from my last visit. Since I couldn't call the local node, I used that. In fact, most of the messages posted from Southern California that day used nodes from outside the area.

After an hour or so, I was also able to call him (the power was still off, and I could still only make long distance calls). Of course, I used the Palmtop to find his phone number. I told him all was well and to let the rest of the family know I was OK.

I also posted a similar message on the CompuServe HPHAND forum since many of my friends on that forum know I live in Southern California. I was hoping to hear from other HPHAND members in the area to see if they were all right as well.

These messages went out within an hour of the quake, but it would not have been possible to send them without a battery powered modem and computer.

During the next meeting of the HP LX user's group (LaX-LUG), I asked other members how they used the Palmtop after the quake. We got a lot of good ideas for preparing for any future disasters:

  1. 1. Keep emergency numbers in your Palmtop's phone book file.
  2. 2. Create a database with an inventory of major household items (with serial numbers where applicable) for your insurance company.
  3. 3. Keep a database of insurance policy numbers and any important phone numbers such as the insurance company, banks, credit card companies, etc.. 4. Designate a friend or relative outside of your geographical area to be the point of contact for everyone to call.
I assume that the story about placing the 100LX on edge to keep a collapsed roof off of someone's head was tongue-in-cheek, but you never know!

We all know what a great tool the Palmtop is, but with a little advanced planning, it can be an even greater asset in an emergency.

iPhone Life magazine

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