A newly popular cell phone app is creating misconceptions about what it is capable of in a disaster situation.
Zello is an app which allows phones to function similar to walkie-talkies, allowing for communication without dialing a phone number.
The app rocketed to the top of Apple’s App Store and Android’s Google Play Market this week, adding one million users between Tuesday and Wednesday.
Floridians have been downloading the app in droves this week as Hurricane Irma closes in, with many believing that it will allow for communication even when cell phone and internet service go out as a possible consequence of the storm. Rumors and social media claims have been circulating like wildfire.
That is simply not true, the company says.
“If there is no WiFi and no cellular data service, communication apps (including Zello) won’t work,” Zello founder Alexey Gavrilov wrote in a blog post on the company’s website Wednesday.
Zello also posted reminders on its Facebook page that some manner of service is required for the app to function and to reach other users.
Zello grew in popularity in the aftermath of Hurricane Harvey in Texas, where it was used to help coordinate rescue efforts in and around Houston during the catastrophic flooding in the area.
“While Zello has been helpful in Harvey relief efforts, it is not a hurricane rescue tool and is only as useful as the people who use it, and as reliable as the data network available,” Gavrilov wrote.
There is one kernel of truth to Zello’s usefulness in a disaster scenario. Mobile networks are typically overburdened during disasters, and text messages and apps often use less bandwidth than phone calls, which means they can work when phone calls aren’t successfully getting through.
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