Drill – Loss of Cellular Service


Printable Drill Worksheet


During a Seahawks Super Bowl victory parade an estimated 700,000 fans attending the event are trying to text and call friends, and upload photos and videos onto Facebook, Twitter, and Instagram. The increased amount of cellular traffic begins to overwhelm the local cellular network. Staff attempting to place voice calls increasingly are unable to connect or complete calls on the cell network. As the network continues to degrade cellular data services also experience significant slowdowns or failures. 

Real-World Example

Cell use at Seahawks parade swamped wireless networks  


Originally published February 6, 2014, By  Lynn Thompson Seattle Times staff reporter 

Drill Inject

Inject 1

Half of all drill staff are told they can no longer use their cell phone for voice calls.


Inject 2

Seattle’s Emergency Operations Center alerts the public to stay off their phones to help keep 911 lines open.  It’s part of their emergency-operations playbook to limit phone use so that urgent calls can get through.


Inject 3

All staff is told the cellular network has collapsed and no one can place or receive calls on their cell phone.  


Inject 3

Smartphone applications and secure messaging applications using the cellular data network begin having delivery delays and eventually become almost unusable due to long update delays and message latency.  Staff can no longer use the applications for real-time messaging.


Inject 4

Smartphone clinical alerting applications using the cellular network, such as nurse call alerts, pharmacy alerts, and other monitoring alerts become unreliable or significantly delayed.  Staff needs to revert to checking alerts from nursing station PCs, alert lights, or other manual systems.  How does this impact staffing if alerts will not be delivered to mobile devices?

Pre-DRIll Checklist

1- Create Drill Injects in the format used by your Incident Command.

2- Determine which if any cell phones have WPS service enabled.

Provide information sheets on the WPS service and how it is used.

3- Determine which staff have GETS cards.

Provide information sheets about GETS cards and how they are used. 

4- Determine which phones are on an Emergency Responder network.

5- Is your Command Center Phone Contact List updated and correct.  Where is it published?

6- Provide information sheets on how to use a vendor website or email to send messages to text pagers.

7- Validate what data network is used by secure messaging applications.  This information will be needed to determine if these services will be impacted by a cellular network collapse or slow down.

8- Validate what data network is used by clinical alerting applications.  This information will be needed to determine if these services will be impacted by a cellular network collapse or slow down.

9 – Create a worksheet about other alternate forms of communications for distribution to Incident Command.

Things to consider

1- Clinical uses of cell phones

If your organization uses smartphones for clinical alerting, data transmission may slow or stop during a cellular outage.  Are smartphones set up to use your internal Wi-Fi network for data transmission?

2- Voice, data, and SMS traffic may see different impacts as the cellular network becomes overloaded.  As an example, SMS texting may continue to work even as cellular data services slow or stop.

You should be aware of what networks your messaging apps are using and how they work. As an example, Apple’s iMessage MMS service is a data network service, not an SMS text message service, however, if the cellular data network fails  Apple will send and receive iMessages via SMS. The application will lose some functionality, it will only be able to send messages with 160 characters of text, and group messaging will not be available. … As a workaround you may want to turn off cellular data and use Wi-Fi to continue using the iMessage full feature set.


3- WPS Enabled Smartphones

WPS provides priority calling service on a cellular network.  If a cell phone has this service enabled your drill to inject may limit voice traffic to only these phones.  This will highlight for Incident Commanders the use of WPS enabled phones. Learn about WPS.


4- GETS card

The use of a GETS card with a cell phone or PBX phone provides priority access on a congested voice network.  Incident Commanders will need to determine who has a GETS card and should instruct staff to use their GETS cards. Learn about GETS.

5- Emergency Responder Cell Phones

FirstNet and Verizon offer programs to provide priority service for cell phones during an emergency.  FirstNet cell phones use a band of the cellular network reserved for First Responders and Emergency Management.  In many cases, these phones’ voice and data services will continue to work when the normal public network becomes congested. Learn about FirstNet.

6- Alternate Communications Methods

If your PBX is working are there enough phones in your Incident Command Center for all communication needs.  Does staff outside the command center have the phone numbers needed to reach the command center?

Are there other alternative methods of communications; radios, satellite phones, pagers, secure messaging systems, runners that could be used?

If your organization uses pagers, does the Incident Command Team know how to send text pages via a vendor’s web page or via email?

If staff use pagers how many staff members have their pagers forwarded to their cell phones and do not carry the pager?  Do you anticipate these messages will arrive if the cell network becomes busy?  Do staff know where their pager is and if the batteries are fresh?  Does staff know where to go to get fresh batteries?

Does your organization use a secure messaging platform?  If so what network is used to deliver the messages?  If it is a cloud service does the message use the cellular network or the Wi-Fi network to deliver the message?

Find resources for creating a Communications Plan