As skies go dark, cell phone connections could blackout during eclipse

Solar Eclipse
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KANSAS CITY, Mo. -- First responders are bracing for more than just darkness during the solar eclipse Aug. 21. There are questions about how well wireless services will work as hundreds of thousands are expected to descend on St. Joseph, Kansas City and surrounding areas.

No, the sun being blocked by the moon won’t crash connections, but numerous people in the same general area calling and posting at the same time certainly could.

“If you go to a rural area where you already have spotty or limited cell service you probably are not going to get any cell service because of the overload of the network because of people trying to livestream or share the event on social media,” tech expert Burton Kelso said.

Sprint has added more capacity to cell towers in St. Joseph, but right now their mobile cell towers are all heading to Oregon and Idaho. A spokesperson said they are continuing to evaluate other areas where mobile cell towers could enhance customer experiences.

If networks overload there could be bigger problems than failed uploads.

“If you can’t get a signal on your cell phone you aren’t placing any kind of call whether it’s a 911 call or a call to your spouse,” Hassan Al-Rubaie, MARC public safety communications technician, said.

Travelers could be left without GPS, and if you don’t have it, 911 dispatchers may not have those location services either, even if you do get through

“Any time you call 911 the first question they are going to ask you is what’s your location? So it’s important you be aware of your surroundings where you are, how you got there, how you can get out, all those things. There are mechanisms in place, but technology doesn’t always work,” Al-Rubaie said.

Markers on select trails with specific 911 information can help you give your exact location to dispatchers. Texting also requires less data than calling and it’s available at the 33 911 dispatch centers in the nine-county area surrounding Kansas City.

Al-Rubaie said police and sheriff’s offfices in the area are increasing dispatcher staffing by 33 percent that day, expecting plenty of calls.

Cell carriers asking customers to disable automatic app updates that day to help reduce data usage.

You are also reminded to bring your charger or battery backup. That way passengers with service can surf through all the eclipse photos, while inevitably sitting in traffic on the way home.

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