The Zello App Can Help Save Lives During Major Storms and Has Many Others Uses Also

NOTE: This article is off-topic: it has nothing to do with genealogy. If you are looking for genealogy articles, you might want to skip this one. However, it is something that I believe all cell phone users should be aware of. The online app called Zello could save your life. It is also a great way to communicate with groups of people, such as relatives or members of a search-and-rescue organization. I have been using Zello for non-critical communications for a couple of years now and would hate to be without it.

Zello converts your Android or Apple iOS or Blackberry cell phone or your Windows computer into a general-purpose walkie-talkie. It is sort of a high-tech replacement for CB radio except that Zello converts your cell phone into a free 2-way radio with worldwide range. I have used the free Zello app to talk with friends and relatives in North America free of toll charges while I was walking along the streets of Singapore as well as when I was in New Zealand. I have also used it to talk with communications hobbyists in South America and in the Sahara desert while I was driving in my automobile in Florida.

Zello also was recently used in the Houston area, New Orleans, all over Florida, Puerto Rico, and in other Caribbean islands during the recent hurricanes when wired telephones and emergency two-way radio towers (police, fire, ambulances, and others) were destroyed by the hurricanes. Cell towers also were sometimes knocked offline during the hurricanes but usually were the first communications systems to be restored to operation once the winds subsided.

Perhaps the greatest story of all was the use of Zello by the “Cajun Navy” during Hurricane Irma. According to Wikipedia:


“The Cajun Navy are informal ad-hoc volunteer groups comprising private boat owners who assist in search and rescue efforts in Louisiana and adjacent areas. These groups were formed in the aftermath of Hurricane Katrina and reactivated in the aftermaths of the 2016 Louisiana floods and Hurricane Harvey. They are credited with rescuing thousands of citizens during those disasters.

“These groups draw their name from the region’s Cajun people, a significant number of whom are private boat owners and skilled boat pilots. Their boats consist of a number of types, but are typically small vessels such as bass boats, jon boats, air boats, and other small, shallow-draft craft easily transported to flooded areas.”

The “Cajun Navy” in operation, saving lives, pets, and property.

Using Zello, these individuals were able to speak with each other while allowing all the other users in their group to hear the same words. For example, one person might say, “This is Pat Jones. I’m on my way to rescuing 6 people stranded on the roof of their home on XYZ Street. My boat can hold 3 people. Can someone meet me there with another boat?” Another person could respond, “This is Jan Smith. I’m on my way to help Pat Jones. Pat, see you in 5 minutes with space for the other 3 stranded people.” All the other rescuers could hear this exchange, freeing them to look for others in need. At the same time, if someone in need had Zello, they could tell the rescue team where they were and get help dispatched to them.

In all cases, communication with Zello is clear and close to high-fidelity. There is none of the noise and static bursts that are normally associated with two-way radio communications. In fact, the audio quality on Zello is usually better than that of normal telephone calls.

Zello on a cell phone

Unlike CB radio, Zello communications can be public or private, even optionally encrypted to lock out would-be hackers and anyone who wants to “eavesdrop” on your conversations. Yes, you can talk privately with your spouse or with your children or with relatives or with co-workers. Then again, you can also talk on a public Zello channel with emergency personnel during a hurricane.

Why wouldn’t you simply call the other person on the cell phone? You certainly can do that. In fact, if you wish to talk with only one person and you know that person’s telephone number, use of a normal cell phone call is probably the best way to communicate. HOWEVER, Zello also offers something that is not easy with telephone conversations: the opportunity to talk with groups of people at a time; even people with unknown phone numbers, such as police or ambulance drivers and dispatchers or with Red Cross personnel.

Group conversations are not limited to emergency use only. With Zello, you can have the entire family chat at once or your could have a weekly “family reunion” with all your relatives at a scheduled time, even if some of those relatives are overseas.

Some families use inexpensive “family radio service” (FRS) walkie-talkies to communicate with each other when at various events. I often see families using FRS walkie-talkies at Disney or Universal Studio theme parks and occasionally at ball parks and other public events. They are a handy method of keeping track of other family members, especially children. However, Zello provides an even better alternative. If all the family members already have cell phones, Zello can provide the same functionality over a much wider range and at no additional expense.

Zello also has become very popular with plumbers, electricians, taxi drivers, delivery personnel, ambulance first responders, and all sorts of tradesmen and women where a corporate dispatcher needs to control the movements of mobile employees. Adding the free Zello app to an existing cell phone is much, much cheaper than purchasing, installing, and licensing two-way radios for everyone and Zello also provides worldwide communications. In short, Zello usually works better than traditional 2-way radios in most situations.

Zello is free for personal or emergency use.

NOTE: A paid version of Zello is available for enterprise uses, but I will ignore that in this article. Payment is not necessary for personal or emergency communications. If you have need for a large, commercial Zello “2-way radio” network, look at: http://zello.com/mesh.htm.

Zello works on cellular data networks, either on wi-fi (when available) or on cellular data when outside the range of wi-fi networks. In all cases, the voices of all users are converted to digital signals, sent as data over wi-fi or cellular connections, then converted back to voice at the receiving end. It works in a somewhat similar manner as VoIP (Voice over Internet Protocol) telephones, such as Skype, Ooma, Vonage, RingCentral, and other VoIP services except that it emulates 2-way radios, not telephones.

Obviously, you do need to be within range of a cell tower in order to use Zello. It is not very effective in the sparsely-populated mountains or deserts of the western U.S. However, it works well in all metropolitan areas and in any rural areas that presently have cellular coverage.

Since everything runs on Internet data connections, someone who is using Zello on a wi-fi connection can communicate with someone using Zello on cellular data and vice versa. Also, it works between different cell phone companies. Someone using a Verizon cell phone can communicate with someone using a T-Mobile telephone in the U.S. or even a Vodafone system in New Zealand.

Of course, communicating over wi-fi is usually free of charge whereas communication over cellular data may cost money, depending upon the contract you have with your cellular company. In my case, I find that my use of Zello on the Google Fi cellular network while driving in my car adds less than one dollar to my cellular bill each month. That’s cheap enough, considering I didn’t have to purchase two-way radios and contract with some company to supply radio repeaters. When I am at home, using my own wi-fi network, use of Zello is free of charge.

I am sure a taxi cab company or anyone else who dispatches employees by frequent use of a two-way radio would incur higher costs, of course. Even so, I suspect the increase in cellular data charges would still be much, much less than purchasing multiple two-way radios and various repeaters. Even then, the 2-way radio systems would not have worldwide coverage in the same manner as Zello. As long as the Zello users are within range of either wi-fi or cellular networks, they can communicate with crystal-clear communications.

Also, the necessary “controls” in Zello are simpler to use than that of most 2-way radios. For instance, with Zello you don’t have to memorize channel numbers; most everything is spelled out in English or, optionally, in any of several other languages.

More than 20 million people around the world are already talking, listening, and sharing ideas on Zello, and that number is increasing rapidly.

I will point out that several other competitive apps are available that also add walkie-talkie capabilities to cell phones. However, Zello seems to be the one that is used in various disasters to contact friends, relatives, neighbors, and first responders. One of the primary reasons seems to be because Zello has the capability to send your precise location (longitude and latitude) to another Zello user simply by pressing one icon on the screen. That is a huge aid for anyone who wants to rescue you. That person or persons will immediately see your exact location.

Zello is available for iPhones, iPads, Android phones and tablets, Blackberry phones, and also for Windows PCs. (There is no Macintosh version, at least not yet.) You can even purchase a “network radio” that functions like a 2-way walkie-talkie or mobile two-way radio installed under your automobile’s dashboard which operates on the Internet and can communicate with any other Zello user anywhere else in the world.

A dashboard 2-way radio for Zello

The “network radios” seem to be most popular with ambulance drivers, delivery drivers, electricians, plumbers, service personnel, and others who are dispatched by a central office. The dispatcher(s) could be in the same city or thousands of miles away, thanks to the communications via the Internet.

A Walkie-Talkie for Zello

Ham radio operators also are frequent users of Internet-connected “network radios.” However, I suspect most other private citizens use their cell phones for use on Zello.

If you have an interest in “network two-way radios,” see http://network-radios.com/ and http://network-radios.com/index.php/product/inrico-tm-7-3gwifi-mobile-network-radio/ for more information about “network radios.”

NOTE: I purchased an Inrico TM-7 3G/WiFi IRN Mobile Network Radio that runs the Android operating system and am using it in my automobile. It functions like a 2-way radio except that it has worldwide range and better audio. It works well as long as I am within range of the cellular network. On a recent 1,200-mile trip, I lost communications for only a few minutes when driving through some deep valleys in the mountains. Of course, my cell phone didn’t work in those valleys, either.

Zello becomes most important in cases of emergencies. There are dozens of reports of Zello users who found help during hurricanes, blizzards, tornados, and traffic accidents.

According to Zello’s CEO, more than 120 people downloaded and installed the Zello app PER SECOND during the days before Hurricane Irma. Similar usage patterns have been observed during the recent snow storms in the northeastern U.S. In some countries, Zello is the primary provider of emergency communications during all sorts of disasters.

You can learn more about the emergency uses of Zello at http://www.businessinsider.com/hurricane-irma-zello-walkie-talkie-app-how-to-2017-9 and also learn more about the “Cajun Navy” on Wikipedia at https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Cajun_Navy.

The “Cajun Navy” uses a number of Zello channels. Details may be found at: https://zello.com/channels/k/feKMF.

I also know that Zello is popular in some cities during rush hour. It can be used to check with other commuters on the local Interstate highway before entering the on-ramp. Different highways in any one city often have their own Zello channels. For instance, there could be an I-95 channel, an I-290 channel, an I-495 channel, and so on.

Truckers seem to still be using traditional CB radios, and I doubt if that will change any time soon. For everyone else, however, Zello may be a better method of communications.

Do you need to coordinate your sports car club’s next auto rally, or is your non-profit group organizing the next Memorial Day parade? Zello can provide the communications at no additional cost to your organization, assuming everyone involved already has cell phones.

There are even several genealogy chat channels on Zello, including one for members of the Ontario Genealogical Society! See https://zello.com/channels/#search/1/genealogy to find other genealogy-related Zello channels.

You can learn more about the emergency uses of Zello in a video report on the Washington Post web site at: http://wapo.st/2Dzbgv8 and a story at https://wapo.st/2GF0oRY.

Information about Zello is available at http://www.Zello.com and https://zello.com/personal/ while the app may be downloaded from the Apple App Store, the Google Play Store (for Android systems), or from Blackberry World (which functions as the Blackberry App store).

Tutorials on how to use Zello may be found at https://support.zello.com/hc/en-us. You can also find a number of YouTube video tutorials describing the use of Zello by starting at: https://duckduckgo.com/?q=site%3Ayoutube.com+zello&t=hy&ia=web.

Not bad for a free app!

Are you prepared with Zello?

6 Comments

As you mentioned in the article, and as a Red Cross volunteer, I would like to stress that cell phone towers often go down during disasters. If your mobile phone loses ability to communicate, this app will also not work. It should not be your first means of backup communication in the event of a disaster.

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    —> If your mobile phone loses ability to communicate, this app will also not work.

    Absolutely! In fact, I mentioned that in the article. However, when the emergency crews start restoring communications, history has proven that the cell phone service is usually the first service to get restored.

    That was true in the recent hurricanes in Florida, New Orleans, and Houston. In most cases, all communications went off line during the storms including telephone, Internet service, and more. Many police, fire, and ambulance services, although certainly not all of them, had their 2-way radio towers flattened, leaving them without communications. Some cell towers also were out of commission. However, in most cases, the cellular service was the first to be restored and become operational once again.

    The Cajun Navy, many police departments, fire departments, and individual citizens depended upon cellular communications for several days and sometimes even weeks after the storm a time when telephone and wired Internet connectivity was not available. In a few cases, even police, fire, and ambulance communications were unavailable or were limited because of damage to base station towers.

    Here in Florida, where I live, cellular service was spotty during the hurricane but became reliable almost as soon as the winds stopped. Electricity, wired telephone communications, and Internet service remained unavailable for several days or up to a week in most areas. I did not have electricity or wired telephone service in my neighborhood for 6 days. (You can see my report written during that time at https://blog.eogn.com/2017/09/16/update-on-the-road-again-this-time-to-florida/ .) However, the cellular service worked well all during that time. Even when electricity was restored, the wired telephone service and the cable television company’s Internet service did not work in my neighborhood for several more hours. My only access to the Internet in that time was via my cell phone’s data connection.

    Nothing is ever guaranteed in emergency communications. Each storm, each forest fire, and every other disaster is different from all the others. However, the recommendation is to plan for all of the more common scenarios.

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Thank you for this information. A disaster is always a few seconds away where I live. My home is in the Southern California mountains. I am only a few miles away from where the shooting spree in San Bernardino occurred a short while ago. Thank you sir, for providing information that isn’t always about genealogy. That alone guarantees I will always read and heed your blog.

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I can attest to the use of Zello by the Cajun Navy and other ‘random groups’ during the aftermath of Hurricane Harvey in the Houston area. Several friends operated rescue groups with their boats and would have the Cajun Navy going on one phone and their own channel on another. They did this to make sure they weren’t all headed to the same place and that everyone was getting to neighborhoods in need.
Facebook was also helpful for those of us stuck at home. We would see “calls” for help on Facebook pages/groups and then we would radio people out on the boats via Zello about who was in desperate need of rescue. Many people would have been lost without those two pieces of technology. Especially since the 911 system was overwhelmed with non-life threatening calls and no one could get through.
Zello was also used after the water receded and folks [usually sports teams from the high schools and church groups] went out into the neighborhoods to help “muck out” the homes. We used it for the same thing we did during the storm – communicate those in need to those who could get to them.

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This might help folks with vision problems? I have been diagnosed as ‘boarder line’ for driving due to macular degeneration. The bus may become my mode of transportation. Being able to remain in contact with a support person would be comforting if I get confused as to where I am?
Thank you for all your information over the years.
Mary

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