Mumbai mobile networks choked after blasts

The chief minister of Maharashtra state was unable to contact his officials after the terrorist blasts

Mumbai's mobile networks were choked with traffic soon after terrorist blasts late Wednesday, preventing even the chief minister of the state from communicating with other officials.

Three blasts in Mumbai, the capital city of the state of Maharashtra, left 21 dead and over 141 injured, according to the latest government estimates. The networks became overwhelmed as people -- many of whom were on their way home from work -- called emergency services and tried to contact relatives.

Immediately after the incident, "mobile communications completely collapsed, as networks got congested," chief minister Prithviraj Chavan, told the NDTV TV channel on Friday. He could not contact state police officials for 15 minutes until he was able to use a police two-way radio. The congestion persisted through Wednesday night.

The government is now considering setting up a dedicated mobile telephone network for its use, besides deploying satellite phones, Chavan said.

Soon after the blasts, people in Mumbai tried to use online tools like Twitter and social networks to coordinate blood donations and even shelter for people.

Nitin Sagar, an executive with a mapping company, set up an online spreadsheet on Google Docs that could be updated by the public with information on hospitals, TV channels, blood donors and people requesting or offering help.

Sagar said in an e-mail interview that he saw messages on Twitter offering help, but if the information wasn't collated, it would get lost. "It took two minutes to create the spreadsheet, put out the link in a tweet, and it got retweeted by hundreds of other twitterers," he said.

Mumbai Unites, a group of volunteers, set up a collaborative Ushahidi map to help citizens of Mumbai. Ushahidi is a tool used for crowd sourcing information using multiple channels, including short message service (SMS), e-mail, Twitter and the web.

But online crowd sourcing ran into hurdles in Mumbai, a large city where not many people have mobile phones let alone phones with Internet connections. It meant they were often unable to tap into the information posted online about blood donations, transport and shelter, according to reports.

John Ribeiro covers outsourcing and general technology breaking news from India for The IDG News Service. Follow John on Twitter at @Johnribeiro. John's e-mail address is john_ribeiro@idg.com

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