Zello Walkie Talkie is a platform for live private and public conversations, described by our team as a ‘CB Radio for your smartphone.’ Though Zello can be used for everyday live group communication, we at BridgingApps found that during natural disasters, Zello can be a life-saving tool. This review focuses on use case scenarios during Hurricane Harvey that came through Southesast Texas in August 2017.
It can be used free over any network or Wi-Fi connection. This BridgingApps reviewer, a veteran and combat medic describes how she used Zello during Hurricane Harvey. During set up, you must choose a handle or call sign to identify yourself, similar to CB radios, such as MedicMini. You launch the app and search for different channels. It is divided by topic, similar to how certain team work style apps like Slack are compartmentalized. It can be set to private where you must use a password to set it up or public, where no password is required.
During Hurricane Harvey, this reviewer set it to public. Once set up is complete, she had the power to identify herself using her call sign and announce that she was available to join a team. She soon discovered that Zello users are a combination of military, civilians, veterans, first responders, volunteers, volunteer first responders and people who simply have a strong desire to help. Some users of Zello were 911 operators whose regular resources were exhausted or whose needs changed based on shifting conditions. Instead of ambulances, operators needed certain types of vehicles to access people, such as boats or trucks.
Once she identified herself, there were a number of responses that came in. Users focused on two main pieces of information – 1) What part of town are you in 2) What do you need/what resources do you have? Locations were given by area of town, address and cross streets. Users immediately organized Rally Points. Each Rally Point or Launch Point organized its own director that assisted with focusing resources in particular areas. The most common resources requested by users were boat, high speed boat, animal cages, waters, medication such as insulin (Diabetes) and albuterol (Asthma). Some examples were “I need medical personnel at X location. I need a high power boat at X location. I need a boat with depth measuring equipment at X location. I need someone with an animal cage to respond to this address. I have a family of 3 on a roof at X location. There are two horses on the side of X Road, does anyone work with horses?”
It was helpful to share pictures or screenshots of requested items or of locations with visible landmarks to assist rescuers and volunteers to find locations. At this time, videos cannot be shared. What is also helpful is that a log of audio files, complete with call sign, length of transmission and timestamp is included in the Zello feed.
When arriving at a location, the user typically announced that she was there to meet up with the person requesting help. When safety became a concern, law enforcement officers were attached to the rally points and assigned with the crews to assist persons who were afraid and highly agitated. It was best to form into teams to collaborate resources and assist rescues more efficiently and safely. Once a team was deployed, they then returned to the Rally or Launch Point when mission was done and waited to be deployed to another location.
In the post-recovery period, in addition to regular volunteers, BridgingApps has continued to rely on Zello as a way to get resources efficiently from point A to point B in the city.
Click on the link below for the full Zello Walkie Talkie app review and links to download the iTunes and Android versions: