ST PETERSBURG, RUSSIA - APRIL 10, 2017: A truck driver on strike against the Platon electronic toll collection system runs Zello free walkie-talkie application on his smartphone. The Federal Service for Supervision of Communications, Information Technology and Mass Media (Roskomnadzor) initiates blocking access to the Zello information systems as Zello Inc. has ignored demands to provide data for including it on the Roskomnadzor information distribution register within the legal period. Sergei Konkov/TASS (Photo by Sergei Konkov\TASS via Getty Images)
According to the Austin American-Statesman, the app, which provided a crucial communication link between citizen rescuers and Houston residents stranded by rising floodwaters after Hurricane Harvey, is made by a little-known company in Austin, Texas.
Zello’s smartphone app essentially acts like a walkie-talkie, allowing users to send voice messages in real time to anyone listening to a channel. It requires Internet access via Wi-Fi or a cellular data network to work, contrary to false rumors spreading online.
There is a massive misinformation among users in Puerto Rico that Zello will work without internet. It will *not*, please RT.
In times of crisis, the app functions much like a police dispatch system, with crucial information relayed from volunteers who have spoken to flood victims in need of help. The app has a private chat function as well as open public channels.
Houston residents in need of emergency rescue: download Zello app and add Texas Search and Rescue station for Cajun Navy boat rescue.
Zello CEO Bill Moore said the app is more popular outside the United States, where some people use it as a phone call replacement or as a political organizing tool. The app is free to download; the company makes money off its premium version that it markets to businesses.
That has made Zello an enemy of foreign governments on several occasions. At one point, the Venezuelan government blocked the app, and the government of Russia is currently trying to block the app, Moore said, though so far those efforts have been unsuccessful.
Moore said there are 100 million registered Zello users throughout the world, so the extra usage during Harvey wasn’t significant for them. But Moore said there were “hundreds of thousands of people using it in the Houston area.”
“The number of new users in the Houston area went up by a factor of 20,” he said, when compared to the week before Harvey hit.
Moore said he listened in on some of the Harvey rescue channels. “It’s riveting,” he said, describing a conversation he had listened to involving the possible explosion of a Houston-area chemical plant. “Emotions are high,” Moore said.
– The Cox Media Group National Content Desk contributed to this report.