AUSTIN, Texas - "If you've played with walkie-talkies as a kid, it's the same idea. You push a button, you hold the button and you talk, and they hear you as you're talking," said Bill Moore, CEO of Austin-based app Zello.
The Zello technology played a big part in helping rescuers get the job done in Houston in the midst of the Harvey aftermath.
"There are more than 100 million registered users of Zello, it's got a big footprint. Especially outside the United States. In Houston though, the new users went up by a factor of 20 so this is week over week, it just exploded," Moore said.
On August 28th, the Louisiana Cajun Navy posted on Facebook, "***IF YOU NEED RESCUE OR WANT TO HELP RESCUE*** The best source of communication at this time is the Zello walkie-talkie app." They encouraged people to download it, type in "Texas search and rescue" and find rescue teams close by.
Moore said the concept began in Russia in 2005 and what eventually became "Zello" started gaining traction in 2011.
"In Africa it's a crowdsource 911 system, it's really fascinating. So they have a big crime problem, not enough police so they've built this sort of ground-up set of volunteers," Moore said.
As Moore mentioned, it's like a walkie-talkie. You can talk person to person or in big groups on live channels. One thing the Zello creators didn't anticipate when disaster strikes, a 2-way radio-style app can be a very effective tool.
"You need a network. And so it can be a cell network or Wi-Fi but Zello will work in a 2G network, it typically works when nothing else will," Moore said.
"The stories you're hearing them live as a canoe pulls up into somebody's apartment and you hear the kids, they're sitting on the counter with the dog and they've been crying and they cheer and you hear the boat driver is ecstatic," Moore said
Moore emphasizes Zello is a tool not the solution. It's the volunteers on the ground doing the real work.
"Tools like Zello, I think Zello was the glue that held a bunch of other technologies together but make it possible for citizens to participate in help in a way they never could before. So we're thrilled, satisfied to be part of that," Moore said.
Zello is available as a free download for iPhone and Android.