Your cell phone can help you stay safe during a disaster. Don't wait until one happens. Get prepared today!

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On Friday, I was going about my normal routine.  Since my class had just started for the Fall semester, I was checking my emails extra often to see if any students had contacted me with questions about the syllabus or upcoming assignments.  I was shocked when I was notified by my department that I have a student affected by Hurricane Harvey.  Even though it was not me personally being affected by the hurricane, it kinda hit me hard.  I felt like, wow, someone I am in contact with has been devastated by Hurricane Harvey.  

Then, I turned on the television only to learn that another potentially damaging storm, Hurricane Irma, is barreling its way towards the United States.  A few years ago, I did a previous interview on the local news about why cell phones don’t work after natural disasters.  So with all that has happened and that may happen with the weather, I thought I’d revisit a previous interview I did with the local news about using cell phones and technology during a disaster or emergency.

Cell Phones

Nowadays, almost everyone has a cell phone.  That can be seen as a blessing or a curse.  However, in the case of a natural disaster, that is a beautiful thing.  But we normally hear the opposite about cell phones, right?  Because right after a natural disaster, we hear a lot about people not being able to use their cell phones.  Most people think cell phones are useless in emergency situations.  But I am going to show you how a cell phone is a handy device that keeps you safe and connected during an emergency.   

A few years ago, I was asked by WUSA 9 News in Washington, DC to discuss why cell phones didn’t work after natural disasters.  The main reason cell phones may not work during a disaster is because of call volume.  When a disaster occurs, everyone’s first instinct is to call their loved ones and make sure they are safe.  Cell phone companies know this and estimate the call volume if a disaster strikes.  They make preparations based on their estimates for that level of cell phone usage.  However, if the call volume exceeds the estimate, then calls get dropped and won’t go through.  The result is that people can’t make cell phone calls during this scary time to make sure their loved ones are okay.  So what can you do to make sure you reach your loved ones when a disaster strikes?  Read on…

3 Tips on How to Stay Connected Using Your Cell Phone during a Disaster

  1. Text on your cell phone instead of making a voice call.  Sending a text uses less bandwidth and is more likely to go through.  Text messaging will still work even if cellular networks fail.  So, if you can’t make a cell phone call, text everyone to make sure they’re safe.
  2. Most phones have internet service, so use Twitter or Facebook to connect with your loved ones.  Think about creating a family page just in case.
  3. Download apps like GroupMe and The Silent Beacon – Personal Emergency Alert System.  GroupMe is a free app that lets up to 25 people text, talk and share locations. The Silent Beacon – Personal Emergency Alert System send out your GPS coordinates via email or text message.  Use both of these apps to track and talk to your loved ones during an emergency.

Questions to Ask Your Cell Phone Carrier

Talk to your cell phone carriers about how they increase signal strength during high surges or handle call volume when disasters occur.   Here are some things you can inquire about.

  1. Some cell phone carriers have websites that allow customers to view what areas have and don’t have signal strength.  Ask your cell phone carrier if this option is available to customers.
  2. If we know bad weather is coming, cell phone companies may bring portable cell phone towers to those areas.  Ask if your cell phone carrier if this is an option.
  3. Ask your cell phone carrier if they have an emergency plan online.

Get Prepared!

Everyone should prepare ahead of time for a disaster.  Here are some things to do ahead of time:

  1. Each family should create a Family Communication Plan for emergencies.  It should detail a place where everyone should meet-up and have a designated point of contact that everyone has to check in with.
  2. Keep cell phones charged if bad weather is coming.  Also buy and charge extra batteries.
  3. Buy phones that jack directly into the wall.  They cost about $10.  These phones don’t need a base or charger.  Your phone will still work if the electricity goes out.
  4. Two-way radios work in any situation and they only cost about $60. The radios have dozens of channels for families to communicate over. Buy them beforehand and store in your emergency kit.
  5. Buy a radio that’s powered via a wall outlet, batteries or an included solar panel.

September is National Preparedness Month.  So there is no better time than the present to prepare for an emergency situation.  Use the above information, you can plan ahead for a disaster.   Also, check out websites like fema.gov and ready.gov for more tips and guidelines.  Unfortunately, with all that is happening, I can’t help but think that disaster is not just something that just might happen one day, but is something that we have to expect and be prepared for.  So plan accordingly.

No one thinks this will happen to them.  On the news we hear about tsunamis in Indonesia, earthquakes in Turkey and Hurricanes in Texas.  But they all seem so far away from us.  But it can happen to us.  And getting that email that a student of mine has been affected by Hurricane Harvey was a wake-up call for me.  Anyone’s life could be turned upside down in an instant by an emergency or natural disaster.  When these natural disasters do occur, they normally occur quickly.  So, start preparing today so you won’t get caught off guard.  You don’t want to be stuck in Walmart with the masses trying to buy batteries and flashlights.  Today start talking to your family about what you will do if a disaster strikes. Here’s hoping you’ll never have to use this information.  But just in case you do, you’ll be prepared.  Because disasters don’t plan ahead.  But you can.

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