After a major disaster, it can often be difficult to communicate with loved ones. Hurricanes, tornadoes and other emergencies can cause power outages and result in overwhelmed cellular services, sometimes making normal lines of communication nearly impossible.
There are steps you can take to be prepared. Consider these tips on how to communicate in a disaster.
The Federal Communications Commission offers suggestions on how to prepare to communicate, before disaster even strikes:
Make an emergency contact list. Keep an updated emergency contact list on your cell phone (e.g., police and fire agencies, power companies, insurance providers, co-workers, friends, family, etc), and store a hard copy on or near your home phone. Include at least one out-of-town contact in case the disaster is widespread; and consider adding a few names under the listing “ICE” (In Case of Emergency) on your cell phone. Many emergency responders are trained to look for this in the event that you’re physically unable to use your phone.
Keep a non-cordless phone at home. If you have a traditional landline at home — one that isn’t cable- or internet-based — make sure you have at least one corded phone connected; in the event that there’s a power outage, your cordless model, which requires electricity, will not work.
Subscribe to text alerts. Subscribe to text-based weather alerts to stay updated on inclement weather, and reach out to local government and school officials to find out about other emergency alerts available in your community.
Keep car chargers handy. Get in the habit of keeping your cellphone’s batteries fully charged, and keep car chargers available in the event of a power outage. You might also consider buying additional batteries and solar or hand-powered chargers for your devices.
Because your loved ones may be separated when disaster strikes, make sure to also develop a communication plan that’s specific to your family.
Ready.gov recommends identifying a designated neighborhood meeting place and an out-of-neighborhood meeting place, and detailing how you plan to contact each other (for instance, designate an out-of-town contact for everyone to notify that they’re safe, or set an “on air” time where you’ll each power up your phones and call or text with your status). It’s also a good idea to work with your children’s school or daycare to understand their emergency communication procedures.
There are also important steps you can take to improve the likelihood of communicating with loved ones during a disaster, and in the immediate aftermath:
Call, don’t text, 911. If you have a life-threatening emergency, you should dial, not text, 9-1-1. Emergency systems are not currently set up to receive 911 texts, the FCC says.
Text and use social media. Cell service can become congested during an emergency. Instead, try text messaging or emailing, which, the FCC says, are services that are less likely to experience network congestion. Also, consider posting your status on social media sites like Facebook and Twitter, or registering on the American Red Cross’ Safe and Well website, so that loved ones who may be searching for you know that you’re OK.
Forward your home phone. If you have a land line and call-forwarding at home, Verizon Wireless suggests forwarding your home phone number to your cellphone if you’ll be away, or if conditions warrant an evacuation.
Conserve cell battery life. You can extend the life of your cellphone battery charge by reducing the brightness of your screen, turning off Wi-Fi service (unless a cellular signal isn’t available), closing apps that aren’t critical, and putting your phone in airplane mode. Additionally, if you’re able to make a call, consider updating your voice mail message so that, even if inbound calls go to voice mail, you’re able to offer loved ones an update on your well-being.
Practicing these tips can help you stay informed, in touch and safe throughout an emergency. If a disaster results in normal modes of communication going down, you’ll be glad you took the time to be prepared.