Just about everyone has a cell phone these days. Whether it’s a simple “pay-as-you-go” phone to the latest 5g smartphone that can do just about anything, we rely on our phones for basic communications and staying in touch. They’re also our phone book, research system, appointment minder, bill payer, banking assistant, transportation concierge, and health consultant on demand. With a couple of presses, you can find just about anything and have it delivered to your home or office – sometimes in a matter of just a few hours.
During local and regional disasters, though, your cell phone will compete for available airwave connection space. No cell phone network can handle 100% of its customers making regular phone calls simultaneously. While the actual network capacity of carriers is confidential, it’s estimated that even with the latest technology, 30% to 55% of customers calls will go through when demand is the highest. And during an emergency, staying in touch with friends, family, and co-workers is psychologically high. We MUST keep in touch.
What can you do? Here are some tips so you can stay in touch during an emergency:
- LIMIT VOICE CALLS – Cell phone networks need a lot of capacity to handle a voice call. As best as possible, avoid using mobile and landline networks for voice calls. Use text messaging instead. Even if it’s an emergency, know if your local public safety agency uses a text-to-911 service. Text messages will go through when voice calls get a busy signal.
- BE BRIEF – If you must make a voice call, make it short. Schedule a check-in time if you must hear from someone. Again, a text message is best. If you have to turn off your phone to save the battery, knowing WHEN a message might come in will help you save that battery.
- USE SOCIAL MEDIA – Know how to use social media to stay in touch with friends and family. Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, and other channels can share messages and updates quickly. In addition, a text message sharing system, such as SLACK or a group text service like GROUPME can keep multiple groups connected without excessive use of mobile network capacity.
- RE-RECORD YOUR VOICEMAIL GREETING – If your cell phone battery goes completely dead, record your voice mail greeting with an update. Say the date and time and whether or not you’re “OK.” Consider adding your current location. But, again, keep it brief.
- SAVE YOUR BATTERY – Go into the power menu and enable the power savings mode. Turn off background refresh. Next, turn off Bluetooth, vibrations, voice assistants, and push notifications for apps and emails. Next, turn down the screen brightness.
- KNOW HOW AND WHERE TO CHARGE YOUR PHONE – Most phones use a standard USB power source for charging. However, depending on the type and age of the phone, it likely uses one of four different types of connectors for charging. You should have at least two charging cables so you can connect your phone to a power source. It can be a regular block-type charger that plugs into a wall outlet, a USB charging port on an extension cord, or even a USB port on the back of a television. A complete phone emergency kit contains an extra charging cable, a charged battery pack, and a charging plug adapter for a truck or car plug-in adapter. Some emergency radios/weather alert radios have a hand-crank generator that will charge a cell phone. Others have a small solar panel, but remember, solar chargers take a long time to build up a full charge on a device. Better to use that on an extra battery pack and use that to charge your phone.
- GENERAL PHONE INFO – Phones and other mobile devices have a range of temperatures they work well at, but a phone that’s too hot or too cold will either shut down or stop working. Depending on the circumstances, you may need to keep your phone in an inside pocket to keep it warm during cold weather or put it in a cooler to keep it from getting too hot. If you’re hiking or camping, know how to use location or mapping services, so you know where you are if you get lost. Typically, your location translates into a latitude number and longitude number. The more decimal digits it is, the more accurate it will be when you text it to 911 or other rescuers. Here’s an easy explanation of finding your location on a cell phone.