Normally in this space I pass along tips and guidance for online safety issues. Today, I want to remind you of an offline safety issue, namely how you can communicate with family and friends during a natural disaster. Whether you live in a tornado alley, hurricane zone or near an earthquake fault, Mother Nature’s reach is widespread and often surprising in her capriciousness. Note the August 2011 earthquake in Virginia as an example.
The US government has some excellent reminders of what systems are most vulnerable during a crisis, whether due to a loss of electrical power or simply the increased volume of messages that will be sent. Among their suggestions is this retro nugget: keep a dedicated landline phone in your house, in addition to the more convenient and modern wireless versions as well as your cellular phone. If your area is hit with a power outage that lasts beyond the battery or charging ability for your wireless or cell phones, you’ll be glad to have this old-fashioned yet quite capable phone system. Wired, landline phones actually receive their minimal amount of electrical power directly through the physical phone line. So even when you’re sitting in the dark, using candles and flashlights, you may be surprised to find your plain old rotary or touch tone Princess phone still allows you to make and receive calls. And what a lifeline that could potentially be. Note: some emergency systems require a touch tone pulse so the caller can select “1” or “2” for different issues or languages. In those situations, a touch tone phone might be the best choice.
During the 1994 Northridge quake in Southern California, this was our exact experience. Up and down our ravaged street, one neighbor after another emerged from their quake-tossed homes to check on each other and bemoan the lack of communication with loved ones due to the loss of power. (Remember, this was a time before widespread cellular phone use.) When my husband and I mentioned our landline phone was working, several of them stopped by with their address books in hand to make comforting calls to concerned family in far off locations. For a brief period of nearly 24 hours, until power was fully restored, we were a mini command center on our block.
Many people are enjoying the low cost and free phone calls you can make using Voice Over Internet Protocol or VOIP. These services may be impacted by a loss of power as well, depending on how your Internet service is delivered to your home. Will your DSL work in a power outage? No, because your DSL modem requires electricity to function, unless you have a backup generator or other power supply in your home. More info here: http://www.ehow.com/about_4596858_dsl-work-power-goes-out.html
Will your cable internet work in a power outage? Most services have local battery backup but that won’t last through a several day outage. More info here: http://www.comcast.com/hurricaneseason/
Therefore, your best bet is to keep or acquire a low-cost touch tone landline phone and secure it with flashlights, batteries, bottled water and your other emergency supplies in a secured location for use in an emergency. Make sure you keep cell phone chargers in your car as your car’s battery can also power cell phones when your home’s power is out. If your calls are not going through due to an overload of people making calls, try to send text messages via SMS on your cell phone. Make sure your loved ones of all ages know how to send and receive SMS messages.