Using Your Cell Phone Before, During and After a Disaster

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Mobile phones set on a table displaying the FEMA mobile site homepage.

Cell phones are becoming more and more valuable to our lives – providing internet access, the latest weather forecast, and access to our favorite social networking sites.  While cell phones can be a great convenience, they can also be a lifeline after an emergency.

As Administrator Fugate often says, a cell phone is a data center, with the ability to store and access a large amount of information quickly.  So why not tap into the power of your cell phone, whether it's the latest-and-greatest model, or a phone that’s been around a while, and be ready to use it in case a disaster strikes?

In recent disasters, like the aftermath of the devastating Haiti earthquake in 2010, cell phones have been an invaluable resource for disaster survivors.  I sincerely hope no one finds themselves in the dire situation that many Haitians did following the earthquake, but we can all take steps to make our cell phones a handy resource before, during, and after an emergency.
 
Here are some tips to making your cell phone an emergency resource:

  • Store useful phone numbers – Check the numbers for your emergency contacts to make sure they’re up to date.  Be sure to save the contact information for your local police and fire departments, as well as your utility companies.  That way, you’ll be able to quickly report any service or power outages following an emergency.
     
  • Create a group for your emergency contacts – Some cell phones allow you to create contact groups or lists, making it easy to send a single text message to a group to let them know your status after an emergency.  Many social networking sites allow you to create a list or group of contacts as well, making it easy to share your status with your emergency contacts following a disaster.
     
  • Stay up to date via Twitter without an account – Twitter is becoming an important vehicle for information before, during and after a disaster.  One of the common misconceptions is that people need a Twitter account to receive updates. In fact, you can receive updates from Twitter simply by utilizing your phone's text messaging capability (normal text message rates apply).  For example, if you wanted to follow Administrator Fugate, text follow craigatfema to 40404 (Twitter’s text message number).

    I encourage you to receive updates from the local/state emergency management agencies in your area, along with any other accounts that could provide you with meaningful information before, during, and after a disaster.
     
  • Bookmark useful mobile sites – If your cell phone has internet access, take advantage of mobile websites that are formatted to display information within a mobile browser.  The National Weather Service (http://mobile.weather.gov), Center for Disease Control (http://m.cdc.gov), and FEMA (http://m.fema.gov) are mobile sites you can bookmark today.
     
  • Backup your battery – This may not be a tip for using your cell phone, but having an extra battery for your phone (or a solar charger) in your emergency kit will ensure you can use your device if the power stays out for an extended period of time.

The items outlined above are a great place to start, but let me know if you have other tips for using your cell phone or other mobile sites that you have found useful.

- Shayne

Other links
- For information on creating your emergency plan, getting an emergency kit, or becoming informed about potential disasters in your area, visit Ready.gov.

Last Updated: 
06/16/2012 - 16:42
Posted on Thu, 03/10/2011 - 11:40
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Comments

FEMA should also attempt to develop an app with co...

FEMA should also attempt to develop an app with contains all the standard procedure in a state of emergency for smartphones users as iPhone, HTC, Anidroid, Windows Mobile,etc. As in certian cases of worst case scenarios, cell phone signals might be not avaliable and civilians might not know what to do as they cannot reach the FEMA's website....
Anonymous:

I understand that cell phones are a great resource...

I understand that cell phones are a great resource after an emergency, but I've been having this discussion with my husband recently, should I give up my land line phone? I'm afraid cell towers aren't going to be able to handle the volume after a disaster. <br /><br />Any advice?
Anonymous:

Develop and app with all the standard procedures i...

Develop and app with all the standard procedures in a state of emergency for smartphones!
Brad:

A lot of the information is common sense and agree...

A lot of the information is common sense and agree with Hungs assesments, good stuff!
Anonymous:

Texting will probably the only usable option in th...

Texting will probably the only usable option in the cellphone in the time of emergency and there is also a 2-5 minute log but will still send the message. FEMA should have system to tap in to this, like sending an important message in the area of calamity. Like if everyone should evacuate towards north or south and the location and nature of disaster. FEMA should be able to tap in also in the DOT camera in the highway to monitor the area so that they will be able to respond in a almost accurate status. Good Luck FEMA, there will be more worst natural disaster coming.

I did a blog post on this last year. Other things ...

I did a blog post on this last year. Other things to do is to sign up for SMS alerts from local emergency agencies and ICE (In Case of Emergency) your phone to give emergency personnel phone numbers to call in case you're incapacitated.<br /><br />http://bluespruceinventory.com/2010/09/turn-your-cell-phone-into-a-disaster-resource/
Anonymous:

texting uses a lot less bandwidth and will be more...

texting uses a lot less bandwidth and will be more reliable. Ham radio will work best under any circumstance.

I think there is only so much you can store on you...

I think there is only so much you can store on your phone. It does have its benefits, but the Twitter and bookmarking tips are even better in emergency situations where you can reach a wider audience in asking for help and have more detailed information on hand.
Anonymous:

I'd also suggest that people memorize certain ...

I'd also suggest that people memorize certain phone numbers. Always counting on being able to select from a list on a cell phone makes people very vulnerable if that phone is damaged or rendered unusable. As we should all have an out of town number (friend or relative) that the whole family should know to call in the case of a disaster, I suggest manually dialing that number every time you call it.
Joe:

Great tips on using what's usually only 3'...

Great tips on using what's usually only 3' from each of us throughout each day for disaster relief. Maybe this post should be ditributed at the county and city level.

I cant believe how far we have come with technolog...

I cant believe how far we have come with technology..from regular phone, to cell phone, to smart phone, what's next? cant wait to see

I think this post is at best short sighted. As som...

I think this post is at best short sighted. As someone mentioned, there's no reason to assume that the cell phone towers will survive the disaster. Second, during the emergency the network will most likely be overwhelmed by traffic. <br /><br />If you really want to be useful during an emergency, I'd suggest the best course (at least as far as a cell phone is concerned) is to turn the thing off.

Another tip...old cell phones that are no longer i...

Another tip...old cell phones that are no longer in use can still be used to make emergency 911 calls. This is a good reason to keep your old cell phones at your cabin, in your barn, in your glove compartment, etc. just in case.

Excellent information, thank you very much. Congra...

Excellent information, thank you very much. Congratulations on the quality of the website. Greetings from Chile.

I think having an emergency contact list come in h...

I think having an emergency contact list come in handy. Enables quickly information to a large group. That way you are sure at least a few can help. However The most important numbers such as police, ambulance and firemen is should always be remembered incase your phone is out of service. That way you can still use a phonebox. I personaly think that cell phones one of the best communication tools at our disposal and can be used to save lives or help people quickly.

Very useful information! I will pass it along and ...

Very useful information! I will pass it along and repost. I also agree with James about having a emergency list.
Joao:

"I think this post is at best short sighted. ...

"I think this post is at best short sighted. As someone mentioned, there's no reason to assume that the cell phone towers will survive the disaster. Second, during the emergency the network will most likely be overwhelmed by traffic." I agree. Than what is left of the recommendations?

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