As Hurricane Irene makes its way up the East Coast, millions may be affected by high winds, heavy rains, and potential power outages. During or after a disaster, voice calling networks may become overwhelmed, so placing a call on your cell phone may be difficult.
As we’ve said many times on this blog, make sure family members have multiple ways to get in touch with each other as part of your emergency plan. So here are a few tips, including some from the Federal Communications Commission, to remember when trying to contact friends and family during or after Irene comes through your area:
- Identify an out-of town contact. It may be easier to make a long-distance phone call than to call across town, so an out-of-town contact may be in a better position to communicate among separated family members. Make sure all family members know that person’s phone number and have a cell phone, coins or a prepaid phone card to call the emergency contact.
- Send an update to friends/family through social networks or e-mail, instead of calling. If you have a smartphone, learn to update your status or send an e-mail in case your computer’s not available.
- Update your status on the American Red Cross Safe and Well site. It’s a website where disaster survivors can post their status after a disaster in case friends and family can’t get in touch with them; and where friends and family outside the disaster area can then search for messages from their loved ones by using a pre-disaster phone number or complete address.
- Limit non-emergency phone calls. This will minimize network congestion, free up "space" on the network for emergency communications and conserve battery power if you are using a wireless phone. Keep all phone calls brief. If you need to use a phone, try to use it only to convey vital information to emergency personnel and/or family.
- Try text messaging, also known as short messaging service (SMS) when using your wireless phone. In many cases text messages will go through when your call may not. It will also help free up more "space" for emergency communications on the telephone network.
- Wait 10 seconds before redialing a call. On many wireless handsets, to re-dial a number, you simply push "send" after you've ended a call to redial the previous number. If you do this too quickly, the data from the handset to the cell sites do not have enough time to clear before you've resent the same data. This contributes to a clogged network.
- Have charged batteries and car-charger adapters available for backup power for your wireless phone.
- If you have call forwarding on your home number, forward your home number to your wireless number in the event of an evacuation. That way you will get incoming calls from your landline phone.
- After the storm has passed, if you lose power in your home, try using your car to charge cell phones or listen to news alerts on the car radio. But be careful – don’t try to reach your car if it is not safe to do so, and remain vigilant about carbon monoxide emissions from your car if it is a closed space, such as a garage.