Communication Tips Following Disaster

Philip J Reed on behalf of Exede, a high speed satellite internet provider – learn more about how Exede’s rural internet service also assists the Red Cross in emergency situations.

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In October 2012, the Northeast was devastated by Hurricane Sandy. The brutal storm, which knocked out electricity and cell phone service in many cities, was the worst-case scenario for many who were not prepared. In total, over 8 million people lost power, and the outage spread across 17 states. While officials scrambled to repair the damage, many people were not able to contact their concerned loved ones.

When a disaster hits, it doesn’t just affect the ones living in the area; family members living elsewhere worry to the point of panic. How do you make sure you can communicate with the outside world during and after a disaster? Here are some tips to help you be prepared in case a disaster strikes.

Hard-Wired/Landline Telephone

This is the era of portable technology. However, during a disaster, that same technology that allows us to always be “plugged in” may not work. During Hurricane Sandy, about one-fourth of the cell phone towers were not working, and in many cases it took days to restore the exhausted systems. For times like this, a small, inexpensive non-cordless phone should be kept in an easily accessible place to plug in after a disaster. And in today’s day and age when most important numbers are stored in cell phones, make sure that all these numbers are written down and kept in a safe place.

Cell Phones

Other times, cell phones are the only way to contact loved ones quickly in the event of a disaster. Instead of calling and speaking to loved ones, disaster victims should send a simple text to assure others that they are okay, which will take less time than speaking directly on the phone and won’t clog up the already busy radio waves.

As seen in the aftermath of Hurricane Sandy, it can take days to restore power to an affected area, so having a back-up plan for charging the cell phone is ideal. Following Hurricane Sandy, images of business and homeowners who were sharing their power sources with those without any started appearing on social media websites. Although this was a very hospitable way to help their neighbors, for individuals affected in rural areas, this may not have been possible. Make sure to include a cell phone car charger in the disaster preparedness pack. The phone can be charged in the car or from any 12-volt source with the appropriate adapter. 

Radio

Emergency broadcasts help reduce frustration and panic during a disaster. A radio is essential equipment for the emergency preparedness box. The least expensive option is just a simple, battery-operated AM/FM radio, but the batteries in the emergency box will need to be changed regularly to make sure the batteries aren’t dead when needed. Also, store the radio with the batteries separate to avoid the batteries leaking inside the radio and damaging it. 

A better choice for radio would be the wind-up version that can be hand-cranked for power. While it typically holds only an hour-and-a-half charge for radio use, some models also come with built-in LED flashlight and adapters to charge cell phones and other essential items. A more costly option is to include a solar-powered radio in the emergency kit.

Citizen’s Band (CB) Radio

Because telephone and radio networks are not always operational, many survivalists like to include CB scanners and radios in their Disaster Preparedness Kits. While these devices only have a local range, they allow two-way communication, and the scanners provide information as to the progress of emergency efforts. However, they have the same power-source restrictions as cell phones and radios.

Solar Power Chargers

There are now solar-powered chargers that can take the place of batteries that lose energy or be used in lieu of car chargers. Some solar chargers can recharge both cells phone and radio batteries. It is important to know how much power will be needed for charging the equipment in the preparedness kit. There are different sizes of solar chargers that handle various types of technology, but a one-time investment that handles all the technology will eliminate frustration during a disaster when quick recharging is ideal.

Preparing ahead of time is the only way to ensure maintaining contact with the rest of the world in the event of a disaster. Water, food and basic necessities should be kept in a Disaster Preparedness Kit somewhere easily accessible in the home. However, communication tools that allow you to keep in touch with the world beyond the disaster are essential as well.

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5 thoughts on “Communication Tips Following Disaster

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  2. This is the main reason I have kept my land-line phone. You just never know when you'll need it because the cell phone towers/satellites are not working. Thanks.

  3. All good things to remember. I dealt with this just last week when we were "trapped" (figuratively but could have turned literally real fast) in a hotel lobby while there was a tornado warning and matching weather happening. It occurred to me there that the family would only know that we were there and suddenly quiet and I would have had no way with me to reach them if it had actually hit. I truly need to be more careful about this in the future. ~Katharina

    1. Very scary situation. I am actually impressed that the hotel actually had you all assemble in the lobby in the first place. I have been in hotels with the fire alarms blaring. I went outside and stood by one other person who was staying in the hotel while the fire department was rushing in. Kind of ridiculous.

      On another note, I always try to grab my cell phone at the least when I am in a situation like that. At the least I will have one more thing that I can use in an emergency. If I am trapped in a hotel's rubble or whatever, maybe I can use it to alert people that I am there.

  4. Great advice to get people thinking – I've already added the land-line phone and the car charger for my cell phone, will explore solar power chargers next.

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