No man is an island. We’re designed to be around other people. Being in a community makes us the best version of ourselves – we can accomplish more together than alone. More importantly, in an emergency situation being able to communicate with others can be the difference between life and death:
- What direction is the fire moving?
- Is there another wave of storms moving in to the area?
- Can you help me?
- Can I help you?
- Am I supposed to evacuate or stay put?
- Where are my family members, and where are they going?
- Is the water safe to drink?
- Where is the alien space ship right now?
Unfortunately the things that cause emergencies also tend to create problems with communications. Fires, storms, and earthquakes all create problems with electricity, and our communication networks run on electricity. Without electricity, the cell tower won’t work. Cell towers have backup generators to keep them going for several hours or a day, but your mileage may vary. In spite of the FCC trying to set standards, they don’t exist. The impact is that when the power goes you you may have two hours, 8, or 24. Make them count.
Don’t Lose Touch.
When an emergency strikes, you need to quickly assess if or how it might impact your cell phone and other communication networks. If you think your phone and wifi will keep working, you also have to keep it powered. If the cell phone works, the tower has power, and you have the ability to keep your phone charged, then you are all set. But what if that tower goes down? You need to consider alternatives. For example:
- It’s possible that you will keep your internet access for a little while. Many fiber systems have a battery backup. And if they don’t, you can install a battery backup. You need power for your fiber modem, for your wifi router, and for your device. And it only works if your ISP stays connected.
- Similarly, land-line phones may keep working. Don’t laugh… You might have forgotten that your security system has a phone line. You’ll need to plug a phone into it, preferably a phone without a power cord. Some of you will remember those…
- A battery-powered radio is handy to get news. A weather radio is better, because they broadcast emergency alerts pretty much to the whole USA.
- A HAM radio may be even better, if you know how to use it. It will allow you to call out for help. Again, if you know how to use it.
The thing about a communication outage is you don’t really know when it’s going to start, or how long it’s going to last. So you should be ready to act quickly in ANY emergency. If the power goes out for any reason, you may only have cell phone access for an hour or a few hours. How should you use it?
- First, if you are in danger you need to let someone know. Call emergency services or a trusted friend and make sure the Cavalry knows they need to eventually find you.
- Second, connect with your people. Find out where everyone is, and make sure everyone remembers the emergency plan. Tell them to keep comms open and running. Now is not the time to be on silent mode. If THEY are in danger, then YOU are the Cavalry.
- Third, see what you can learn about what’s happening. If it’s a storm, check alerts, radar, etc. If it’s something else see if you can figure out what it is and if it’s going to get worse.
- Finally, consider checking the outage maps for your utility providers. See if you can figure out how long it’s going to last, because that may change how you respond to the situation.
There are some basic steps you can take to prepare for losing communications.
Cover Image: Maveric149 (Daniel Mayer), CC BY-SA 3.0, via Wikimedia Commons