Preparing your phone for a disaster

In the event of a disaster or emergency, most of us will reach for our cell phones to call for help or to get in contact with loved ones. Over 40% of Americans no longer have a landline in their homes. They rely exclusively on cell phones.
Let’s take a look at what you need to know about your phone when it comes to a disaster or emergency.
After the 35W Bridge collapse, cellular phone service in the city was jammed. Frantic calls to 911 and people looking for loved ones overwhelmed the system.
In Oklahoma City in 2013, thousands were left without power, cell phone service, and internet access after a tornado destroyed several cell phone towers. Cell phone provider networks stated they are resilient but are not equipped to handle long power outages or massive spikes in call volume that occur during emergencies.
If you are considering ditching your landline or already have, here are some things you need to know.
Have a backup battery or solar charger for your cell phone in your emergency kit in the event power stays out for extended periods of time.
With cell phone contact lists at our fingertips, memorizing phone numbers is a thing of the past. Physically write down important phone numbers of family and friends and keep them in a safe place. This list should also include the phone number of your medical providers, insurance company, pharmacy, vet, and utilities. If your cell phone battery dies, you will have quick access to these important numbers.
Send a text when you can. In the event of a disaster, with saturated networks, a text message may get through when a phone call will not. This is because a text message requires far less bandwidth than a phone call. Text messages may also save and then send automatically as soon as capacity becomes available.
Store at least one name under the heading “In Case of Emergency” or “ICE” on your cell phone contact list.
Create a group for your emergency contacts. Most cell phones allow you to create contact groups or lists. This makes it easy to send a single text message to a group to let them know your status after an emergency.
If you have young children, do they know how to unlock your phone and dial 911 if you are not able? Can they clearly tell a 911 dispatcher their address? Are you willing to hope that the location information the dispatcher gets from your cell phone is good enough for emergency workers to find you?
There are many variables involved in a successful cell phone connection. Factors such as the weather, terrain, and buildings may affect service and the ability to calculate the caller's location, particularly for 911 calls placed indoors. If you live in an apartment, 911 dispatch may be able to find your building but not the floor or apartment you are in. NG 911 Systems (Next Generation 911) will improve these capabilities, but its high cost is delaying implementation for many.
Marv Solberg, a 911 police and fire dispatcher for the St. Louis Park Police Department for over 26 years, states, “I recommend that people keep their landline phones if they have small children, elderly callers, or people with chronic health issues that would have difficulty giving their address.”
Other benefits of landlines:
When calling 911 from a landline, even if you are unable to speak, dispatchers will be able to pinpoint your exact location.
Landlines still work even if the power goes out, as long you have at least one handset with a cord that doesn't need to be charged.
If you “bundle” your internet, cable, and phone service, it may be cheaper to just keep your landline.
Wright County wants you to be informed.
Wright County has launched a new Citizen Alert System to quickly inform you about issues that may affect your safety. This system allows Wright County to contact thousands of residents in seconds about severe weather, road closures, and emergency situations.
To sign up, go to www.co.wright.mn.us. Click on the “Services” tab at the top of the page, then select “Public Health Services” and select “Emergency Preparedness” on the left-hand side of the page.
For even more ways to prepare your family, visit www.ready.gov.
Take some time to prepare your phone, because disasters don’t plan ahead, but you can.
For WOW Program hours and locations, visit www.co.wright.mn.us, or call us at 763-682-7516.

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