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Communication

Land Line Phones

Landline phones are generally more reliable than cell phones in this country and it takes more to knock down the system. However, it does happen. The most important thing you can do is protect your own access to service.

First, don't limit the house to portable phones. Have at least one good old-fashioned phone that is attached to the wall by a wire. Portable phones have to be plugged into a power source to broadcast to the handset. If your power is out, so is your phone. Regular phones take their power off the phone line. If there is phone service to the house, the phone plugged into the wall will work.

Check out the lines coming into the house as well. If they are underground, you are not likely to lose phone service in a storm. If they are overhead, make sure they are well supported and free of trees and other hazards that might pull down the lines. Prune your trees regularly.

Cell Phones

Cell phones are becoming very common. Many of us have them in our cars or carry them with us all the time. They are very useful in small disasters or personal emergencies. All the companies offer a connection to roadside assistance and they work on the 911 system for calling in an accident or other problem.

There are three problems with cell phones as emergency communications. First is the problem of keeping them charged. Make sure you have a regular routine for recharging the phone so it stays fully charged. Have a cigarette lighter charger, so you can recharge in any car. But remember that this takes time. In an emergency, be very careful about how much you use the phone. Unless you have access to power to recharge it, once it is dead, it is dead.

†Second is the fact that we don't have a uniform standard for cell phone broadcasting. If the system for your phone is down, there is no way you can switch to another system, and the systems can only talk to each other through the regular phone system. They discovered on September 11 in New York City that the cell phones were of very limited use in the disaster response or in locating people.

Third is the problem of overload and coverage areas. Anyone who uses a cell phone knows the frustration of getting the message that there is no service available either because you are too far from a tower or because the tower you are near is overloaded. If the landline phones in your area are out, you can pretty much count on the nearest tower being overloaded.

CB Radios

If you live in an area that does not have good cell phone service or where the regular phones are often brought down by storms, you might think about getting a Citizens Band (CB) radio. These are still very popular with people who live in rural areas and with long haul drivers. A small unit is not terribly expensive but there are rules on their use. They can explain the requirements on CB use where you buy the radio. These radios have a range of about five to ten miles depending on conditions. This range isn't great but it is certainly better than nothing.

Walkie-Talkies

These turn out to be very useful day to day and can be a real blessing in a disaster. Walkie-talkies are radios with a very short range. My cousin got a set to take on a vacation so family members could go different places in the theme park and stay in touch. When they needed two cars to evacuate from the coast before a storm, they used these to keep the two cars together and to plan stops. In a disaster situation, keep everyone attached to one of the people with a walkie-talkie. Many of the disaster shelters are huge arenas with thousands of people. Going to the bathroom can end up separating you from your family. These small radios are a way of keeping everyone together or finding someone who has gotten lost in the crowd. Make sure you have chargers that will work off a wall outlet and a car.

Radios And Televisions

Every household should have a portable radio for emergencies. This should be something either small and boring or so big you can't miss it. That way it is likely to be there when you need it. If you can, get a weather band radio. This is a special radio with a channel that is controlled by the National Weather Service. You put these radios on standby and they will sound an alarm when the weather service sends out an alert. The broadcasts cover a specific geographical area, so you are not getting alerts from far away.

A regular battery powered AM/FM radio is fine for your emergency preparations. You just need something that you can listen to for emergency messages. Keep it near your bed along with a flashlight so it will be handy when you need it. Make sure both of them use batteries that you keep in stock and turn them on occasionally to make sure they work. You are likely to use the flashlight a lot more than the radio. But, if they are together, you are likely to notice when one of the kids took the radio for a trip to the pool.

Think about getting a radio that plays the audio portion of local TV broadcasts too. Or you may want a little two inch television that includes a radio receiver. You canít see much on these, but the audio may give you all the information you need. It is also helpful to know which radio and television stations are emergency broadcast stations in your area so you can tune in easily.

Calling For Help

Much of the United States now has 9-1-1 service for police, fire and ambulance services. You dial 9-1-1 from a land line and the emergency operator knows where you are and will ask what kind of service you need. Many cell phones have the same service, but there may not be a precise locating system on a cell phone. The 9-1-1 system can go down or be overwhelmed in a disaster situation.

Make a list of the numbers for your local emergency services and put them near the phone. Attach the numbers to the wall or the phone so you can find them immediately. Include clear directions to your house from the nearest major intersection and put them with the emergency numbers. Even if they know their address, most children canít give directions to a driver.

Donít ever call it nine-eleven service. Always refer to it as nine-one-one. People get excited in emergencies and make mistakes like wasting time searching for the ď11Ē button on the telephone.