Even though we can’t prevent earthquakes, floods, tornadoes, or other disruptive events, learning what communication options are available during and after a disaster will help you better protect yourself and your loved ones. Establishing a meeting place where family members will gather in an emergency is vital. You may want to select a local school or church. You should also have a communication plan in case you can’t meet. An out-of-state contact can be key to sending and receiving messages during an emergency. This should be a friend or relative designated to handle messages if you can’t call or locate your local family members. While most local private phone lines may be out of order for hours after a disaster strikes, long distance lines are usually operable much sooner. The out-of-state contact can receive and relay messages from family members so you will know they are safe.
FEMA recommends using text messaging, email, or social media for non-life-threatening emergency communications. They also recommend calling 9-1-1 only in life-threatening situations . In situation when power is out for extended periods of time or you need to evacuate the area, a solar battery charger like the GoalZero™ Nomad 7m Solar Panel will charge your cell phone and other battery-powered devices.
Tips for Communication
Establish who your out-of-state contact will be ahead of time.
Family members should carry cards in their wallets or backpacks with the following information: (1) emergency meeting place with the address (outside the home); (2) alternate meeting place and address (outside the neighborhood); and (3) name plus day and evening phone numbers of out-of-state contact. Make sure you inform your children’s teachers, baby sitters or daycare, and parents of friends about the out-of-state contact, so they can communicate with you if you can’t contact them directly. Each family member should carry a phone card or enough change for several phone calls if there are pay phones in your area.
It may be helpful to find out in advance if you have a ham radio operator in your area. They are very helpful and can deliver messages from both private and community sources during and after a disaster. If a pay phone isn't available, and your out-of-state contact is several states away, you can communicate using this type of relay system. Your local ham can contact another ham that will contact another ham, and so on, until they find one within your out-of-state contact's area. The ham operator closest to your contact can then phone the contact and deliver any messages.
A battery-powered or hand crank radio is helpful in monitoring the status of the disaster. Be sure to keep a fresh supply of batteries on hand. Check expiration dates on the batteries and rotate them regularly. Do not keep batteries inside the radio because they expire more quickly and may leak.
When charged, most cell phones are able to call 9-1-1 even when they are not active. It is wise to have a cell phone (even not activated) when traveling or for emergency use.
Remember that preparation brings confidence. When planning for an emergency, don’t forget that communication with your family members will be especially important. The tips provided in this article will assist you in creating a plan to contact loved ones during unexpected events.