How to Communicate During an Emergency

During an emergency or a disaster, being out of touch with your loved ones can be frustrating. In some respects, the fear is rooted in the fact that our technology has grown to the point where we can instantly communicate with people all over the globe. Most of us have multiple ways of reaching a loved one – a call, a text, an IM, or a video chat – and it’s all contained in a cell phone. However, even the most routine emergency can take down cellphone lines or cause a low signal, like torrential rains, snowfall, or even old equipment failures.

Whether it’s a natural disaster, man-made disaster, a medical or criminal emergency, or even a terrorist attack – you and your family need to be prepared for the worst. No matter how safe your neighborhood is, you can still experience emergencies and disasters wherein you will need to contact your loved ones for help or to check if they’re okay.

Possible Communication Issues You May Encounter

One of the most important aspects of navigating an emergency or a disaster is communication. Unfortunately, when catastrophe suddenly hits, some of the first things to fail are standard communication problems. Here are some ways communication can be compromised:

  • Strong winds and floods can damage cables between cellular towers
  • Heavy rains and snow can cut off wavelength signals to important wireless links
  • Seismic activity can damage fiber-optic cables
  • The network can become jammed and congested when many people are trying to contact one another at the same time
  • Hackers can overload or disrupt networks

The situations mentioned above can make communication difficult. So before disaster strikes, you need to have a plan so you won’t end up scrambling during a disaster.

Here’s how you can effectively communicate during an emergency:

1. Lay out a plan when it’s impossible to communicate.

Lay out a plan for your family members for communication, just in case. This plan needs to spell out exactly what to do and what will happen during an emergency. In the absence of instant communication, it pays to have a plan. Here are some steps you should do:

Make sure that each member of the family knows where to go in times of emergency by establishing a meeting place or a rendezvous point. Plan a meeting place for every scenario.

Be sure you clearly state what each should do or what you will do, depending on the type of emergency. Assign specific tasks or actions they need to take in the event of an emergency.

Make sure all family members know the ways to communicate in case one channel fails. For instance, you can set the first line of communication is via calls, followed by text, followed by a social media IM, followed by email, etc. This will ensure that each family members know where to look for emergency messages from loved ones.

The idea behind being prepared is that the family goes into a pre-programmed mode, so when disaster or emergency happens, they can execute the last instructions they are given. This is the way armies have been operating for centuries.

2. Keep a corded phone at home.

Smartphones are great – it’s the one thing everybody uses – but it still pays to have a landline at home to make sure you have a back-up phone in case you needed to call someone. If you already have one, identify if it’s connected through a broadband connection or traditional connection. Traditional landline usually works even when the power goes out. However, there’s one caveat – it must be corded. Cordless models need electricity, so when power is down, it may not work.

3. Make an emergency contact list.

Have a paper copy of an emergency contact list. It’s important to store them in your phones, but when phone lines are jammed or if you have a dead battery, you’re going to want to have a paper copy. Start by listing all phone numbers and email addresses of everyone in your household. After that, keep a list of these important contacts:

  • Local police
  • Local fire department
  • Local hospital/emergency room
  • Power company
  • Landline company / Internet service provider
  • Medical offices (allergist, ob-gyn, veterinarian, dentist, physician, etc.)
  • Insurance company
  • Children’s school
  • Offices
  • Relatives
  • Friends
  • Colleagues

The FCC advises that you identify a few of them as a contact “In Case of Emergency.” Once you have these things listed, be sure that each member of the family has a copy. Also, make sure that a copy of it is placed inside everyone’s bug-out bags.

4. Subscribe to local text alerts.

In case of a catastrophe, you want to gather as much information as possible, since there might be a chance that your regular communication forms may fail. To ensure that you’re getting updates is to subscribe to local text alerts. These kinds of messages usually pop-up, notifying you when something is happening in your area, and it continues to keep you updated for new developments. Potential options for text alerts include weather, local government, local law enforcement, children’s school district, etc. Some may not be available for your area, but it’s worth considering as you prepare.

5. Buy back-up charging options.

Family updates, news updates, and text alerts can be really helpful, but these tools are useless if your phone is dead. To ensure that your phone has enough power that you need during an emergency, you have to keep back-up charging options, especially if you’re evacuating, or when power is out. Here are some of your options:

  • Mobile power bank – If you have a charged power bank, then you can charge your phone. However, you will need more power again after that.
  • Car charger – You can use it to charge your batteries in the event of a power outage.
  • Solar charger – Solar chargers  are a great option for charging your phone. Some can even charge your laptop or power other things than a phone.
  • Hand-crank charger – These chargers aren’t sustainable for a lasting charge, but it can offer a quick burst to make a short call or send an important text.