Don’t count on your cell during an disaster-here’s why

Sections: Broadband Cards, Cellphones, Cellular Providers, Communications, Mobile, Smartphones

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I live in New York City, Staten Island to be exact. Hurricane Sandy paid us a visit and tore the borough apart. We had days of warnings, and I thought we were prepared. We stocked up on batteries, flashlights, water, canned goods and other supplies. As the storm approached Sunday night my husband and I made sure our cell phones were plugged in and fully charged along with our mobile hotspot, an external backup battery, and our Kindles. Sandy roared in, the power went out, and we spent a very long and scary night waiting for her to leave. When daylight came, our neighborhood was a mess of fallen trees and downed wires. We thought we were okay because we both had fully charged cellphones. Wrong. Sprint failed miserably. Neither of us were able to get any sort of signal. Our neighbor, who had T-Mobile, couldn’t get a signal with his phone either. Apparently Sandy’s wrath must have damaged the nearby towers as well. Since our phone line is through our cable company, we had no landline service. The mobile hotspot wouldn’t connect either. We were absolutely cut off from any help we may have needed. It was unsettling to say the least. Later in the day our phones went to roaming. Attempting to make a call connected us to Verizon with a demand for a credit card in order to complete the call. Friends in lower Manhattan reported that AT&T was out completely due to the power failure, but I will say it was nice to hear that T-Mobile and AT&T agreed to let each other’s customers roam  on their networks free of charge due to the disaster. Sadly, Verizon and Sprint did not give their customers the same courtesy.

The moral of the story is don’t rely on your cell phone to keep you connected during a disaster. Even if you are able to connect, batteries run out and you may not be able to recharge anywhere.  Get a corded landline phone-even if you have your phone through a VOIP service you will still be able to plug it into any phone jack and call 911. An external backup battery is also valuable. Ours allows us to each recharge our cell phones about 3 times each. Very helpful if your local towers don’t fail. Still, an old fashioned corded phone and phone service is best, because even if you lose power you may still have service. You may not be able to tweet, Facebook or web surf with it,but you’ll be able to check in with loved ones and get help if you need it, which is far more important.

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