May 27, 2014 - 11:08 am

When an emergency occurs, most of us reach for the phone to check on loved ones and, if needed, call for help. Yet in past disasters, some forms of communications – and the electricity that powers them – have been disrupted for days or even weeks. The FCC is working with providers and communities to make communications more reliable, but there are some actions that only you can take. So with hurricane season on the way, now is a good time to review our tips on communicating during an emergency – 11 practical steps to help you stay connected when disaster strikes.

As a first step, we suggest you take stock of what type of phone service and equipment you have. Many consumers no longer subscribe to “traditional” landline telephone service delivered over copper wires, which generally continues to work during a power outage. (You may need a “corded” phone to use it, however; cordless phones typically require electric power.) Many now subscribe to telephone service delivered over a broadband connection that relies on electricity or battery back-up power to operate. If you fall into this category, and if your electricity is out for days, you will need a plan to keep communicating. We offer some solutions.

Of course if you use a wireless device, you already know the importance of battery power. Our tips remind you to charge your device when a storm is expected and consider keeping an extra battery on hand. We also suggest ways to conserve battery power when needed. You may also want to keep a charging cord in your car.

Even if your equipment is operational in an emergency, some calls may not go through due to network congestion. That is why we encourage consumers to limit non-emergency calls during disasters and instead consider text messaging. (In fact, texts are sometimes delivered even when calls fail due to crowded networks.) This will help free up network resources for more critical communications. Similarly, call 911 only for emergencies.

Our tips cover the basics, but they are not exhaustive. Your local or state emergency management authorities may provide valuable information via websites or social media, especially during times of crisis, so you may want to identify or bookmark these sources in advance. You may also want to learn more about Wireless Emergency Alerts, a newer system that delivers public safety alerts to your wireless phone.  And you may have tips of your own, which we hope you will share in the comment section below.

Read all 11 tips for communicating during an emergency.