It has always amazed me when a snow storm is approaching our area that everyone runs to the store to buy milk and bread. Truth be known, some of these people probably don’t even like milk but buy it anyway. No one wants to be stuck at home with less than a week’s supply.
But while we stock up on food, very few of us think about our mobile devices that we have become so dependent on. Cell phones are a critical part of our life today, but we rarely consider what could happen if we don’t have them. Could we call 911 for help? Could we check on our aging parents? Are the kids safe? Could we communicate without our mobile devices?
The answer to that question is use a land line. However, many households, and especially households with young adults, do not have land lines; they are totally dependent on mobile devices. This is a trend that will continue and the number of people with land lines will be even less in the future.
That brings us to another point. During the recent earthquake, people could not get through on their cell phones because the networks were jammed. Cell phone networks get jammed because the cell sites are only designed to handle a certain number of calls at the same time. Likewise, the switches that the wireless companies use can only carry a specific number of calls at the same time. Carriers cannot afford to build networks that would accommodate everyone talking at the same time so we as users need to be mindful of that in emergencies.
So how do we make sure that we are prepared? That we have our digital milk and bread? Here are some tips to help you cope with digital issues during inclement weather and other events that may occur:
Leave them plugged up: With the exception of tornadoes, we usually have a fair amount of warning before most weather related events occur in Catawba County. For events that you know are coming, keep your devices charged at all times in case the power goes off. Just leave them plugged up. This may be a little inconvenient, but you’ll know that you have a full charge and several hours of talk time should the power go off. Once the weather related event passes go back to your regular charging practices.
Purchase extra power: Having extra charging devices and supplemental power is a good idea. They are relatively inexpensive and could give you the ability to make an emergency call. For longer events, solar chargers are a good idea. This is especially good for other activities like camping where power may be limited. A word of caution, make sure that any charging device works with your device, for example iPads require 1 amp to charge. Most phones only require a low USB charge.
Remember other charging options: If your battery does go dead, consider using your car to charge it. Even if you don’t completely charge it, the car will probably give you more than enough power to call for help if you need assistance. Some weather radios with hand crank power also have USB ports that will give your phone power to call for help.
Play Angry Birds when you have power: Digital devices are a great source of entertainment and we all need that when the power goes off. However; it is more important to be able to receive information and have the ability to call for help during an event so conserve the power on your mobile device if the power is off. Use as little power as possible. Turn off all unnecessary apps. Remember it may be a while before the power comes back on; ask yourself do I need to be entertained or make sure I can get help if needed?
Are you okay? Yes, Goodbye: Everyone wants to know if their family members are okay during and after an event. This is normal and expected. Contact your family members to determine if everyone is okay but don’t stay on the line. It is human nature to be relieved when everyone is okay and then to continue the conversation with small talk or maybe even plans for the weekend. Remember the limited capacity of cell phone networks. Someone else may be calling for help and may not be able to get through because you are still on the line. Be mindful of others and be brief when calling to see if loved ones are okay. They may not be as lucky as you.
A good time for texting: Cellular and data networks are separate, consider using texting instead of calling. Texting requires much less resources than a phone call and you may get through quicker. If family members are not familiar with texting and do not see the point, this one technology could be the difference between life and death. Learn to use it!
Social networking becomes a tool: For the same reason as texting, use sources like Facebook and Twitter to stay informed and communicate. They ride the data network and use far fewer resources than a phone call. Make sure that anything you post is true. Do not post something that would cause others to panic. It may be fun to post the first picture of damage but be very careful that you do not put yourself in danger taking a picture. Also be thoughtful of others. Do not post a picture of an injured person that the person or the family may see later. And one last tip, if the power is out and you are bored; refrain from uploading your vacation pictures because you have nothing else to do. The resources and the power you use may be critical in the following hours.
We may want your photos: Catawba County Government may ask you to post photos of damage in your area. Mobile devices provide the capability to capture important information and disburse it quickly. Smartphone technology offers some of the best cameras in the world. First rule, never put yourself in danger trying to get a photo. Safety first! We appreciate your assistance in assessing damage, but make sure you can do it safely. If we need photos from the field, we will ask you to send them to our photo site at http://www.catawbacountync.gov/uploadphoto.asp
Program to be informed: Program emergency resources into your mobile device now and check them regularly so that you will know how to use them when an emergency does arise. These should include:
- Follow @CatCoEm on Twitter for official emergency information and preparedness messages.
- www.redcross.org (Click on Preparedness Fast Facts)
Local news and weather feeds: Make sure you can get local area news website bookmarks and apps. All Charlotte area news stations have some version of mobile access. Sign up for an email or text message weather alert feature:
- The Weather Channel https://registration.weather.com/ursa/alerts/step1
- WSOC-TV http://cf.localwireless.com/wireless/signup.cfm?sid=37
- WBTV App http://www.wbtv.com/Global/link.asp?L=323605
- Weather Bug http://weather.weatherbug.com/mobile/mobile-weather-alerts-registration.html
- Weather Channel: http://www.weather.com/mobile/swap/send_sms_to_phone.html
Local emergency services feeds:
- Bookmark the My Catawba County App on your smart phone to be able to get local information such as roads and shelters when activated.
- Prepare yourself to handle some family emergencies without calling 911 by putting a first aid and CPR app on your phone or bookmark a site. WebMD is an example of a free one.
Sources for shelters:
Shelter information is updated every 30 minutes from the National Shelter System
There is a Shelter View App available for iPhone on iTunes.
Safe and Well: After a disaster, letting your family and friends know that you are safe and well can bring your loved ones great peace of mind. This website is designed to help make that communication easier. Concerned family and friends can search the list of those who have registered themselves as “safe and well” by clicking on the “Search Registrants” button. The results of a successful search will display a loved one’s first name, last name and a brief message. https://safeandwell.communityos.org/cms/index.php
Give alerts a special ringtone: Subscribe to the Catawba County Community Alert System and assign a different ringtone on your phone. This will ensure that you know there is an emergency and that you should answer this call immediately. To sign up for Catawba County Community Alert System go to http://www.catawbacountync.gov/alert/ .
Paper is sometimes good: One of the most overlooked emergency preparedness steps is important documents and financial information access. Technology can be both a friend and a foe in an emergency. If the only place you keep important phone numbers and family information is the one in your cell you may be in trouble when your cell phone dies or the power is out and you cannot get the data from your computer. Keep printed lists of all contact information including your doctors, dentist, insurance agent and banks as well as contacts outside of the area. Include as many ways to contact a person as you have: home phone, cell phone, work phone, email, fax numbers, complete mailing address and Twitter names. The written list may be the only thing you have when you do find a way to contact someone. Do not assume you will be able to remember a telephone number or address – even ones you call frequently. Fatigue, adrenalin and stress zap our brain power and memory.
To the cloud: Copies of birth certificates, marriage licenses, medical insurance and social security cards, the cover page to your homeowner’s insurance policy or mortgage may be critical in re-establishing your family after a disaster. Consider scanning important documents for safekeeping in a password protected document site in the Cloud such as Dropbox or Google Docs. Some place accessible from an internet connection but protected so only you can get the information. Then when you meet with insurance adjusters, FEMA or Red Cross reps you will have the proof no matter what happened to your house in an event.
We haven’t had that first snow yet and the masses have not stormed the grocery stores for milk and bread. But those days are coming and now is the perfect time to get your digital milk and bread ready for this year’s season. Whether it be a snow storm or some other event don’t be caught off guard!