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When things go wrong as they sometimes will, if you’re like most people, the first thing you reach for is your cell phone.
In an emergency or disaster, the natural human reaction is to try to call loved ones or emergency professionals for help.
But beyond the ability to call for help, over the last decade, people have become totally dependent on their cell phones for many additional tasks.
Some of these are vital to survival.
In fact, we use cell phones not only to communicate in an emergency, but also to check the weather or time of day, to wake us in the morning, and to track our appointments and to-do-list for the day.
Many people regularly listen to music or audio books using their phones either at home or during a long commute to/from work.
Some use their phones to get directions from one place to another, even for short distances.
There are apps on our phones to remind us when, what, and how much to eat and when to exercise, and to track whether we’ve done enough or not.
We use our phones to check-in via social media with loved ones and with what’s happening in our area and around the world via news apps.
Phones can even monitor vital signs for the elderly and those who are at home but need frequent medical supervision for their chronic health problems.
Increasing Dependence on Cell Phones
Recent events have only served to make us even more dependent on our phones and more people than ever use them to Facetime or Zoom with loved ones, to do daily banking tasks, shopping, and to share photos.
Our children are growing up dependent on cell phones too. My six year old grandson uses a wi-fi connected phone to video call and message me throughout the day.
At six years old, he figured out how to download and use the Roku app as a remote for the TV because his “Nana” was on her phone and he wanted to watch TV.
At around two years old, his sister could swipe photos on a phone and recognize the Netflix icon to watch movies.
More people are also using their phones for work related tasks, via text messages, than ever before. Where there used to be a separation between work and home or school and home, those lines have been blurred.
Text messaging, writing and uploading documents, presentations, and reports, calendar management, and meetings, can all take place via phone with the right connections.
Our phones are now connected to our health, our sanity, and our ability to earn a living.
When a widespread emergency or disaster strikes, the first instinct for many, many people will be to use their cell phone.
And technology is great, it’s saved many lives. But even technology has its weakness.
Let’s Play What If For a Moment
Just for a few minutes, imagine what you’d do if an emergency, disaster or terrorist attack were to knock out cell phone service in a widespread area?
So, what if you had no cell phone service for let’s say three to five days. No warning. Just suddenly no service and no way to know when it would come back on.
Do you have a plan in place? Could you communicate with your children and spouse?
Even if you have a landline, your family’s cell phones wouldn’t be working, especially if you use the same carrier.
A landline might help you reach emergency services, if their phone systems aren’t overwhelmed with everyone else who is panicked.
How would you communicate with your spouse, children, or other loved ones? Does your family have a plan in place?
Would your family know what to do?
You may be thinking this could never happen, you’re not some doomsday prepper, I get that.
And that’s fair.
I’m not asking you to prepare for the end of the world.
But what if, like I did last year, you headed off on a trip an hour or so away from home, and realized when you are halfway there, you left your cell phone at home?
Or what if you had a flat tire or some other vehicle problem in a remote section of your work commute where you don’t have cell service?
What if your toddler dropped your cell phone in the toilet and you had to live without it until it could dry out or be repaired?
Or maybe a storm knocked out cell service in your area for several days?
That’s not unheard of, especially lately. All of these have happened to me over the years.
Alternative Communication Plans
The time to plan for a disruption in your ability to communicate via cell phone is right now, before something happens.
Your plan doesn’t have to be elaborate and it doesn’t have to cost a ton of money.
But preparing now, will give you some peace of mind.
Below are several things you can do to be more prepared the next time your cell phone service leaves you hanging.
- Make a list of telephone numbers for your family, friends, colleagues, medical personnel, etc.
If just your own cell phone is out of commission due to an accidental drowning in the toilet or a mud puddle, you’ll need those numbers handy.
2. Make sure you have a working car charger for your cell phone and don’t let the power level get below half.
In a power outage if you’re prepared, you won’t have to panic watching that battery icon growing smaller and smaller. You can simply plug your phone into the car charger to power up.
3. Invest in a power bank and/or a solar powered charger for your cell phone and other electronics. Download some new or favorite movies or books to the kids tablets or phones.
Downloading content in advance to electronics and having an alternate way to power them means you can stave off the boredom and irritation from kids and even for yourself.
4. Have a written family emergency plan. Make sure everyone in your family knows exactly what to do in an emergency if you can’t communicate by phone.
Each person should keep the written plan and a map of the area in their purse, wallet, or bookbag to refer to in an emergency. Panic can cause temporary memory loss problems and having the plan in writing will ensure they won’t forget or remember incorrectly.
5. Consider purchasing walkie talkie or even handheld radios for family members to use to communicate when apart.
Make sure you read reviews and understand exactly what you’re getting before you buy. Some radios have longer range than others and this could matter to your communication plan.
You don’t have to implement all of the above options all at once. You can do these gradually as you are able.
But the one thing I do recommend you implement right away is a check-in plan with your family and friends.
At least one or two other people should know the exact route(s) you use to get to/from work or school.
Designate at least one person you communicate with when you are taking a long trip or going somewhere unusual. One person who you text when you are leaving the house and again when you return.
If that feels too constrictive, have someone you agree to check-in with on a daily basis or at least every other day.
If you don’t check-in, they should agree to try to check-in with you, then check-in with others who may have heard from you.
If you can’t be reached within a specified amount of time, they should know to alert authorities that something might be off-kilter.
None of us want to admit that we aren’t invincible.
The younger we are, the harder it is to accept that sometimes we need help from others. As we get older, we don’t want to be a burden on others.
But having someone you check-in with regularly can be a way to get help to you when something is wrong and you aren’t able to call for help yourself.
If you are stranded coming home from work without cell service, if you pass out, fall, or become extremely ill at home, someone will be paying attention and know where to tell authorities to start looking.
Having an alternate plan for communication can in fact, save your life.