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How to Communicate With Loved Ones During a Disaster

Published: April 2019

When a disaster strikes, it can often be difficult to communicate with loved ones. Hurricanes, tornadoes and other emergencies may cause power outages or overwhelm cellular services, sometimes making normal lines of communication nearly impossible. But by planning ahead and following these tips, you can help maintain connection with friends and family in an emergency:

mother holding baby girl and using smartphone..

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Before a Disaster Strikes

The Federal Communications Commission (FCC) offers suggestions on how to prepare to communicate before an emergency occurs:

Keep a Corded Phone at Home
If you have a landline at home, identify whether it's connected traditionally or through a broadband connection (also known as VoIP). Traditional landlines typically work even if the power goes out, with one caveat: Is the phone connected or cordless? Make sure you have at least one corded phone connected. In the event of a power outage, your cordless model, which requires electricity, may not work.

Have Car Chargers Handy
Get in the habit of keeping your cellphone and laptop fully charged, and have a car charger available in the event of a power outage. Consider buying additional batteries and solar or hand-powered chargers for your devices.

Make an Emergency Contact List
Having a paper copy of essential contacts on hand will allow you to reference them even if your smartphone dies. Start by collecting phone numbers and email addresses for everyone in your household. The FCC also recommends you gather phone numbers for emergency services, utilities, medical offices, veterinarians and your insurance companies. Once your contact lists are completed, be sure every member of your family has one.

In addition, identify a few contacts as "In Case of Emergency," or ICE, in your phone's contact list, the FCC advises. This will help emergency responders determine whom to contact should they need to assist you.

Create an Emergency Plan
Because you and your loved ones may be separated when disaster strikes, make sure to develop a plan specific to your family. For example, select accommodations that are accessible for any family members with disabilities, as well as your pets, if you have them.

Ready.gov recommends choosing an emergency meeting place that's in your neighborhood, and one that's out of your neighborhood. Your plan should also detail how you will contact each other. For instance, designate an out-of-town contact for everyone to notify that they're safe, or set an "on air" time where you'll each power up your phones and call or text with your status. It's also a good idea to work with your children's school or daycare to understand their emergency communication procedures.

During and After a Disaster

There are also some steps you can take to improve the likelihood of communicating successfully with loved ones in the immediate aftermath:

Text and Use Social Media
Cell service can become congested during an emergency. Instead, try text messaging or emailing, which, the FCC says, are services that are less likely to experience network congestion. Also, consider posting your status on social media or registering on the American Red Cross' Safe and Well website, so that loved ones who may be searching for you know that you're OK.

Forward Your Home Phone
If you have a landline and call-forwarding at home, the FCC suggests forwarding your home phone number to your cellphone if you'll be away, or if conditions warrant an evacuation.

Conserve Your Phone's Battery Life
You can extend the life of your cellphone battery charge by reducing the brightness of your screen, turning off Wi-Fi and closing apps that aren't critical. Additionally, if you're able to make a call, consider updating your voicemail message so that, even if inbound calls go to voicemail, you're able to offer loved ones an update on your well-being.

By taking these steps to prepare and practicing these tips, you can help ensure you and your family stay informed throughout an emergency.

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Our pages are filled with helpful tips and information about the topics that most of us face in our everyday lives. We focus on safety and maintenance issues with regard to your home, auto, apartment, motorcycle, boat, small business, finances and more. Please recognize that a particular tip may not be effective in every circumstance and that taking preventive measures cannot guarantee any outcome. We encourage you to use your own good judgment about what's appropriate for you and your property and always consider safety.
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