How to stay connected during Hurricane Irene

Aug 26, 2011 By PETER SVENSSON , AP Technology Writer
A worker tries to untangle a traffic jam as people talk on telephones nerar a traffic accident on the on the Garden State Parkway north Friday, Aug. 26, 2011, near Ocean View, N.J., as people rushed to evacuate the Jersey shore ahead of Hurricane Irene. (AP Photo/Mel Evans)

(AP) -- Phone service often cuts out when it's needed the most - when disaster strikes.

That applies to cellphones too, even though they seem independent of power and phone lines.

Here are some tips for communicating with and loved ones as Irene sweeps up the East Coast:

- Cellphones may work even if the power goes out, but you can't count on them. The phones themselves, of course, have batteries. And the that relay your calls and other messages are often equipped with backup batteries and some have generators. Verizon says all its sites have at least eight hours of backup power.

But tower batteries run down, and refueling generators with diesel can be difficult if roads are flooded. If hurricane recovery drags on for days, cell service may go out due to a lack of "tower power." This is what took out the cellphone network in southern Louisiana after in 2005, complicating rescue and recovery efforts.

After Katrina, federal regulators wanted to mandate that all cell sites have at least eight hours of backup power. But much of the wireless industry objected to the rule, claiming it was illegally drafted and would present a huge economic and bureaucratic burden that would divert resources from the most disaster-prone areas. The requirement was tossed out.

Power loss isn't the only threat to a wireless network. Calls are carried from the towers by , which are also susceptible to damage, and they connect to that also need power to function.

have a menagerie of backup equipment to deploy in areas where their infrastructure has been destroyed, or where emergency responders need extra capacity. Towable cell towers are called Cells on Wheels, or COWs, while Cells on are called COLTs. AT&T calls generators on trailers GOATs.

- Even if cellphones work, wireless networks may be overloaded by people calling to check in on each other or surfing the Web. Tuesday's earthquake on the East Coast triggered such an overload, even though there was no physical damage to towers or lines.

Cellphone companies recommend text messaging rather than calling in any disaster, because text messages use much less network capacity. They also don't use much battery power. Using Facebook and Twitter can be tempting, but try to keep usage brief and use the apps rather than web browsers if possible, to minimize network use and battery drain.

If you have a battery-powered radio, use it to get your news updates rather than taxing the wireless network and your phone battery.

- Keep your phones plugged in so that they're fully charged if the power goes out. There are various products available that can recharge a cellphone from a larger rechargeable battery, AA batteries, or through a car adapter.

- Corded landline phones may work even if the power goes out, because they're powered from the phone jack, which in turn is powered from the phone company's facilities. These are usually equipped with generators or backup batteries.

Cordless phones won't work if your home loses electric power, nor will Internet phone services like Vonage and Ooma.

Even if the phone company's facilities have backup power, the phone lines themselves are susceptible to wind and water damage. Luckily, a strike at Verizon Communications Inc., the largest local-phone company on the East Coast, ended last weekend, so repair crews should be fully staffed.

- Phones hooked up to cable lines or Verizon FiOS lines aren't powered by those lines, but the modems in the home usually have backup batteries that will last about eight hours. That means corded phones will work without your home's electric power with these services. Again, cordless phones will be useless.

- Vehicle emergency systems like General Motors Co.'s OnStar rely on a wireless network (OnStar uses Verizon's), so they're susceptible to network outages, just like cellphones. However, OnStar says customers report better luck connecting with their car systems than with cellphones, probably because the car has a much larger antenna, allowing it to reach more distant towers.

- For true disaster preparedness, only a satellite phone will do. Unfortunately, both the phones and the service are expensive. AT&T sells an $800 smartphone called the Genus that can switch between the regular wireless network and routing calls through a satellite. The satellite option costs $25 per month, plus 65 cents per minute of calling. Iridium Communications Inc. sells similarly-priced dedicated satellite phones.

Explore further: Hand out money with my mobile? I think I'm ready

not rated yet
add to favorites email to friend print save as pdf

Related Stories

AT&T to sell satellite phone from TerreStar

Sep 30, 2009

(AP) -- AT&T Inc. plans to sell a satellite phone from TerreStar Corp. that can place calls even in the deep wilderness or at sea, the carrier said Wednesday.

Telecom crews ready for Rita's rampage

Sep 23, 2005

Cadres of telecom crews are standing by for the arrival of Rita, the second major hurricane to plow into the wobbly Gulf Coast this season.

Recommended for you

Hand out money with my mobile? I think I'm ready

23 hours ago

A service is soon to launch in the UK that will enable us to transfer money to other people using just their name and mobile number. Paym is being hailed as a revolution in banking because you can pay peopl ...

Quantenna promises 10-gigabit Wi-Fi by next year

Apr 16, 2014

(Phys.org) —Quantenna Communications has announced that it has plans for releasing a chipset that will be capable of delivering 10Gbps WiFi to/from routers, bridges and computers by sometime next year. ...

Tech giants look to skies to spread Internet

Apr 16, 2014

The shortest path to the Internet for some remote corners of the world may be through the skies. That is the message from US tech giants seeking to spread the online gospel to hard-to-reach regions.

Wireless industry makes anti-theft commitment

Apr 16, 2014

A trade group for wireless providers said Tuesday that the biggest mobile device manufacturers and carriers will soon put anti-theft tools on the gadgets to try to deter rampant smartphone theft.

Dish Network denies wrongdoing in $2M settlement

Apr 15, 2014

The state attorney general's office says Dish Network Corp. will reimburse Washington state customers about $2 million for what it calls a deceptive surcharge, but the satellite TV provider denies any wrongdoing.

Netflix's Comcast deal improves quality of video

Apr 14, 2014

Netflix's videos are streaming through Comcast's Internet service at their highest speeds in the past 17 months now that Netflix is paying for a more direct connection to Comcast's network.

User comments : 0

More news stories

Under some LED bulbs whites aren't 'whiter than white'

For years, companies have been adding whiteners to laundry detergent, paints, plastics, paper and fabrics to make whites look "whiter than white," but now, with a switch away from incandescent and fluorescent lighting, different ...

Researchers uncover likely creator of Bitcoin

The primary author of the celebrated Bitcoin paper, and therefore probable creator of Bitcoin, is most likely Nick Szabo, a blogger and former George Washington University law professor, according to students ...

Continents may be a key feature of Super-Earths

Huge Earth-like planets that have both continents and oceans may be better at harboring extraterrestrial life than those that are water-only worlds. A new study gives hope for the possibility that many super-Earth ...

Researchers successfully clone adult human stem cells

(Phys.org) —An international team of researchers, led by Robert Lanza, of Advanced Cell Technology, has announced that they have performed the first successful cloning of adult human skin cells into stem ...