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How to sensibly use your cell phone to get help and stay connected during emergencies

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With conditions worsening along the eastern coast due to Hurricane Sandy, it’s a good idea to review the best ways to use your cell phone to stay safe, get help, and stay in touch with loved ones. Check out our tips below.

Stay charged.

Keep your phone plugged in until you lose power. If you’ve got extra extended batteries laying around, or external chargers, keep them all charged, too. Make sure you’ve got car chargers, as well, in case that’s your only option to charge your phone for several days. CNN is reporting that up to 60 million people may be affected by power outages (this is up from an earlier estimate of 10 million).

Communicate sensibly.

When the power’s out, use your phone sparingly. Text messages are most likely to go through if the network is congested, so this should be your primary method of communication. If you’ve got a strong data connection, you can also update your friends and family as to your safety using social networks – but don’t waste battery trying to connect to the internet if it seems that the network is too congested. Voice calls should be reserved for only the most urgent situations – voice calls are not likely to connect, or could be dropped, if the network is overloaded.

Also, make sure to turn your screen’s brightness all the way down, and turn off any apps that use data unnecessarily or otherwise drain your battery. If possible, keep your phone off most of the time, and only turn it on every few hours to check in.

Stay safe, and get help if you need it.

To find the nearest shelter, text SHELTER and your zip code to 43362 (4FEMA).

You can also use the Red Cross’s hurricane app. You can easily send mass texts to friends and family, letting them know you’re safe, as well as receive location-based NOAA alerts. You can also get up-to-date information on local open Red Cross shelters. To download the app, just call **REDCROSS (**73327677), and you’ll receive a text message with a download link.

Have a plan.

Make sure all of your local emergency numbers are programmed into your phone, along with phone numbers and email address for friends and family. Make sure every member of your family knows who to contact first in case you become separated, and designate someone out of the hurricane’s path as a “central” contact.

Take pictures with your phone of your home and belongings, and then use an “instant upload” service like Google+ or Dropbox in order to save your pictures remotely – this will make insurance claims easier.

Sprint, Verizon, and T-Mobile have all made press releases detailing what they’ve done to prepare for the storm, and AT&T has a dedicated site for disaster preparedness. Take a moment to familiarize yourself with what your specific carrier is doing now, and what it recommends during and after the storm.


Above all, listen to local officials, especially if they are telling you to evacuate. Oftentimes, emergency rescue workers will not be able to help you if you choose to remain behind, and conditions become perilous.

If you are currently in the path of Hurricane Sandy, we’d like to see what you’re seeing. If it’s safe for you to do so, go ahead and send us some pics you’ve shot with your phone, tablet, or other gadget. You can post them on our FacebookGoogle+, or Twitter pages, or email them directly to me – and tell us what device you used to shoot your pics. If we get enough, we’ll publish some of the best a few days from now.

Stay safe out there.

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John F

John was the editor-in-chief at Pocketables. His articles generally focus on all things Google, including Chrome and Android, although his love of new gadgets and technology doesn't stop there. His current arsenal includes the Nexus 6 by Motorola, the 2013 Nexus 7 by ASUS, the Nexus 9 by HTC, the LG G Watch, and the Chromebook Pixel, among others.

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9 thoughts on “How to sensibly use your cell phone to get help and stay connected during emergencies

  • thanks for this… wind is starting to pick up now!!

  • Avatar of goober999

    Great post, to all in the storms path, be safe. Our thoughts and prayers go out to all of you.

  • Avatar of hisuwh

    This seems like very sensible, useful advice. I wish everyone on the east coast of america the best over the next few days

  • Avatar of D. Stroya

    Good luck, and try to stay safe everyone.

  • Hang in there and stay safe.

  • Avatar of Mike H

    300 Amp Jump Starters are nice too. not only can they jump a dead battery most have a car accessory plug on them for emergency phone/radio and other devices. Can pick them up for about 40 clams

  • Wonder if you can set up / access mesh networks with smartphones. Would be the only way to really use them if the telecom networks go down.

  • Avatar of Mark K

    Thanks for posting this information. It really is essential stuff, but I don’t think a lot of people think about this when doing their planning. Water and batteries are always on the list, but few think about a real plan.


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