When the ground starts to shake, a tornado blows through or a line of wildfire sweeps through, your first thought will likely be to call your loved ones and ask how they are or let them know how you are.
When everyone is doing that though, the phone network may be overloaded. There are some strategies for planning out your communication in an emergency that minimize phone calling, both to reduce anxiety and conserve battery usage.
Create a message.
If family and friends are calling you repeatedly, potentially from all over the country, you may not want to answer the phone and talk each time. Change your greeting message to indicate how you are, what your plan is, and who else they can talk to. For instance, here’s a sample greeting that might cover all these bases:
“Randall here. I’m ok. I’m at work and heading home. I’m keeping my phone turned off to conserve my battery. I’ll be in touch with my Aunt Martha so please get in touch with her to get updates. I’ll update this message if something changes.”
Anyone who calls you will hear this message and be reassured that you are ok, and that you will be in touch when you are able.
Limit non-emergency phone calls.
Reserve cell phone use only for life-threatening or immediately dangerous situations. If everyone in your household knows the emergency plan . . . where to meet, whether to head home or to a relative’s house, which person is getting the kids, etc. . . there may be no need for phone calls in the first place.
If you don’t get through the first time, wait a few seconds before calling again. The Federal Communications Commission (FCC) says immediately redialing can “clog” up the network because the data from the handset that is being sent to the cell tower doesn’t have time to clear before the same data is sent again.
Send text messages when possible.
If you need to communicate with your spouse or children in your immediate area, a text message is more likely to be delivered in a time of true emergency. Texts, also called SMS (short messaging service) work through a network that is “parallel” to the wireless telephone network.
Your emergency contact shouldn’t be your neighbor.
Your neighbors are probably great people. Ready to help you out with loans of tools and rides around town when your car breaks down. They can always be counted on to bring great food to the barbecue or potluck. They may even be trusted enough to watch your kids when you need the help. But, no matter how close to your neighbors you are, they shouldn’t be your emergency contact in the event of a disaster.
Pick someone who doesn’t live on your street, or even in your state.
Your emergency contact in the event of a natural disaster should be someone not in your immediate area, because if there’s a widespread disaster such as earthquake or tornado, nearby people will be affected as well.
The person on your emergency contact list should know that they will be getting calls from all of your family members. When others call the contact, the contact can relay messages without everyone in the family calling back and forth. The emergency contact can also notify others in the less-immediate family to let them know what’s going on, again, without everyone making numerous phone calls.
The idea is that everyone can communicate by making one phone call to the contact. Multiple phone calls will not only wear out the phone’s battery but place a drain on the telephone network system.