Arik Hesseldahl

Recent Posts by Arik Hesseldahl

Some Tips for Staying in Touch During Hurricane Sandy

As Hurricane Sandy has started to wallop New York, New Jersey, Delaware and much of the East Coast, we’ve reached that moment when people start reporting difficulties in communication.

Power is flickering on and off in some parts of New York City, where, as of late afternoon local time, 16,000 had lost power. Power has failed entirely in numerous places around New Jersey and Long Island, too, making Internet connections spotty. So a few general principles about communications during a crisis bear repeating.

If the power goes out, and if you haven’t done away completely with your old-school landline telephone, now would be the time to make sure you have an old-school corded phone around the house. If your home loses power, the phone lines will, in most cases, continue operating. The phone networks’ central offices and switching stations have backup power to keep the dial tone on. However, if you have a cordless phone, you’re out of luck, because cordless phones need power. Best to spring for an old-style corded phone if you don’t have one lying around.

Also: If you’re someplace where there’s a fax machine, remember that these usually require old-style landlines that will still be functional, so you can probably use the lines connected to them with a corded phone, if necessary; many still have a handset receiver on them, anyway.

If you’re wireless-only, you have a pretty good chance of being able to make calls, though texting is probably a better bet. Texts are more efficient, generally, and I’ve been getting intermittent reports of “fast busy” signals indicating that networks are overloaded. When you do make voice calls, keep them short.

It’s probably a good idea to remember how to use Twitter via text message, in case your standard Internet access crashes. This will come in handy for certain Twitter accounts like, say, that of New York Mayor Mike Bloomberg, that broadcast useful information about the status of the storm.

Twitter, which has posted a page of Sandy-related info, can also be used as a good way to relay information to family members outside the storm area to let them know you’re okay. But if the power is off, you might need a way to access it without your computer.

As the Washington Post summarized earlier, tweets from weather and emergency services can be forwarded to your phone as text messages that will get through to you as long as your wireless phone has power.

Now, about that. If the power goes down, the issue of preserving battery life on your wireless phone takes on some added urgency. With smartphones, a few good rules of thumb come to mind. Turn off Wi-Fi and Bluetooth. Turn down the screen’s brightness as low as it will go and still be visible. For iPhone owners, now might also be a good time to go through the preferences on your apps and turn off any unnecessary push notifications, because they eat battery power, too.


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