National Preparedness Month: Communication during a Disaster
Source: Office of the Governor Rick Perry – Committee on People with
NEW ORLEANS – As part of National Preparedness Month, the Federal Emergency
Management Agency and the Federal Communications Commission today released
new tips for consumers aimed at preparing them for major disasters when
communications networks are more likely to be compromised or damaged. Nearly
one month ago, a 5.8 magnitude earthquake and Hurricane Irene struck the
East Coast. In the minutes and hours that followed, mobile networks
experienced significant network congestion, temporarily making it harder for
millions of people to reach loved ones and emergency services. This tip
sheet aims to help prepare Americans about how to communicate with each
other, and loved ones, in the event of another disaster.
“Between the East Coast earthquake, Hurricane Irene, Tropical Storm Lee, and
wildfires in Texas and California, we have had a lot of powerful reminders
lately that disasters can strike anytime, anywhere – and can often make it
difficult for the public to communicate with friends, loved ones or
emergency personnel,” said FEMA Administrator Craig Fugate. “An important
part of preparing for disasters includes getting ready for potential
communications challenges, whether caused by power outages or heavy cell
network congestion. These simple tips are easy for anyone to follow and
could make a world of difference when it matters the most.”
FCC Chairman Julius Genachowski said, “When disaster strikes, the ability to
communicate is essential. However, power outages and other issues can
interfere with the way people ordinarily communicate, making it harder to
reach loved ones or emergency services. The FCC is committed to ensuring the
public’s safety through the reliability of our nation’s communications
networks. But there are also simple steps that consumers can take to prepare
for a disaster as well as practical ways to better communicate during and
after an event. I encourage all Americans to become familiar these tips and
share them with friends and family.”
Consumers with questions about their particular mobile phone devices should
contact their wireless provide or equipment manufacturer.
When disaster strikes, you want to be able to communicate by both receiving
and distributing information to others. You may need to call 9-1-1 for
assistance, locate friends or family, or let loved ones know that you are
okay. During disasters, communications networks could be damaged, lose
power, or become congested. This fact sheet provides two important sets of
tips. The first will help you prepare your home and mobile devices for a
disaster. The second may help you communicate more effectively during and
immediately after a disaster.
Before a Disaster: How to Prepare Your Home and Mobile Device
1. Maintain a list of emergency phone numbers in your cell phone and in or
near your home phone.
2. Keep charged batteries and car-phone chargers available for back-up power
for your cell phone.
3. If you have a traditional landline (non-broadband or VOIP) phone, keep at
least one non-cordless phone in your home because if it will work even if
you lose power.
4. Prepare a family contact sheet. This should include at least one
out-of-town contact that may be better able to reach family members in an
5. Program “In Case of Emergency” (ICE) contacts into your cell phone so
emergency personnel can contact those people for you if you are unable to
use your phone. Let your ICE contacts know that they are programmed into
your phone and inform them of any medical issues or other special needs you
6. If you are evacuated and have call-forwarding on your home phone, forward
your home phone number to your cell phone number.
7. If you do not have a cell phone, keep a prepaid phone card to use if
needed during or after a disaster.
8. Have a battery-powered radio or television available (with spare
9. Subscribe to text alert services from local or state governments to
receive alerts in the event of a disaster. Parents should sign up for their
school district emergency alert system.
During and After a Disaster: How to Reach Friends, Loved Ones & Emergency
1. If you have a life-threatening emergency, call 9-1-1. Remember that you
cannot currently text 9-1-1. If you are not experiencing an emergency, do
not call 9-1-1. If your area offers 3-1-1 service or another information
system, call that number for non-emergencies.
2. For non-emergency communications, use text messaging, e-mail, or social
media instead of making voice calls on your cell phone to avoid tying up
voice networks. Data-based services like texts and emails are less likely to
experience network congestion. You can also use social media to post your
status to let family and friends know you are okay. In addition to Facebook
and Twitter, you can use resources such as the American Red Cross’s Safe and
3. Keep all phone calls brief. If you need to use a phone, try to convey
only vital information to emergency personnel and/or family.
4. If you are unsuccessful in completing a call using your cell phone, wait
ten seconds before redialing to help reduce network congestion.
5. Conserve your cell phone battery by reducing the brightness of your
screen, placing your phone in airplane mode, and closing apps you are not
using that draw power, unless you need to use the phone.
6. If you lose power, you can charge your cell phone in your car. Just be
sure your car is in a well-ventilated place (remove it from the garage) and
do not go to your car until any danger has passed. You can also listen to
your car radio for important news alerts.
7. Tune into broadcast television and radio for important news alerts. If
applicable, be sure that you know how to activate the closed captioning or
video description on your television.
8. If you do not have a hands-free device in your car, stop driving or pull
over to the side of the road before making a call. Do not text on a cell
phone, talk, or “tweet” without a hands free device while driving.
9. Immediately following a disaster, resist using your mobile device to
watch streaming videos, download music or videos, or play video games, all
of which can add to network congestion. Limiting use of these services can
help potentially life-saving emergency calls get through to 9-1-1.
10. Check http://www.ready.gov regularly to find other helpful tips for
preparing for disasters and other emergencies
Colorado as a Case Study in Emergency Preparedness for Diverse Populations
Over the last few years The Colorado Emergency Response Division has
bettered its ability to adequately prepare for emergencies in a way that
included everyone, including people with disabilities and people who speak
different languages. Problems initially identified included language
barriers, lack of understanding and institutional lingo between the various
state, federal, and local emergency management agencies and planners, and
the allocation of limited resources. Colorado “preparedness communities”
were established, and several local meetings with interested people and
organizations were held. The unique perspectives and needs of the individual
communities were specifically taken into account, and the exercise of
forming personal relationships formed between all of the parties was crucial
to establish the trust and communication necessary for a successful
preparedness plan. The local agencies preferred to be asked what they needed
rather than told, and communities wished to be involved in the emergency
planning process from the beginning, rather than only being joined in midway
Full Story: Rachel Coles, How Colorado Develops Preparedness with Diverse
Populations, Emergency Management, July 14, 2011, available at