Monday, September 5, 2011

Radio and Landlines Best Ways to Communicate During Disasters

An interesting article appeared in today's New York Times about a radio DJ in the Catskills who acted as a conduit of information for people strapped throughout this area of New York.  Tropical Storm Irene skirted New York City, only to deluge mountainous New York and Vermont regions with tremendous amounts of rain, causing an estimated 1 billion dollars in damage to towns, farm land, and infrastructure such as roads and bridges--in upstate New York alone. Irene knocked out cell phone towers and the power, leaving battery-operated radios and landlines as the only means of communication for people who watched entire towns and bridges wash away with the force of the water, or who were stuck in the upper stories of their homes, unable to leave.

From the New York Times article:
"About 9 a.m., power and a number of the region’s cellphone towers were knocked out, leaving thousands without any way of communicating. WRIP’s backup generator kicked in, and the phone, an old-fashioned land line, started ringing. It has not stopped since.

For days Mr. Fink, who was soon joined by his colleague Joe Loverro, played matchmaker, soothing stranded residents, taking down numbers to relay to rescue workers and passing on information about makeshift shelters and closed roads. The two personalities and other WRIP employees guided listeners through the arrival of the National Guard, carrying emergency supplies, to towns like Prattsville, and kept people apprised of Gov. Andrew M. Cuomo’s trip on Wednesday to that community, which was devastated by the storm.

People listened, first from radios powered by batteries or generators, and later from their cars as they drove around to survey the damage, which may top $1 billion in New York alone, Mr. Cuomo has estimated.

'I don’t know any emergency numbers, and I really would love to know if anybody can tell me what is happening in Hensonville,” one frantic caller, Joan, said that Sunday. “My son I know is in his house, probably on the second floor, and the neighbors are in their house and I don’t know any number.'"
The article is worth reading, but it is also an important reminder of a few key things one should do to prepare for a disaster:
  • Make sure you include a radio, along with extra batteries if needed, in your emergency supplies kit or go bag.  Look into crank radios, which do not require batteries. 
  • Important radio stations to know: National Weather Service SW 162.4 to 162.5 AM 700; Office of Emergency Management AM 750 FM 89.8; remember to scan throughout the dial for both pirate and local stations which become information resource hubs.
  • Make an emergency contact list with useful numbers and information (such as radio stations, landline locations) and keep it in a waterproof pouch/bag and keep it in your go bag.  Most of us no longer remember numbers, and when your cell phone dies and the power is out, you won't have access to the information on it. Also note, that cell phones in areas outside of the disaster range should still work properly.
  • No power means no internet, no cable, no VOIP (voice over IP) phone lines. Landlines might be the only means of communication, so, if you do not have one, note down who in your vicinity has access to a real landline (not a cable or internet-based line) which will be useful when you need to get in touch with friends, family, and comrades.
  • Remember that pay phones should theoretically work after a disaster, so make sure you have quarters in your emergency supplies/go bag.  "0" for operator should also work, even if you do not have change on hand.
If you have questions on what other supplies you'll need in your go bag, or how to put one together, click here.

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