Note to Readers: This article was written in anticipation of Hurricane Irene but is relevant if you are preparing for Hurricane Sandy.
If you live anywhere on the East Coast of the United States, you are bracing for Hurricane Irene to hit. I can’t count how many times predictions have been made for “The Storm of the Century”, but this time they might be right.
I live outside Philadelphia, an area directly in the projected path of the storm. So our family will be hunkering down in the basement this weekend, unless Irene graciously turns and heads out to sea.
Local news channels are warning that we might be without electricity and water for days and advising what to do ahead of the storm. We are also checking Ready.gov, FEMA’s website filled with advice to prepare for disaster ahead of time. In addition to instructing you to buy the necessary supplies, such as food, water, flashlights and batteries, FEMA suggests some tech tips, including adding ICE numbers to your phone (see, ICE: Tech to Save Your Life) and making sure you and your family members understand how to contact each other if disaster strikes.
How Tech Can Help
As some people learned during this week’s earthquake (yes, we’ve had our hands full here on the East Coast), cell phone service may be unavailable, but text messages can usually get through. If you’ve never sent or received a text message, take a few minutes today to figure out how to do it.
Here is a handy guide that will walk you through the process: howtotextmessage.com. If you need help with this, ask a friend or neighbor to show you. Don’t be embarrassed. We all had to learn how to text at some point.
Send a practice text to a loved one and have them send one back. If you don’t have a QWERTY keyboard on your phone, typing is a pain. For example, you will have to press the number 7 four times to make an S appear. But in an emergency, texting might be your best way of communicating.
Don’t worry about signing up for a text message plan with your cell phone carrier yet. A text message only costs about 25¢ without a plan (that’s 25¢ each for sending and for receiving), so unless you get hooked, there’s no need for a plan.
If you lose electricity you may still be able to access the Internet. You can use your 3G signal to connect with a smartphone or a 3G iPad, assuming your local cell phone tower is still working and the network is operational. Wi-Fi won’t be an option for you because your router won’t work without electricity, but you should be able to connect to the Internet over 3G.
This means you may be able to use email, Facebook, Twitter, Google+ and Skype to check on others and find out the status of the storm. You can also check local news sites for updates on storm damage, flooded roads and current weather conditions.
If you have an iPad with 3G, you’re in great shape to stay connected. Unless the cell phone carriers are completely disabled or your nearest tower goes down, you should be able to surf the net on your large screen with your extensive battery life and stay online a long time.
3. Weather Apps
If you don’t have a weather app with satellite images on your smartphone, you should get one now. The weather app that comes with the iPhone just won’t cut it during a hurricane.
Dozens of weather apps are available for the iPhone and Android phones. My two favorites are Weatherbug and The Weather Channel, both free. Here are the links:
For dedicated storm trackers, check out hurricane apps for your device. I just downloaded Hurricane Tracker HD for $2.99 from the iTunes App Store. This app should keep me informed during the storm with Real Time Updates, Satellite Images, Push Notifications and Atlantic Tropical Discussions.
Even if you can’t stay connected to the Internet, a cell phone or iPad can serve you well as a flashlight. You don’t even need a smartphone.
4. Conserving Power
While it may be tempting to while away the hours playing Angry Birds while the electricity is out, try to avoid temptation. You don’t know how long you will be without power and you may need your device for vital communication later. Until you lose electricity, feel free to play Angry Birds, stream Netflix or commiserate with your friends on Facebook as much as you want. Just keep your devices plugged in so you’re not using battery power.
When the lights go out and you’re truly hunkered down, conserve battery power on your smartphone or iPad by turning off Wi-Fi and Bluetooth. Close any apps you won’t be using. Try to make the battery last as long as possible because you don’t know how long you will be without power and you don’t want your battery to die when you need it most.
One device you don’t have to worry about? A Kindle. If you Turn Off Wireless (Menu => Turn Off Wireless), your battery should last for weeks. If you have a battery operated booklight, you can catch up on all those books you have been planning to read. Of course this works with Dead Tree Books too!
During a natural disaster, the most important concern is to stay safe. Use tech to learn about current weather conditions, follow the news, stay in touch with loved ones, and perhaps be entertained. Just don’t forget to charge your phone before you lose power!
Let’s hope Irene, the goddess of peace, lives up to her name…
Are you dealing with Irene this weekend? Have you used tech during disasters? Let us know in the Comments Section below!
* Image by NASA Goddard Space Flight Center
** Image by ccarlstead