In Case Of Emergency, Can You Call For Help?

Like many things in life, we only come to fully appreciate something once we no longer have it.  With that in mind, I wanted to share an experience in the hope that it may help someone else out in the future.

In late 2012, our company had an office an Manhattan and toward the end of October, we started hearing about a new hurricane that was expected to travel up the Atlantic Seaboard.  Some of our employees, including myself, lived in mandatory evacuation zones and left the city ahead of the store.  Others weren't required to evacuate and decided to stay behind and ride it out.

It's in these situations where you really find out how prepared you are for an emergency.  In the days before the storm, bottled water, D batteries, and other necessities sold out in virtually all of Manhattan.  Further inland, big box stores sold out of emergency generators and gas stations started rationing fuel.  In these cases some advanced planning can literally be a life saver.

As the storm approached, Con Edison turned off the steam system in lower Manhattan which provides heat and hot water to many buildings downtown.  And as the storm surge flooded the streets and everything underground, the power outages started.  Inland, trees were uprooted and took down power lines leaving millions without power.

After the storm passed, it would take days or weeks for utilities to be restored and that's when most find that their emergency supplies are lacking in one way or another.  When the power went out, the carrier's cell towers started running off of emergency battery backups which eventually died.  Other towers were damaged by the storm and went offline immediately.  The day after Sandy hit the East Coast, according to the FCC Chairman and based on data from the carriers, 25 percent of the nation's wireless companies' cell sites were not operational in 158 counties in 10 states from Virginia to Massachusetts.  Cable operators reported similar outages with 25 percent of consumers without broadband Internet meaning anyone with a microcell also lost their cell service [source].  If the aftermath, it took more than a week before service was mostly restored and even longer for those who were most affected.

Fortunately, the people we knew in New York City didn't experience any emergencies that could have been devastating without cell phone service to call 911.  But even still, without the ability to use your phone, it was difficult to get updated information about the storm and to contact their families to let them know they were all right.  Fortunately, someone did have a Wilson Sleek which proved to be the difference between being cutoff from the world, and being connected.

With the power out, the Sleek's ability to be powered by a USB port or an optional battery pack proved to be incredibly useful.  Without the Sleek, there was no cell service in parts of lower Manhattan for days, but with the Sleek, their cell phone was able to connect to a more distant tower giving them the ability to make calls and send texts to their family letting them know they were ok.  If there had been an injury or other emergency, it could have saved their life.

The cellular outages caused by Superstorm Sandy were so widespread that the FCC held hearings to determine if anything can be done to minimize issues from these large storms in the future.  While Sandy was unique and hopefully we won't see the likes of her for some time to come, it doesn't take a superstorm to make cell service the difference between a speedy resolution or a long nightmare or even between life and death.  You may be on a road trip and your car breaks down in an area with no cell reception.  People get lost in a blizzard or go off the road and need help.  Hurricanes routinely interrupt cellular service.  Or you may be hiking or camping in a remote area and get hurt to the point where you need help.  Whether you're in an area with a poor signal or mother nature interrupts cell service, it's always good to have a backup plan.

So before the next superstorm, blizzard, or heatwave comes and wreaks havoc on our infrastructure, put together an emergency kit so you won't need to scramble for batteries or water at the last minute.  Here's our list of 10 things that should be in your kit:

  1. Water, at least one gallon per person per day.  Plan for at least 3 days worth.
  2. Food for each person for 3 days. Make sure it's things that you don't need to cook and if you need tools to open the packaging, like a can opener, make sure you have that too.
  3. Flashlights with extra batteries.  A backup hand-crank flashlight is also good for extended power outages.
  4. Radio, AM/FM/Weather bands with extra batteries, or a hand crank version.
  5. First Aid Kit.
  6. Cell Phone, charger, and an inverter or solar charger.
  7. Sleek 4G cell phone signal booster, Home Accessory Kit, and Battery Pack with AA batteries.
  8. Whistle and flares to signal for help.
  9. Trash bags, duct tape, napkins/tissues/toilet paper, moist towelettes, blankets & hand warmers.
  10. Any prescriptions or over the couter drugs you take.

For more information, check out http://www.ready.gov/.