What Not To Do In An Earthquake – Grab Your Cell Phone

by TheWritingCowboy

When a quake hits, do you know what to do - and what not to do? Resist making non-emergency phone alls.

I live in an area where earthquakes are as common as sunrise. You get used to most of them, except for those huge ones that rattle your nerves, destroys things and leaves people hurt or worse.
Nonetheless, living in earthquake country means you have to be prepared. For example, I’m also a volunteer Red Cross worker, and a volunteer with my local fire department. I’ve got a emergency kit in my house and in my car. I’ve bolted things down and done other things to prepare for a quake. But, surprisingly, many people don’t bother preparing. They don’t even take the time to learn about things they SHOULD NOT DO, such a using your cell phone.

Natural Reaction, But Wrong

It’s a natural reaction during an emergency –you quickly grab your cell phone and call home to make sure your loved ones are safe.  Or, you frantically place a call to your friends to share the experience during the quake – the rocking and rolling, the aftershocks, etc.

While that reaction may be natural, it can make a bad situation – busy signals and calls not getting through – even worse.  During an emergency the sheer volume of calls can overload a cell phone carrier, making your cell so much dead weight. It’s not unusual for a cell phone company to experience triple digit call volume when a quake or other natural disaster hits. The problem is compounded when people who can’t get through keep redialing, creating what cell phone companies call ‘system block’ or plain old ‘system overload.’

Conflicting Directions

But even the cell phone companies can be confused as to what to do.  During a past quake out here Sprint, for example, cautioned against redialing your cell phone when you can’t get through to someone on the first try.  But a statement by Verizon recommended just the opposite, suggesting callers keep redialing until they can get through in the hope that as time goes by the volume of calls will diminish.

One thing all phone companies agree on is there are a number of steps callers can take to get a call through.

  1. Use text messaging – it takes up less bandwidth so calls have a better chance of getting through. And when the phone lines clear up, the text message will likely be able to get through sooner than phone calls via a landline or cell phone (remember, in many quakes if a cell tower falls there won’t be any cell calls going through).
  2.  Some carriers offer “push to talk” services. These services bypass cell phone towers, and operate from one point to another point so are less likely to experience problems during a quake. However, one limitation is that they work only when talking to someone within a few miles from where you’re calling.
  3.  If you have a smart phone, like Apple’s iPhone or Samsung Galaxy, you can try emailing messages through the phones web browser.  Email also uses less bandwidth.

Most experts agree that one of the wisest things you can do during an emergency, is NOT to use your cell phone – or land line for that matter – unless you absolutely have to. It may mean going against your instincts, but it could be vital as first responders and other emergency officials try to communicate important information.

Updated: 08/11/2014, TheWritingCowboy
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DerdriuMarriner on 04/09/2022

Revisiting your wizzley made me think of something else that I'd meant to ask the first time around.

Would there be that same system block or system overload if one used handhelds or laptops for emailing instead of trying phone dialing or messaging?

DerdriuMarriner on 07/22/2017

TheWritingCowboy, Does the car emergency kit have everything that the house kit does and vice versa?

Telesto on 08/14/2014

That's very interesting, thank you. It makes sense, too, about the 'phone calls.

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