Saturday, August 27, 2011

What's Your Cell Phone Backup Plan

In 2006 Congress passed legislation under the Warning Alert and Response Network Act (WARN) allowing the Federal government access to private cell phones to issue emergency warnings and alerts which resulted in the Personal Localized Alerting Network (PLAN). WARN requires cell phone provides to activate PLAN technology by April 2012. Participants that will offer PLAN prior to the deadline include Sprint, AT&T, Verizon, and T-Mobile.

PLAN allows authorized national, state or local government officials to send alerts via cell phone providers regarding public safety emergencies, such as a tornado or a terrorist threat. Cell phone providers push the alerts from cell towers to cell phones in the affected area. This technology ensures that emergency alerts do not get stuck in highly congested user areas.

PLAN enables government officials to target emergency alerts to specific geographic areas through cell towers which pushes the information to dedicated receivers in PLAN enabled cell phones. PLAN complements the existing Emergency Alert System implemented by the FCC and FEMA via media service providers.

Customers can opt out of the service but will still receive Presidential alerts even if their GPS locator is turned off. The PLAN technology will allow the messages to take precedence over regular phone calls or text messages so the alerts can get through. Messages will show up on the phone’s front screen, and arrive with a distinct ringtone or vibration. Three types of messages are included in PLAN: level 1 - messages from the President, level 2 - looming threats to safety, and level 3 - amber alerts about missing or abducted children. As of October 2010 the following cell phone providers participate in PLAN

During a natural disaster cell phone networks quickly get jammed and subscribers are unable to make phone calls. This happened recently with the earthquake that struck the east coast. During a disaster many people rely on cell phones or the internet. If your power is out your only other option is your cell phone. Government agencies are urging subscribers to send text messages instead of making phone calls during a natural disaster.

Using social media and text messages cannot replace voice communications and does not address the cell phone network load problems. If everyone is sending text messages that causes another increase in load and can cause delays in sending and receiving text messages. For people who don’t use social media or cell phones or people who live in rural areas where cell phone coverage is not available there is no way other for them to communicate. The U.S. needs to invest more money in technology to compete with other countries. Japan is working to use renewable energy for its cellphone tower network s with solar, wind or biomass which protects against power grid outages. Japan has also created a cooking pot that can cook food over a campfire and charge a cell phone at the same time which costs $300.

If cell phone companies can provide their executives with million dollar salaries, bonus and perks each year, saved money by transferring their customer services departments to India and other countries, decreased their level of customer service, and made some staff reductions, why can’t they spend more money to upgrade their networks to provide better service to subscribers and handle increased loads during a natural disaster.

Here are 6 tips to prepare for phone interruptions during a natural disaster:
1. Disaster Plan. Create a disaster plan and test it periodically.
2. Don’t wait. Don’t wait until the last minute to take action. Prepare in advance and stay calm. Execute your disaster plan to minimize further damages and safety issues.
3. Communication Plan. Develop a communication plan to contact friends and family and test periodically.
4. Satellite phone. If you live areas that experience frequent natural disasters consider purchasing or renting a satellite phone which connects to satellites in space. They provide functionality similar to cell phones such as voice, paging alerts, messaging service and internet access. Coverage can include the world or specific regions. Prices ranges from $200 to $5,000 for the phone plus talk time ranging from $0.15 to $2.00 per minute.
5. Smartphones Apps. Use emergency communication smartphone applications such as Life360, Guardly, Emergency Distresss Beacon and Quake SOS to connect to family and friends or emergency service providers to identify your location and confirm your safety.
6. Emergency Alerts. Sign up to receive emergency alerts with your city or state government, local school or university, utility company or weather service. You can also sign up for the Emergency Email and Wireless Network to receive alerts from local, state and federal government agencies.

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