FCC/FEMA Emergency Communications Tips

The Federal Communications Commission (FCC) and the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) offer the following tips for communities to seamlessly and securely communicate during emergency operations to keep residents safe, secure, and resilient during times of crisis.

Preparing for an emergency

Traditional telephone service may work during electric power outages, though you may need to use a “corded” phone. Many cordless home phones rely on electric power to operate.

Know what type of landline telephone service you have.

Is your telephone service provided over broadband connections, such as Voice over Internet Protocol (VoIP), or is it a traditional landline telephone service, which is typically powered over copper telephone lines? Ask your service provider if you are unsure.

Broadband-enabled telephone service will not work during electric outages without a battery or other backup power source. If you have a battery, test it periodically, understand how long it should last, learn how to replace it, and consider having a spare that you can charge before a storm. If you do not have a battery or other backup power source, ask your provider where you can purchase one.
If your electricity goes out, and you don’t need to use the phone right away, you can disconnect the battery to prevent it from draining and plug it back in when you need to receive or make calls. Once power is restored, plug the battery back in so it can recharge.

Charge Your Wireless Phone, Laptop, or Tablet if a Storm Is Coming

Also consider keeping extra batteries, a solar charger, and/or a car charger on hand.

In the event of a power outage, you may be able to connect to the internet using secure WiFi, if it is available nearby. You may also be able to use your charged laptop or tablet to recharge wireless phones by connecting the devices with a USB cable, though doing so may drain your computer’s battery power.

Be Prepared to Monitor News and Emergency Broadcasts During Power Outages 

Consider a battery-powered radio or portable television to check news broadcasts for emergency information during power outages. Make sure you have charged or fresh batteries if needed. You can also purchase a solar-powered or hand-cranked radio, which may also be used to charge cell phones, though you should first check the instruction manual.

Create a Family Emergency Communication Plan

Go to Ready.gov and create a family emergency communication plan.

Sign Up to Receive Alerts and Warnings 

Sign up to receive alerts and warnings to your phone or mobile device from your local government, school, and/or workplace. These local alerts can augment the Wireless Emergency Alerts you receive over your mobile phone and the Emergency Alert System alerts you receive over television and radio.

Create an “In Case of Emergency” Contact on Your Wireless Phone

Store at least one emergency contact under the name “In Case of Emergency” or “ICE” for all mobile phones and devices. This will help someone identify your emergency contact if needed. Enter household and emergency contact information into all household members’ mobile phones or devices.

Inform Your Emergency Contact of Medical Issues

Inform your emergency contact of any medical issues or other requirements you may have.

Create an Emergency Contacts List on Mobile Phones and Devices

Create a group list on all mobile phones and devices of the people you would need to communicate with if there was an emergency or disaster.

Write Down Important Phone Numbers 

Write down phone numbers for emergency services, utilities, service providers, medical providers, veterinarians, insurance companies, and other services.

Make Sure Family and Other Contacts Know How to Send Mobile Texts 

Ensure household members and your out-of-town contacts know how to text if they have a mobile phone or device.

Download the FEMA App

Download the FEMA App (available in English and Spanish) for disaster resources and to receive weather alerts, safety tips, and reminders so you can have peace of mind and be ready for the unexpected. The FEMA App provides a customizable checklist of emergency supplies and directions to open shelters. You can also set reminders to take important steps to prepare your home and family for disasters, such as changing your smoke detector batteries and practicing fire escape plans. The FEMA App is available for download on the iTunes App Store and Google Play.

During an emergency

Limit Non-Emergency Phone Calls 

This will minimize network congestion and free up “space” for emergency communications. If you do need to make a call, try to keep it brief and only convey vital information to emergency personnel and/or family. Limiting calls also conserve cell phone battery power.

Try Texting in Non-Emergency Situations 

For non-emergencies, try text messaging from your wireless phone. Text messages to other wireless devices may go through when your call may not, though there may be a delivery delay during times of network congestion. (You can also text to 911 in certain locations, so check ahead on availability.)

Adjust Your Wireless Phone to Conserve Battery Power 

Check your wireless device or manual for ways to conserve battery power, such as dimming the brightness of your display screen and disabling certain applications. If you have difficulty accessing your wireless network, consider connecting to a WiFi service if your phone is WiFi-capable. If the wireless network in your area is damaged and you do not see any signal bars on your phone, consider turning your phone off to prevent the battery from draining as your phone seeks a usable wireless signal.

Call 911 Only for Emergencies 

Learn and use the designated number in your state for highway accidents or other non-life-threatening incidents.

Wait 10 Seconds Before Redialing Calls that Don’t Connect 

Redialing a wireless call multiple times in quick succession can increase network congestion, further limiting the ability of all users to place calls. If you must make a call, space out your call attempts.

If Evacuated, Forward Your Home Number to Your Wireless Phone 

If you have call forwarding on a landline phone at home, consider forwarding those calls to your wireless number in the event of an evacuation. This will help you continue to receive incoming calls to your home telephone number.

Visit the FCC website for additional information, including videos and downloadable public service announcements.

Interested in disaster response and coordination? MACo’s Summer Conference, “Resilient. Responsive…Ready,” will feature a session on how to best leverage state/local partnerships to ensure a more effective bridge to FEMA, especially for long-term incidents.

Building a Vertical Vision in Times of Crisis: Leveraging Federal and State Emergency Resources,” hosted by MACo’s Emergency Managers Affiliate, is scheduled for Thursday, August 19, 2021, from 2:30 pm – 3:30 pm at the Roland Powell Convention Center in Ocean City, Maryland.

Learn more about MACo’s Summer Conference: