This is the first of a series of short articles about things in our lives we take for granted but which we need to consider in our preparing.
Today’s topic is the telephone. Not that fancy smart phone you have in your pocket, and not the multi-station cordless system you have at home, either.
We’re talking about really simple and basic hard-wired phones. You know, landline phones that are powered from the phone line itself – the type of phone we all used to have. Phones with no caller ID or other display, no built-in answering machine, no memories, no multiple lines, no built-in intercoms; phones with nothing at all except a dial and handset.
You probably have a phone or two like that somewhere at home at present, and maybe you’ve sometimes looked at it disdainfully and thought you really must get around to junking it. Don’t do that! Keep it as part of your emergency ‘power out’ kit.
The value of this type of phone is that in a power outage, all our cordless phones will die. In a severe power outage, the cell phone towers will die – maybe not immediately, because many have backup batteries or onsite generators to give them some minutes or even hours of power, but definitely later if not sooner. Cell phone service also has a mixed record when it comes to availability. Some severe events have seen the cell phone towers all massively overloaded, making it impossible to place or receive phone calls.
Note that in such cases, you should try sending text messages. They use a different part of the cell towers’ bandwidth, and can usually get sent and received even when there’s no dial tone or ability to make voice calls.
In a disruptive situation, our landlines may prove to be more resilient.
A word of warning, though. You not only need an old-fashioned phone, you need an old-fashioned ‘POTS’ (Plain Old Telephone Service) type landline too. If you get your regular phone service through your cable or internet company, or if you get your regular phone service through a fiber optic line, then you are again relying on electricity to drive your phone service at your dwelling, and also relying on electricity through all the electronic switching and processing that goes on, invisibly to you, between the side of your dwelling and the central office where the phone signal is patched into the regular ‘old fashioned’ phone network.
If you no longer have one, we’re not necessarily saying you should spend extra to maintain a POTS type phone line at your residence. Depending on your need to communicate, and who else you’d wish to communicate with, maybe you’re better off with radio transceivers.
But we are saying that if you do still have a regular POTS phone line into your home, be sure to have a regular ‘old fashioned’ phone to use with it, too. Amazon of course offer several types of traditional phone, and currently a standard white color corded phone is showing as only $10.
Note that if you have a very old phone that is now your emergency phone, it is appropriate to test it out once every half year or so. Some of the electrical components inside it (particularly electrolytic capacitors) start to fail after about 20 years, and the last thing you want is to discover your super-emergency phone has failed, unnoticed, at some time in the past.
Come to think of it, maybe spending $10 for a new phone that will be more likely to be trouble-free for the next decade or two might be a good idea!
One final comment, which lifts this out of the category of a little thing and into the category of a more appreciable investment. We know of many corporations that have issued all their key executives and other essential personnel with satellite phones. No matter what happens to the cell phone towers and the landlines, the satellites up in the sky are likely to remain operational, making a satellite phone probably the most fault-tolerant and guaranteed to work of all communication systems.
We’ll write about satellite phones separately, but for now, a quick heads-up is that the Iridium phones have consistently tested to be the best, the several times we’ve tested them and the other brands/services. There’s no need to get the latest model with the most features. A refurbished older model works just as well for most purposes and situations.
Satellite phones need a direct view of the sky. If you’re in an apartment building with your windows facing out onto other apartment buildings, your reception may be marginal. But if you can go outside somewhere where you can see much of the sky above you, free of obstructions, then they’ll work perfectly, everywhere.