Sustainable NE Seattle

Connecting for a sustainable community

In an emergency we shouldn't ignore cell phones as a way to communicate. Towers and cell phone systems are designed to withstand seismic and wind events. Even if the systems get overloaded initially, they will come back. Some ideas:

  • Exchange cell phone numbers with other volunteers ahead of time, particularly with those at hubs. We might use the bubble-pack radios to exchange phone numbers. 
  • Cell phones are easily rechargeable from motor vehicles. If we lose power for days, we can still fire up a car and get a charge. 
  • The Auxiliary Communications System relies on message forms prepared by volunteers and at hubs. Instead of laboriously dictating message contents how about taking a picture of the completed form and sending it attached to a text message. Text messages are better than calls since texts only require a one-way connection. 

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Thanks, David. These are valuable suggestions.  

just wondering..

Do the cell phone towers and cell systems have back up power for when the power is out for days or weeks?

or less for that matter??

I'm not clear on this.. 

I've heard only telephone landlines have their own separate power that must remain on for at least three days.. 

(can't use wireless handsets when the power goes out - have you noticed you have to plug them in?)

The old fashioned conventional landline system has its own separate (battery) backup power systems and uses very little power..

Do the all these cell towers around town and the associated switching systems really have backup??


Yes, the vast majority of the towers have APUs that start automatically in the event of a failure. And the towers are built to withstand earthquakes. 

One of the issues in an unusual event is everyone goes to pick up their telephone, land line or cell. That will dump any system for a time. 

Landlines have a power system independent of the power grid BUT most modern household phones require their own power, particularly cordless phones. What would be best is an old fashioned Bell System desktop phone. It gets its power from the phone system. Try and find one.

I was in San Francisco in '89. You could make long distance calls, but local calls were problematic for a while. We arranged for my mother in Seattle to be the link between folks in SF. That was 23 years ago and things might have changed technologically. 

I think the key is to have several options and know how to use each one. I suspect that if cell and landline systems "dump" they will come back by the time that CERTs and hubs deploy. 

yeah.. cordless or wireless - same thing.. have to plug them in!  

We've got three of the "old fashioned" wired kind - but not Bells.. bought last one at Rite Aid last year.. the other two from Fred Meyers several years ago.  They're easily available if you look..  and they don't require utility power at all - just operational landlines.. seem a bit more resilient to me than anything wireless. unless it can broadcast long distances..

Personally, I don't really lke wireless anything due to the health issues,  but got ham license and radio strictly for emegency stuff..


More cell phone information from Storm Sandy in MacWorld February 2013

Ways to keep cell phones and devices charged when power is out

  • Automobile charger
  • Auxiliary battery packs (not very common)
  • Laptop with charged battery
  • Turn off Wi-Fi mode so phone isn't scanning for signal that isn't there. 
  • Turn off Bluetooth
  • Turn down brightness to lowest visible level
  • At night, power off entirely or go to Airplane Mode
  • If you have a power source for charging, disconnect the device as soon as it's charged so as not to waste the charging resource. 

If the cell phone system is operational it is possible to get Internet service, but that is a subscription option with the carrier like Verizon MiFi. 

It is easier to get a TEXT out via a cell than it is a call, since it uses less bandwidth. Here is a good article that describes to to activate Google, email, twitter and facebook using only texting:


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