Today's smart phones can do just about everything, but when a blizzard, hurricane, or other disruptive weather condition threatens to trap you without power, the device's most important job is to act as a lifeline.
In the aftermath of Hurricane Sandy in October 2012, thousands of ConsumerReports.org subscribers in Connecticut, New Jersey, and New York—three of the states hardest hit by Sandy—told us about their experiences in the storm. With their feedback in mind here are 8 ways you and your cell phone can be primed to handle a weather disaster. (And here is more information for keeping your family safe during winter storms.)
Keep your cell phone plugged into an AC outlet at all times. That way if there's a power outage, you'll have a hundred percent battery on your cell phone. If your family has several phones, use only one and keep the others turned off until needed.
Samsung and LG phones both have a mode that shuts down all but essential functions, potentially stretching battery life for several days. You'll find the switch in the notifications bar. Switch them on the second you lose power.
If you don't have such a phone, turn off auto brightness in the display settings and set display brightness to 20 percent. Make sure display time-out is set for 30 seconds or less. Open your email and social network apps, such as Facebook, and set them for less frequent notifications.
If you lose power, don't waste your phone's precious energy reserves posting pictures of your harrowing situation. You can update your friends after you get the power back.
If you can't replace the battery—on an iPhone, for instance—you can get a charging case (juice pack) that extends the battery life. Make sure you have enough wall and car chargers for your family and for your devices, since you might want to recharge your phone at your sister's house while your spouse charges up a phone and tablet at work or on the commute. Consider getting a charger that uses solar power, batteries, or hand cranking instead of an outlet.
Don't be shy about taking devices elsewhere to recharge. Take a cue from the resourceful consumers in our survey: 65 percent of the respondents charged up in their cars, 44 percent at the homes of friends or family, 27 percent at their workplaces, 17 percent at public spaces such as malls, 10 percent at retailers, and 7 percent at service providers such as dentists or hairdressers.
If you can't get a voice call through, try sending a text. The data demands are smaller, and a text message might work when voice calls can't on networks that are congested or disabled. (If you have any family members who rarely or never text, teach them.)
If there's still time before the storm hits, consider getting a spare prepaid phone that uses a carrier other than your main one. You may just double your chance of getting signals if service in your area begins to fail.
If your home becomes a cellular dead zone, you can do what 18 percent of our survey respondents did: Seek out friends or family members who have service, or join the 10 percent of respondents who spent more time than usual at work to make calls or send e-mail.