How to Prepare (Your Phone) for the Next Natural Disaster

When the next storm rolls in, your phone can be incredibly useful—even lifesaving.
In the aftermath of Hurricane Michael—the worst storm to ever strike the Florida panhandle and the worst the U.S. has seen since 1992—a lot of us are thinking about disaster preparedness. Most experts will rightly tell you to focus on supplies, shelter, and safety. But don’t forget about technology. In an emergency situation, whether it’s an earthquake or a hurricane, your phone can be incredibly useful—even lifesaving.

Here’s how to make sure your phone is ready for any disaster.

1. Take Pictures and Screenshots

Use the camera on your phone to snap photos of your driver’s license, birth certificate, and other family documents, then take screenshots of important things like evacuation instructions and directions. Your pictures will act like digital copies if any of those documents end up damaged, and your screenshots are still available if you lose access to the internet. Oh, and take pictures of your house and valuable possessions in case you need to file an insurance claim.

2. Download These Apps

When disaster strikes, communication is critical. And apps can help. Take this one from FEMA: it provides real-time updates about emergencies in your area, along with safety tips and shelter locations near you. If phone service is spotty, this app from Zello can help. It transforms your phone into a walkie-talkie and works across older networks, like 2G, when nothing else is available. In 2017, during Hurricanes Harvey and Irma, many people used Zello to stay in touch and organize search and rescue efforts.

3. Buy a Battery Pack

In 2017, Hurricane Maria left nearly the entire island of Puerto Rico without electricity for almost a year. That’s a nightmare for many reasons, but especially considering most of us can’t go 12 minutes without checking our phone. It doesn’t hurt to have a solar-powered battery pack handy, so you can charge your phone without a power outlet.

4. Waterproof Your Stuff

With phones becoming more water-resistant, you might think yours could survive a hurricane or flood, but phones are only built to withstand a limited amount of moisture (think a coffee spill or a quick drop in the tub). Get a waterproof case, or if you can, a waterproof pouch so you can protect both your phone and a few other valuables (wallet, passport, etc).

5. Make a Digital Copy of Your Phone

It’s best to create a backup before the storm hits in case your phone gets lost or damaged during the chaos. Those photos you took of your documents and possessions will be safe and secure in the cloud. 

6. Turn on Power Saver/Low Power Mode

During an evacuation, you’ll need your phone to stay connected and up to date, but all the extra usage can drain your battery. Power-saving mode can help; it dims screen brightness and turns off low-priority features such as automatic updates and visual effects, saving your battery for features you need most.

7. Put Your Phone in Airplane Mode

If cellular networks go down, your phone will do everything it can to reconnect. The result: your battery will drain faster. Airplane mode stops this process and helps you conserve power. Just keep in mind, it also blocks all communication to your phone, so use the feature selectively (otherwise no one will be able to get in touch with you or vice versa). If you have access to Wi-Fi, apps like Facebook Messenger and WhatsApp can help you talk to friends and family without a cellular connection, so you can still use them in Airplane mode.

8. Don’t Forget Your Four-Legged Friends

If you’re a pet owner, download the ASPCA mobile app for information, notifications, and a place to store your pet’s health records. If your pet goes missing, you can request a pet recovery kit or create a digital flyer to share across the internet. If you have to evacuate, take your pets with you—please don’t leave them behind. For more tips about pet safety and preparedness, check out this article from the ASPCA.

9. Text Instead of Call

When you need to contact a friend or loved one, turn off Airplane mode and send a text. It’s quicker than a call and uses less battery.

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