The growing number of cell phone users who are opting not to purchase a corded telephone for use at home may not get through when disaster calls.
For all the mobile convenience and whiz-bang technology that comes with today's cell phones, it might not be a bad idea to put on hold giving up that land line at home.
A good disaster preparedness strategy is to keep both land line service and a corded telephone -- at least as a back up to your cell and cordless phones.
The Consumer Electronics Association said this week, 17 percent of consumers who purchased wireless phones in the last 90 days are using them as their one and only telephone.
The shift away from land lines to wireless phones is particularly common among younger age groups, renters and singles, CEA said.
In an emergency, that could create a digital divide between those who can get through to family, friends and assistance and those who can't, some experts say.
Cell phones failed miserably following the Sept. 11, 2001 terrorists attacks, after the Great Northeast Blackout in the summer of 2003 and again following Hurricane Katrina and other storms.
Both calling traffic overloads and the sustained lack of power to cellular transmitter stations can turn even the best cell phone into an expensive paperweight.
While transmitter stations typically have backup power, the backup is limited to hours not days and a sustained power outage can render the stations -- and cell phones -- useless.
Even without a disaster, heavier than capacity traffic can trigger outages, as was often the case following 911.
Certainly, even land lines blown down by winds or submerged under water in the kind of flooding that swamped New Orleans may be useless, but when a power outage alone strikes, land lines generally continue working.
That's because phone companies have additional back-up power throughout their systems to continue sending electrical current through the phone lines to keep phones working, according to Jim Geier a consultant with Wireless-Nets, Ltd., a firm that aids companies implementing wireless mobile solutions.
Also, anyone who has owned a cell phone for any length of time knows the technology's additional drawbacks.
Cell phones' (and cordless home phones') reliance upon batteries make them unreliable in some situations. A dead battery in a power outage is a dead cell phone, unless you have another charging source, say, your car or an extra battery, Geier says.
In a prolonged power outage, batteries eventually fail, but as long as the phone lines are intact, the corded land line will keep working.
And just try conducting business on a cell phone or phoning home for the shopping list while driving down the highway. Cellular coverage remains spotty in areas and the more remote the area the larger the spots.
Let's face it, the long-time, ubiquitous nature of hard -wired phone lines make for better and more reliable reception, especially in emergencies. The need to communicate in emergencies is why many utility regulations mandate that land line service providers offer special affordable rates, sometimes called "Universal Lifeline" service, for qualifying households with very low incomes.
Cell phone providers make no such distinction except in declared emergency situations like that following Hurricane Katrina and other storms when cell operators gave away phones and service on a limited, temporary basis. Still, a phone after the fact could be too late.
When you need quick emergency road assistance, it's handy to have a cell phone onboard your car, but if you need to call 911, your luck could run out. Emergency 911 calls originating from your cell phone typically are directed not to the local police or fire department, as is the case with your land line, but to a county- or state-level emergency agency that can take precious time funneling the call to the proper agency.
"Emergency 911 services are limited over most cellular networks. Most cell phones don't have GPS (Global Positioning System, which uses sensors and satellites to track locations), so 911 operators can't pinpoint the location of the caller. Imagine someone having a heart attack alone in their home, and they call 911 from a cell phone. In the process of enduring pain and shortness of breath, this person is probably not going to be able to explain their location to the 911 operator. With land line phones, however, the 911 operator receives the exact address of the caller automatically and can dispatch applicable emergency services," Geier says.
According to "Making Sure 911 Emergency Help Is There if You Need It", just published by Consumer Reports about emergency communications during the aftermath of Hurricane Katrina, the Federal Communications Commission, which regulates interstate calls, mandated that by Dec. 31, 2005, wireless 911 callers' position information, accurate to within several hundred feet, must be available to local emergency responders.
Your cell phone maker or service provider can tell you if your phone is GPS-ready.
"At this writing, however, the wireless E911 system has not been fully deployed, so be prepared to provide location information when calling 911, which may be tricky at night or in an unfamiliar place," Consumer Reports advised.
The National Emergency Number Association offers additional information on emergency calls via all methods including Voice over Internet Protocol(VoIP) and satellite telephone services, as well as updates on E911 implementation by area.
"The lesson for consumers is that while a single telephone account could suffice for individual emergencies, no one service can currently be counted on to work in a widespread calamity. For that reason, you may want to hedge your bets by subscribing to more than one type of phone service," Consumer Reports advises.