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Who you gonna call? Phonebusters! November 30, 2013

Posted by ourfriendben in homesteading, wit and wisdom.
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Our friend Ben is a self-professed Luddite, aka a techno-idiot, so I may not know what I’m talking about here. But I was horrified to read an article yesterday that stated categorically that landline phones (the ones that attach to the wall with cords) were going to be phased out in the next three or so years. That would leave only cellphones and smartphones as means of communication.

On the surface, you might ask, so what? But the “what” comes in if there’s a power outage. Today, if that happens, your cellphone/smartphone goes out, but your landline phone stays on, so you can still call for help in a disaster or a medical emergency, or check in with your loved ones to make sure they’re okay. That’s why we’re advised to have both. If we only have mobile phones in the very near future, and the power goes out, we’ll be totally cut off from any way to communicate with anybody by phone.

Again, you might think, so what? But what if you’re caught in an ice storm and are trapped in your house, unable to drive to seek help, heat, medications, or supplies? What if the power’s down because of a Hurricane Sandy or Hurricane Katrina or a tornado, and you need to tell your family you’re alive, or see if they are?

If I’ve been misinformed about this, please let me know. I’d appreciate it! But if I’m correctly informed, I’d love to hear if there are any other communication options that will still work when the power goes out.

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1. Daphne - November 30, 2013

I’ve been in two disasters this last year. The Boston Marathon and the Colorado flood. With the first was the Marathon. And there was so much cell traffic that it took the service down. Eventually they took the service down for fear of a cell phone setting off another bomb. We got back to my nephew’s apartment and I wanted to call my husband to let him know I was OK. But they are the new generation that doesn’t have a land line. What saved the day? The internet. We could still email out. And Skype.

We were at my parents’ house for the flood. Interestingly enough they had been having phone trouble all summer long and the phone was out before I even got there. So we never had phone service. They live in the mountains and there is not much cell service. I could get one bar on occasion. I could probably have texted out, but couldn’t maintain a conversation on it. Again to the rescue was the internet. The power had gone out, but they have a generator with enough propane for over a week. Power going out is a normal thing there and my dad actually keeps the internet up for the neighbors. The T1 lines go into his house and he had a radio transmitter that relays the internet to all the neighbors.

And if the power goes out in my house? Well I’ll lose my phone. It is wireless and needs power to operate. I really ought to get one that doesn’t for an emergency. Though what I’d really love is to be able to use my solar power to power some of my house. As it is it is hooked up to the grid and can’t power my house in an outage. I’d love a switch where I could change how the power is routed.

Oh and the best source of information in a disaster (and sometimes misinformation) is twitter.

Hi Daphne! Thank you so much for checking in with a techno-savvy perspective. I’m so horrified that you were at the Boston Marathon; surely the Colorado flood would have been more than enough. Thank God you and yours were safe! Idiot that I am, I didn’t realize that if solar was connected to the grid it went out when the grid went down. (Duh!) We sadly can’t do solar here, as our house is completely surrounded by extremely tall trees, but I’ve fantasized about getting a windmill and a propane generator for years. I just need to win the lottery!

2. Frater Zee - December 1, 2013

CB Radio is the best off-grid comm system at present. A huge variety of gear is available — handheld (portable) units, boxes for in-car installation, indoor units for home. Look in Radio Shack, Amazon, etc.

Reliable range of a typical CB radio is 10 to 20 miles, but transmission over 100 miles is possible under ideal conditions (good weather, low interference).

CB Channel 9 is monitored (supposedly) by a 911 call center, for “emergency” calls — highway accidents, etc.

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Citizens_band_radio

Solar-powered (photovoltaic, PV) battery chargers can recharge 12 volt car batteries, and/or small (AAA to D size) cells. Cost in $20 to $400 range. These are stand-alone units, with no connection to a home’s wiring, and not intended to replace AC grid power. They are “small” (eg, a 2 ft x 2 ft PV panel). If your “shady” plot has at least one sunny spot, you could put a small PV battery-charger there — eg on roof of greenhouse or chicken coop. The chix will cluck with solar enthusiasm !

PV-recharged batteries have MANY uses — flashlights, radios (CB and other), portable computers, WiFi routers, power tools, etc.

So CB radio(s) and PV battery charger(s) will (in combination) make a good starter off-grid system for communication and (a tiny amount of) emergency power. It is easily adapted and/or expanded for specific needs. Cheeri-O.

Thanks so much, Frater Zee!

3. Sarah - December 2, 2013

Of course, I asked Susie to look into the question of the end of landlines. And to our mutual horror, she was able to confirm your information: here’s a link to an article in Phys.org http://phys.org/news/2013-11-eyes-phase-out-network.html
While I love my smartphone. I will never give up our landline (with an emergency non-wireless old school phone). As you say, essential in an emergency and can’t beat it for clear reception.

Aaugh!!! But bless you and Susie for checking on this. It will certainly have an impact in this area, where the Amish and conservative Mennonites rely on public phones for communication. I wonder if we’ll soon see them riding in their buggies with a cellphone clapped to their ear?!


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