The images are startling, and heartbreaking: entire towns destroyed by hurricanes, floods, tornadoes and other natural disasters. Families spending days in emergency shelters because it’s not safe to return to their homes. Even when a disaster doesn’t displace people from their homes, the aftermath of a major storm or other incident can create significant challenges. No power, communications, running water or other services can cause health risks or even lead people to take chances they wouldn’t normally take to access things they need, such as food or shelter.
While having an emergency plan and kit doesn’t guarantee you won’t experience property damage or have to leave your home in an emergency situation, it helps ensure you will stay safe and have everything needed to manage for a few days. However, putting together a kit with extra food, contact lists, radios, flashlights and a satellite phone won’t be useful if you don’t test everything before disaster strikes and confirm it’s in good working order.
Update and Rotate Supplies
Imagine being at home when a major storm hits. You feel confident you’ll be fine, because you had the foresight to create an emergency supply kit — only to discover when you pull out the kit that the food you packed away has all expired, and the rain gear for the kids is three sizes too small.
Emergency management experts recommend you update your emergency kit at least once a year. The easiest way to keep track of the items that need to be replenished or replaced is to create a “refresh list” to tape to the top of the container used to store the supplies. List everything in the kit that has an expiration date — including food and medication — and the date that it needs to be replaced. Check your emergency contact list as well, to make sure all of the numbers and other information is up to date. Since you probably won’t be looking at your emergency box regularly, set a reminder on your smartphone or mark your calendar to remember.
Test Electronic and Communication Devices
Not only is it important to make sure that perishable items in your kit are rotated regularly, you also want to make sure any electronics you keep in the kit actually work. If you need to make an emergency call, and your satellite phone doesn’t work, you may find yourself waiting hours or even days for help, which could prove fatal if you need medical attention.
When you replace expired food and medicine, take a few moments to test the flashlights and radios you keep in the kit. Make sure the batteries are fresh; store batteries outside of the device if you won’t be using them for some time, as that maintains their power. If you discover something doesn’t work (the bulb in the flashlight has burned out, for example) replace it immediately so it will work when you need it.
If you keep a satellite phone in your kit, which is always a good idea if you live in an especially storm-prone region where cell service could be disrupted, test that as well. If you choose to rent Iridium satellite phones (or any satellite phone) for emergency purposes, it’s reasonable to expect they will work, but always confirm everything is working as it should. To test an Iridium phone, go outside and extend the antenna completely so it points toward the sky. Turn the phone on, and when the green LED indicator lights to show you have located the network, dial 00-1-480-752-50105 and then the green “call” button. You’ll receive an immediate update on your phone’s operational status.
Other satellite phone networks also offer testing capabilities. If you have an Inmarstat phone, the process is the same, but the number to call is 870-776-999-999. For a Globalstar phone, simply dial #TEST from your phone to determine its operational status. If your free test call doesn’t go through or has other issues, you may not have service or airtime, or there could be a problem with the handset. The best thing to do is to contact your satellite phone provider and get help solving the problem.
Discovering your phone (or any of your other supplies) doesn’t work during an emergency adds a new element of danger — and stress — to an already difficult situation. Take a few minutes to test your supplies, and you can confidently face any disaster that comes your way.
About the Author: Georgia native Hobert Pruitt works with Global Satellite Communications, a leading satellite-phone provider. He strongly recommends everyone make an emergency preparedness plan, and talk to family and friends about their plans for managing emergency situations.