For Hurricane Communications, Get a Wired Phone

My husband and I are among the lucky east-coasters who didn’t lose power during Hurricane Sandy. But if we had, we would have been prepared to communicate with the outside world through a handy-dandy, old school device that doesn’t need to be charged, as a cell phone does. It’s called a wired (in our case, trimline) telephone.

The wired phone is a miracle of 1970s engineering that runs on power from the phone line.  And, as you may have noticed, the phone grid never goes down because the phone company operates its own generators. Phone service goes down, because falling trees take out individual lines; but the grid has never gone out in my lifetime. (My friend Ellen Greenfield, author of a great novel set in New York’s famous 1977 blackout says that it was hard to make calls during the blackout because so many people were trying, but you could eventually get through.)

If you have a land line with a wireless (i.e., cordless) phone, this trick doesn’t work because—as you can see from the picture of our answering machine/cordless phone set-up at right—these depend on a base, which depends on electricity delivered through the standard power grid. That’s why, just before Sandy hit, I took our phone feed line out of the answering machine and plugged it into our back-up wired phone. Presto, uninterrupted service!

To take advantage of this miracle of modern technology, which costs less than $10 at your local drugstore or Radio Shack, you need to have an operating land line. Some large number of households don’t, but perhaps as climate change accelerates, they’ll come back into fashion. (I’m pretty sure you can get an emergency-use only line that allows a few calls per month at a relatively low cost.)

So if you’re in that generational sweet spot where you still have a land line but don’t know about this technology, a word to the wise: Keep one of these babies in the same place as your emergency stash of candles, matches, flashlights, and spare batteries.

And stay safe; because this big-storm trend is only going to get worse.