Wednesday, September 3, 2014


Cell phones as tools
While a disaster rules


The other day there was a business continuity article by a marketing miss.

The woman pontificated - can a female "pontificate" given that it's something the (Catholic) pontiff does? - that when a storm approaches, load up on cell phone apps, take cell phone photos of your possessions, and get an extra cell phone charger, among other good suggestions.

Problem is, that is just a gloss.

As examples:

CHARGER: If the AC fails, how are you going to charge the phone, and I don't care if you have ten chargers?

Unless, of course, if one of those chargers happens to plug into a vehicle's DC electrical outlet - what once was known as the "cigarette lighter receptacle."

But, the charger will only work as long as the car's battery has juice.

So, in addition to the charger, the cell phone user ALSO needs to make sure the flivver has a topped off fuel tank before the winds start to blow. By the way, been there and done that.

PHOTOS Using the cell phone to take pictures of your property - inside and out, if you please - is OK if the phone has good resolution. Better would be to make a movie of the property. Save the pictures to multiple secure locations - a notebook computer is good if the notebook can be kept above water and travel with its owner(s). Clouds are not high on my list of places to store anything; there too many things that can go wrong (provider failing, you forgetting you access codes, transmission errors, and on and on).

The photos may be needed to compare with post-event (any event: hurricane, tornado [they often travel with hurricanes], fire). Actually, it should be Standard Operating Procedure (SOP) to at least annually photographically inventory all your possessions. Send a copy to a trusted person across the country.

DURING THE STORM The author tells us to reduce the light level of the display and closing any unnecessary apps. Better, unless the cell phone is your only source of information - no radio, no tv - TURN IT OFF. Save the battery, even if you have a car charger. Who wants to run out in the middle of a storm? (In a hurricane, going out in the quiet "eye" of the storm causes death to too many - hot wires, the storm returning. It's dangerous.)

FOCUS ON PHONE While the article focused on the cell phone, it could, and I believe should, have been expanded to include ALL storm related risks. As risk management practitioners we don't plan for a specific threat - we look at threats and ways to avoid or mitigate them - we plan to respond to the threat's impact.
For a moment, let's return to loss of commercial AC. Let's dangerously assume that the cell phone owner has multiple chargers. If the AC is off, the mobile unit cannot be charged.

Cordless and feature phones also are useless. The only phone that might be functional is the Plain Ol' Telephone Service (POTS) instrument, POTS phones get power from the telephone line. The "weasel word" might is because the telcos don't always maintain their underground lines and aerial lines can be blown and snapped.

WHERE ARE YOU Unless you have a plan to assemble at a primary or alternate site following the storm, it's a good idea to know how to put your information on an "I'm OK" site. Various agencies make them available so people can let others know they are OK and can locate others.

BOTTOM LINE The marketing miss had good intentions, but her lack of any risk management experience reduced her words to merely a puff piece and, perhaps worse, something that gave the impression that all anyone needs to survive a weather disaster is a charged cell phone.

There is so much more to severe weather prep. Most of the "What you need to know and what you need to do" information is freely available on many state and municipal web sites.

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