Preparing for an oncoming natural disaster that will take out your cell phone signal?

Take this one simple step to get a message out before you lose connectivity

Cell phone reception in most parts of Puerto Rico was unavailable for at least 12 days after Hurricane Maria. For those 12 days, people were completely unable to communicate with each other or the outside world. Children on the American mainland couldn’t reach their parents on the island to see if they’d survived the category 4 hurricane. Puerto Ricans couldn’t even call across the island to see if relatives in a different town had made it through.

As catastrophic wildfires burn in both northern and southern California today, both landline Internet connections and mobile service have been disrupted. Seventy seven cell towers were knocked out in northern California alone, and tens of thousands of Comcast subscribers are without service.

So what should you do if you think a natural disaster might affect your connectivity? The answer may seem trivial, but the single best thing you can do is to update your voicemail.

After a catastrophe happens, your loved ones–parents, grandparents, relatives–will be calling your phone trying to see if you’re okay. Leaving a voicemail explaining your exact situation is the best thing you can do. A calm, collected voicemail will communicate that you’re not panicking, that you’re well-prepared (even if you aren’t!), and will help soothe the concerns of those who care about you.

Signal will likely return slowly, and often you’ll be able to get older 2G or 3G service before data service returns. While you won’t be able to update your social media status, you’ll likely be able to place a call and again, update your voicemail.

A few other tips that we recommend following:

  • Make sure you know what your voicemail PIN code is. You’ll need it to update your voicemail message from any other phone other than your own device.
  • Clear out your voicemail to make sure you can receive new messages.
  • Post to social media and let the world know that you’ll be without connectivity.
  • Once cell service starts coming back, SMS will likely work sooner than data does. Try SMSing those you are closest to and let them know you’re safe.
  • If you have Internet but not cellular service, you may be able to place calls by turning on “Wi-Fi Calling.”
  • Update your voicemail message as soon as you can.
  • You might consider installing a cell signal booster, which can help bring in coverage from towers up to 50km away if a nearby tower goes down.

Here are instructions on how to change your voicemail from any phone (including a landline):

  • On an iPhone (requires data service):
    • Go to the “Voicemail” section of the “Phone” application
    • Select “Greeting” in the top left
    • Follow the on-screen prompts.
  • AT&T:
    • Call your own cell phone number from any phone.
    • Dial * during the voicemail message. You may be prompted to enter your PIN.
    • Enter your voicemail password if prompted.
    • In the Main Menu, press 4 for Personal Options.
    • Press 3 to Change Greetings.
    • Follow the voice prompts to record a personal greeting.
  • Verizon:
    • Call your own cell phone number from any phone.
    • Tap # to interrupt your greeting.
    • Enter your voicemail password and tap #
    • Press 4 to access your personal options.
    • Press 3 to access the Greetings/Recorded Name feature. Follow the voice prompts to record a new greeting.
  • T-Mobile:
    • Call your own cell phone number from any phone.
    • Press the * key to access the main menu. You may be prompted to enter your PIN.
    • Press 3 to access the Greeting menu.
    • Press 2 to record a new greeting. Follow the prompts to record a new greeting.
  • Sprint:
    • Call your own cell phone number from any phone.
    • Press the * key when you hear the introduction. You will be promoted for your PIN.
    • Press 3 for Personal Options. Then press 2 for Greetings. Press 1 to Change Greeting. Press 1 to record a new voicemail greeting. Follow the prompts to record a new greeting.

Before Cell Phone Signal Cuts Out, Record a Voicemail Message


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