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Weather alert radio vs. cell phone: which can you count on during severe weather?

For as much as we have come to rely on our cell phones for news and information, the cell towers, infrastructure and networks they require to communicate are extremely vulnerable. This susceptibility comes from various threats ranging from solar flares and software glitches to storm-toppled cell towers and long power outages.

Superstorm Sandy is an example of just how fragile cellular network communication can be. Many New Yorkers were left without cell phone service after Sandy left about one in four cell towers inoperable. Add to that the extended loss of power with no way to charge phone batteries and communication becomes difficult if not impossible. Hurricane Katrina also exposed communication challenges and the potential for cellular network system failure giving us valuable lessons to learn.

Weather alert radios broadcast emergency alerts from NOAA Weather Radio All Hazards transmitters on seven VHF frequencies from 162.400 MHz to 162.550 MHz. No cell phone tower is required to transmit the information.

Weather alert radios don’t require charging and aren’t overwhelmed by network usage

Cell phones need to be recharged. Depending on usage, you may need to charge your phone’s battery every day. When power grids fail due to a storm or other cause, it’s difficult to keep a cell phone charged.

Emergency situations, weather-related or not, only increase the strain on phone networks as those affected rely on their phones to communicate with friends and family, as well as check social media and news outlets for updates. This increase in usage not only drains the phone battery quicker, but it also overwhelms cellular networks so calls and data can’t get through.

Weather alert radios with back up battery power or emergency crank operate without electricity. As long as you have extra batteries or can turn the crank, a weather radio will broadcast severe weather and emergency alerts sent to NWR from federal, local and state authorities.

Weather apps only alert you when they’re running and your phone is on

Weather apps aren’t foolproof either so they shouldn’t take the place of a weather alert radio. Some weather apps may not work correctly (or at all) unless your phone has a background data feed enabled, which shortens battery life. When not constantly connected to a data network, these apps may not receive emergency alerts until the next time they’re opened. Alerts via phone apps may not be loud enough to wake you or catch your attention if an alert is issued at night while you’re sleeping.

Weather alert radios are the clear winner in emergency preparedness

No matter how damaging the storm… Regardless of how the long power is out… When it comes to emergency preparedness, a weather alert radio with battery back-up power or an emergency crank will keep you informed of severe weather so you can stay safe and protected.