Hurricane Harvey is slamming into Texas around late Friday (Aug. 25) or early Saturday. It will bring a heady mix of heavy rain, storm surge, flooding, and high winds that could leave parts of south Texas “uninhabitable for weeks or months,” says the US National Weather Service. By landfall, the current category 2 cyclone will likely have intensified to category 3 with winds of at least 111 mph (178 kph).
As locals rush to prepare for what may be “the first major hurricane the nation has dealt with since 2005,” according to the head of the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA), officials warned on Aug. 24 that some 1.5 million people could lose power.
But cellphone networks often keep working even when household power goes out. And a cellphone is the one device that can both summon emergency services and let you know when it’s safe to come out. Here’s an update of the advice we provided for Hurricane Sandy in 2012 on how to keep it going even days after your home has lost power.
Before the power goes out
1. Buy a power pack
Pick up a phone power bank at a local convenience store, like a CVS or Walgreens. Different varieties can store enough power to recharge your phone anywhere from once to six or seven times. Once you’re home, make sure to keep it plugged into a charger until the power goes out.
2. Get a cellphone car charger
If you have a car (or a neighbor does) and don’t have a charger, get one. This will let you recharge if you’ve exhausted all the options below.
3. Fully charge your laptop, and save that charge for your phone
Your laptop battery is also just another power bank. To conserve its battery, shut down your laptop and keep it plugged into the wall until there’s no power. Later, you can charge your phone from its USB port, even when the laptop isn’t connected to a power outlet. To do that, you need to turn the laptop on, but close any running applications, dim the screen to nothing, and avoid using it for any other purpose.
4. Keep your phone plugged into the wall socket
Even if it’s fully charged, leave it plugged in.
When the power goes out
5. Turn off your phone’s radios
The radios—the wifi, bluetooth, and cellular receivers—are the biggest drain on battery life aside from the screen. Leave the phone connected to the cell network in case of emergency text messages or incoming calls, but if you don’t need to use the internet, turn off wifi. Also turn off bluetooth, which is only needed for connecting to things like wireless loudspeakers; this is a hurricane, not a house party.
On an iPhone, these radios can be turned off by swiping up from the bottom bezel of your phone to open the “control center”: Here are instructions. On an Android device, you typically find the controls by swiping down from the top of the screen: Here are instructions.
Put the phone in airplane mode (no cellular contact) or turn it off entirely if you aren’t using it and aren’t anticipating anyone trying to reach you.
6. Turn off push notifications
Lots of apps send you notifications or alerts, and each one is a little extra drain on the battery. Here’s how to switch them off in Android and on the iPhone. (On an iPhone, you should also turn off “location services” which give your apps access to the phone’s location and also drain battery; you’re not going to need most of them in a hurricane.)
7. Turn off and restart your phone to kill all open apps
This ensures no unnecessary apps are running in the background, draining power.
8. Turn down the screen brightness
Most phones adjust their screen brightness automatically to the ambient light. Turn off this feature (Android instructions; iPhone instructions). Then turn the display brightness down to the lowest level at which you can still read it.
9. Send text messages instead of making phone calls
If you have to reach someone, texts use a lot less battery. Plus, they’re more likely to get through when the cell network is overwhelmed.
10. Don’t use your phone
This may seem obvious, but during an emergency, your phone is a crucial survival device, not an entertainment system. Resist the temptation to check email, take selfies, and post on social media; leave the phone alone except for periodic updates on the progress of the storm (and by “periodic” we don’t mean every five minutes). Remember that if repair crews are overwhelmed, the power could be out for days.