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Plan for household emergencies before disconnecting landline and going wireless phone only

Wireless phones can go almost anywhere but might not be handy where and when you need them most.
Wireless phones can go almost anywhere but might not be handy where and when you need them most.
AP photo

According to AT&T and the CDC, traditional landline telephone service is on the way out.

In a 32-page filing with the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) in December, AT&T said it this way:

"With each passing day, more and more communications services migrate to broadband and IP-based services, leaving the public switched telephone network (PSTN) and plain-old telephone service (POTS) as relics of a bygone era."

Recent findings of the Centers for Disease Control illustrate the trend: earlier this month the CDC reported that 22.7% of U.S. households are now using wireless phones exclusively, up from 17.5% the previous year. Among some segments of the population the wireless-only rate is much higher; 45.8% for adults age 25 to 29 and 33.5% for adults age 30 to 34.

Whether you call it a wireless phone, cellular phone, or mobile phone, with fierce price competition amongst carriers and a technological arms race between handset makers, it's easy to understand why consumers are excited about the value and convenience of wireless phones. By comparison, the old-fashioned landline seems almost obsolete.

But hold the phone. There is at least one area where the landline still reigns supreme. When it comes to household emergencies and the need to quickly summon police, firefighters, or paramedics, the old-fashioned landline still outperforms even the latest smartphone.

The landline dial tone is often used as a metaphor, symbolizing a level of reliability to which other services can only aspire. Landline service outages are extremely rare; even during periods of severe weather and power outages, plain old telephone service usually continues uninterrupted.

In contrast, dropped calls, poor call quality, and sporadic network outages are all familiar aspects of wireless phone service. Likewise, who hasn't been forced off the air by a dead wireless battery, or inadvertently left their phone in the car overnight or misplaced it somewhere?

The inconvenience of a missing, dead, or even temporarily inoperable wireless phone can quickly become a crisis in an emergency. The prompt arrival of first responders, particularly medical personnel, can mean the difference between life and death. In an emergency, seconds count, and making a fast and reliable connection with a 911 dispatcher is vital.

If you have already hung up on your landline or are considering cutting the cord in the near future, it's important to have an emergency communications strategy for you and your family.

Keep your landline
Instead of eliminating your landline, consider cutting back to a bare bones plan. Long distance service, call waiting, and other bells and whistles can be cut from your plan to keep the monthly cost as low as possible. One or more telephones can be placed in strategic but unobtrusive locations to provide fast access when needed. Cordless phones can be used for this application, but power outages, battery problems, or lost handsets will make emergency communications less reliable, so make sure you have at least one wired phone in a central location. Add the phone number for your landline to the national and state "Do Not Call" registries, and consider turning the ringer on the connected phone(s) down or completely off, as you won't be using the line for incoming calls.

Plug in an emergency wireless phone
Many wireless phone carriers offer a "family plan" or other option to add an additional handset to your account at a low monthly cost. A basic wireless handset can be dedicated to remain in the house at all times, continually plugged into an AC outlet and always powered on for use in emergencies. The downside of this approach is the risk that a family member will misappropriate the handset for personal use, and it will be missing or inoperative when it is needed most. Also, voice calls over wireless networks still aren't as reliable as using a landline. Finally, if a 911 call is made by a family member who can't speak for fear of being overheard, or due to injury or stress, there may be delays in dispatching first responders to the correct location. In some situations, only generalized information about the location of the wireless handset is available to emergency personnel; pinpointing the location down to an specific street address can be difficult and time consuming.

Monitored security system with cellular link
The best emergency communication solution for you and your family is one that doesn't depend upon you to summon help when needed. A professionally installed security system can communicate with a central monitoring station via a dedicated cellular transceiver. These transceivers operate on the control channels of wireless networks - which are more reliable than the voice channels - and feature always-on power including battery backup during power outages. With a monitored security system, your family, home, and valuables are protected against risks from burglary, fire, and much more, depending on the configuration and features of your system. And most systems feature "panic" buttons for police, fire, and medical emergencies. With a press of one of these buttons, the appropriate first responders will be alerted by your monitoring station, whether or not you are able to speak. The monitoring center can guide emergency personnel to your precise location and provide them with critical information about any special needs or conditions that may aid in their response. While a monitored security system is more expensive than other options, at a cost of about $1 per day, it is a relatively inexpensive investment in your family's safety and your peace of mind.

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