In Part 5 of our series on winter weather safety, I want to cover how to deal with power and Internet outages, as both can cause major inconveniences for residents, as well as cause critical issues for those who rely on continued power for mission-critical services.
The first thing I recommend all consumers do is to download their energy provider’s mobile app, as well as include the phone number for their energy provider’s report outage service. For many customers in Arkansas, Entergy Arkansas is the local energy provider. Customers can download the Entergy mobile app, as well as enroll in text messaging alerts by clicking here. To call the Entergy Arkansas Report Outage service, the phone number is 1-800-968-8243. Customers who are enrolled in text messaging alerts can also text out to 368-374. Keeping these numbers programmed into your phone contacts makes it easier to report an outage, especially late at night when it is difficult to find your paper energy bill for those who still receive paper bills (which is another good reason to keep the energy provider’s mobile app on your phone in case you need to quickly access your account information). I also recommend using the text option versus the call-in option if possible, as Entergy’s phone lines, as well as mobile service in general, will likely incur a larger volume of calls during a power outage, so using the text option to report an outage will allow Entergy to log and respond to the outage in a more timely manner, as well as reduce overall pressure on a mobile provider’s network. Energy companies should also consider looking into intelligent home energy monitoring solutions such as the sensor from Whisker Labs. Whisker Labs offers a simple, DIY home energy sensor that can transmit data via the web to allow customers to better monitor their home energy usage, as well as allow energy providers to better adjust for demand response during winter weather events and be notified quicker of energy outages when energy data stops flowing to them (Whisker Labs also uses Earth Networks weather data and was a subsidary of Earth Networks). Entergy Arkansas is not currently part of the Whisker Labs program, but I have recommended it to them, and I hope they will join in the future.
I also recommend customers have easy access to their energy provider’s power outage map. For customers in Arkansas serviced by Entergy Arkansas, click here to access the Entergy Arkansas power outage map (it is also available to customers in the Entergy mobile app; another benefit of the map is that it includes a weather radar layer from Earth Networks). I will also periodically post screenshots of the Entergy Arkansas power outage map to my Twitter during major weather events. The Entergy Arkansas Storm Center link is also a beneficial website to check during major severe and winter weather events for updates from Entergy Arkansas and power-related issues.
If consumers depend on their power for mission-critical services such as medical equipment, then it may be a good idea to consider either a portable home generator or a whole home generator. However, generators come with their own additional costs and safety measures, so I recommend them more for consumers who require power for mission-critical services versus those who merely enjoy the benefits of their home power for their comfort. While I love having the power on at my house, I have been able to adjust through energy outages, and I thankfully live in an area with underground utility lines and near major businesses that rely on mission-critical power needs, so I have not suffered through too extensive of a power outage at my residence yet. A UPS (uninterrupted power supply) can be handy to keep certain devices online during an outage (such as electronic devices), although I’ve noticed the batteries in these devices don’t last an extended period of time, so they are usually not worth the added investment unless one needs to run mission-critical electronic devices.
In addition to power outages, Internet outages can also occur during a winter weather event, either on its own during freezing temperatures, or during a power outage when power is knocked out to homes without a generator or UPS. In most cases, the ISP’s power will remain up, although power outages at the infrastructure of some ISP equipment has been known to occur (for example, my ISP which is a local point-to-point wireless ISP, has installed a backup generator and dedicated fiber connection at the wireless tower that services my home Internet connection, so my Internet will likely stay up during a power outage, although some of their less-established towers are outfitted with battery backup devices, so occasionally one of their towers could go offline). Cellular connections will generally stay online during major power or Internet outage events. For public safety officials who need mission-critical access to winter and severe weather data in the event of a major network outage as well as poor cellular coverage or a cellular network outage, I recommend Mobile Threat Net from Baron Weather. Baron Threat Net relies on satellite-driven connection versus an Internet connection, ensuring public safety professionals can continue to receive critical weather data no matter what. Mobile Threat Net also includes a full-suite of Baron’s exclusive weather data, including winter weather monitoring, so it is an ideal solution for public safety professionals.
Consumers who use Internet-based home phone service (as well as a home signal booster) will also notice during a power or Internet outage, the home phone service will be knocked offline. For those who still need some form of affordable Internet-based home phone service, I recommend the LineLink from T-Mobile, as the LineLink (as well as all of T-Mobile voice lines) includes free access to T-Mobile DIGITS, which allows one to receive calls with a single phone number across multiple devices. I personally own a T-Mobile LineLink myself. If my T-Mobile LineLink home phone service is knocked offline, calls are routed to my cell phone, so I’ll never miss an important call.
Here are a few additional tips for ensuring you can continue communicating during a power or home Internet outage:
- Keep all your devices fully charged before a major winter weather event, just in case a power or home Internet outage occurs that requires you to use your mobile devices as your primary means of communication.
- Consider devices such as a tablet, cellular-connected smart watch, mobile hotspot, or your smartphone’s mobile hotspot feature. T-Mobile makes it affordable to add an unlimited tablet or cellular-connected smart watch onto a T-Mobile ONE plan (especially in the months one doesn’t use much cellular data on a tablet with KickBack), and unlimited 3G smartphone mobile hotspot is included with all T-Mobile ONE plans, with affordable options for 10GB or unlimited mobile hotspot for smartphones. T-Mobile DIGITS integration also ensures you can continue to make and receive calls and messages across multiple devices.
- Power off your devices completely when you’re not actively using them in order to save on battery life (since they can still utilize battery during sleep mode), as well as enable your devices’ Battery Saver mode feature. Dimming your screen, limiting which apps you run in the background, and limiting data-intensive apps such as social media apps, streaming music and video apps, and apps that rely on your mobile device’s geolocation services, will also save on battery life. Attempt to only use one device at a time instead of keeping multiple devices powered on and operating to extend battery life across all your devices.
- Use texting over calling when possible, as texting will utilize fewer network resources, extending your device’s battery life, as well as placing less overall strain on the cellular network during a major weather event.
- For extended power outages and on days when the sun peeks from behind the clouds, a solar charger may also be a benefical investment to power up some of your devices, and external battery packs or battery cases can extend battery life in devices as well.
I also highly recommend investing in a solid NOAA weather radio with battery backup to ensure you can continue to receive winter weather-related information. You’ll want a NOAA weather radio with SAME technology. Here is the list of SAME codes for the United States and for Arkansas. For Garland County, use code 005051 and transmitter 162.550. Getting a phone that is WEA (Wireless Emergency Alerts) capable is also recommended, although WEA alerts are not generally sent during winter weather events.
I hope you have enjoyed this series on winter weather safety, and let us know if you have any additiona winter weather safety questions or comments or would like us to cover any additional winter weather safety topics!
That wraps it up here! Nathan Parker signing off.