01:26 PM

Bracing For Hurricane Rita? Follow These Cell Phone Tips

One suggestion: instead of voice calls, send text messages. They'll most likely go through faster than voice calls and will help keep networks free for emergency personnel.

After witnessing the destruction of Hurricane Katrina, Gulf Coast residents are preparing for the worst with Hurricane Rita. Traffic jams have turned Houston's outbound highways into parking lots, and for many of those that stay in the area, power loss is almost inevitable.

Many people may be left with a single means of communication—their cell phones. That's why the major cellular carriers, including Cingular, Verizon Wireless, and Sprint, plan to provide cell-phone users with the resources they might need during an emergency.

Both Cingular and Verizon Wireless have fleets of mobile cellular sites that can be driven to locations that need extra network capacity. Cingular also has trailers ready to dispense that can provide antenna back-up if a tower is out of service.

Verizon says it will set up wireless emergency communication centers to serve residents and rescue workers in need. Sprint Nextel's Emergency Response Team also is standing by to help. It can be reached 24 hours-a-day at 888-639-0200. Sprint Nextel has staged backup generators and personnel in Texas Gulf Coast areas to deal with service disruptions.

These carriers collectively suggest that Gulf Coast residents take the following precautions:

1. Charge cell phone batteries in case local power is lost and, if possible, have additional charged batteries handy.

2. Keep cell phones and batteries in a dry place, such as a sealable plastic sandwich bag.

3. In case of a power outage, use a car adapter to recharge cell phone batteries.

4. Keep a list of emergency phone numbers, including police, fire, rescue agencies, power companies, insurance providers, family, friends, and co-workers, stored in a cell phone.

5. Designate someone outside of the Gulf Coast area as a central contact that family members can call if they become separated.

6. Forward home phone calls to a wireless number in an event of an evacuation.

7. Instead of voice calls, send text messages. They'll most likely go through faster than voice calls and will help keep networks free for emergency personnel. Sprint Nextel customers can use the walkie-talkie function instead of phone calls.

8. If a call doesn't go through, don't press "send" right away. Instead, wait 10 seconds before trying again.

9. Use the Internet option on a cell phone to access weather and news updates.

10. Use a camera phone to take and send photos of damaged property to an insurance company.

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