10 Ways Technology Can Save People From Storms

Old-school Telephones
Don't underestimate the power of a good old-fashioned landline. iStockphoto/Thinkstock

Remember the good old days, when everybody had a simple copper phone line running into his or her house and wall jacks where the phone plugged in? And the phones themselves had curly cords that attached the receiver to the body, and didn't need batteries?

Americans have rapidly shifted away from that quaint old technology in favor of wireless cell phone connections and Voice over Internet Protocol (VoIP) phones that use broadband fiber-optic cables and convert conversations to digital information, just like Web sites or e-mail.

Since 2000, when the number of old-fashioned copper phone lines in the U.S. peaked at 186 million, about 100 million of them have been disconnected, and today just one in four American households still has a copper wire connection. Phone companies are finding them too costly to maintain with the dwindling demand for landlines [source: Svensson].

The problem is that while those state-of-the-art phone connections may seem superior when the skies are sunny, in a weather emergency, they often are knocked out of commission. Worse yet, the batteries in cordless and cell phones eventually run out of juice. The old-fashioned phones that plug into copper lines, in contrast, usually work fine, as long as the line isn't on a telephone pole that gets knocked down by the storm [source: Grgurich]. That's why you should keep an old-fashioned phone around for emergencies. Unfortunately, it may not be an option that you'll have for much longer, but take advantage of it while you can.

Author's Note: 10 Ways Technology Can Save People from Storms

I've always found powerful storms to be extremely frightening, ever since I was a five-year-old on a Sunday drive with my parents, and we heard a tornado warning on the radio that described how the cyclone would resemble an elephant's trunk. All that day, I sat in the backseat and peered through the windows, watching for that scary shape in the sky. Many years later, I had to travel to the Florida panhandle to report on the aftermath of a powerful hurricane, and I was astonished to see the bizarre destructive effects of such a storm -- a half-demolished house, for example, where the Venetian blinds in the windows of one of the surviving walls were twisted into strange DNA-like double helixes. Having talked to people about the terror of riding out such a storm, I'm glad to see that technology may help reduce the carnage from future weather catastrophes.

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