Cell phones have become a staple of modern life, and one of the often overlooked benefits is the huge impact this technology has had on community safety. From its uses in combating crime to calling in emergencies or using the camera phone to document police brutality, it has become a helpful tool that lets citizens respond to emergencies. With this in mind, here are a few safety feats you might not be aware that your cell-phone can perform:
1. Enter your phone number and zip code at wirelessamberalerts.org to receive text message Amber alerts. Messages are free, so you're not burning through your allotment.
2. Note that deactivated phones still dial 911, so you can always reach help even on a phone that isn't in service.
3. Receive early alert text messages from the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administrator Administration's tsunami warning center. Sign up at www.wcatwc.arh.noaa.gov/watcher/tsunamiwatcher.php.
4. Check out 'Nixie,' a service that allows agencies to contact residents using e-mail, text, or whatever method the person chooses to alert them of dangers or other important information in their area. The service is free, but the company sells ads in its messages.
5. If you need help and your signal is too weak, try texting. Text messages use less of a signal, so it might work if your signal is too weak to place a call.
6. Cell phones queue 911 calls, which means that if lines are down it will a keep sending a signal and call you when the call can go through. Text messages also do this no matter who they are to, so if you can't get through, try texting.
An important note:
If you're calling 911 on a cell phone, don't assume that the call center automatically knows where you are. While they can often triangulate calls and find your approximate location, this isn't always the case, especially in rural areas. Moreover, this triangulation isn't perfect--it often only reduces the location to within 500 feet. This could be a block of several houses, not to mention the nightmare rescuers would face in trying to find you if you live in an apartment building. So always give your location first whenever calling 911 on a cell phone.