Landline Phones Still Valuable In An Emergency

While a National Health Statistics Report released yesterday shows American households are increasingly ditching their landline phones in favor of wireless ones, this might not be the smartest thing to do from an emergency preparedness standpoint. From the report:

The prevalence and use of wireless telephones (also known as cellular telephones, cell phones, or mobile phones) has changed substantially over the past decade. Today, an ever-increasing number of adults have chosen to use wireless telephones rather than landline telephones to make and receive calls. As of the first half of 2010, more than one in four American households (26.6%) had only wireless telephones— an eightfold increase over just 6 years. The prevalence of such ‘‘wireless-only’’ households now markedly exceeds the prevalence of households with only landline telephones (12.9%), and this difference is expected to grow.

Getting rid of the landline might make sense when the capabilities, convenience, and especially cost savings of a single mobile phone is taken into consideration. As a matter of fact, the researchers found that low-income households are more likely to be “wireless-only.” However, a landline telephone may have a number of advantages over a cell phone in the event of an emergency:

• Fast and efficient. Callers only have to pick up the phone’s handset/activate speakerphone and dial three digits to make an emergency call in most cases. If a mobile phone is off, precious time may be wasted waiting for the unit to power-up and acquire a signal.
• No weak signal to deal with
• No dropped call to worry about
• No drained or dead battery to contend with. If the phone needs only to be plugged into a wall jack to operate (corded unit most likely), it should work in a power outage, provided the telecommunications infrastructure is undamaged.
• The location of a caller dialing 911 using a landline phone may be easier to determine than if the call was placed on a cell phone. Consumer Reports revealed back in January 2011:

But with landline and VoIP 911, operators were significantly more likely to find callers by determining the location of the phone. More than one-third of landline and VoIP users were located in that manner compared with only 7 percent of cell callers. Landline and VoIP 911 give the operator your home address, including an apartment number if it appears on your phone bill. With cellular, operators see only geographic coordinates.

With all phone technologies, the operator asked respondents for their location at the start of the call in at least three of every four calls, perhaps if only to verify the address on the screen on landline and VoIP calls. But if you can’t speak—if you’re incapacitated or distraught, for example—it’s clearly a huge advantage if your address automatically shows up on the operator’s screen.

There are other advantages of using a landline phone for requesting emergency assistance, to be sure.

To be fair, the performance of landlines phones in an emergency situation depends on the particular circumstances of that event. During and after the September 11, 2001, terrorist attacks, the cell phone network in New York City, along with the rest of the East Coast, became rapidly overloaded as traffic doubled from normal levels. To be fair, landlines had their share of problems as well. One of the few communication tools that worked that day? BlackBerries. Who could’ve known?

During the Northeast Blackout of 2003- which commenced on August 14- New York City again had its share of problems related to communications. Stewart Stogel of wrote on August 18, 2003:

Cell phones, which proved useless during 9/11 were not better this time around. AT&T Wireless and Verizon, New York City’s two largest cellular providers collapsed as the power went down.

Major news organizations such as the AP and The New York Times found their local cell phones worthless. More than 18 hours later, an AT&T Wireless official confided to NewsMax that numerous cell towers “were still down.” He could offer no explanation — just an apology.

Again, the wired telephone network proved just as problematic. Stogel added:

Telephone landlines were not much better. Lines into Rockefeller Center were still down late Friday — almost 24 hours after the blackout began. Rockefeller Center is home to the Associated Press, NBC and numerous foreign news organization bureaus.

And, both types of phone networks proved no match for Mother Nature during and after Hurricane Katrina. From the Associated Press on August 31, 2005:

Telephone outages persisted across Katrina’s havoc-strewn path on Wednesday, frustrating people’s efforts to locate family and friends and complicating rescue and relief operations.

Local lines and cellular service remained knocked out in the worst-hit areas, making it difficult or impossible for thousands of storm refugees to communicate with the outside world.

Outside the hurricane zone, some people resorted to posting messages on Web forums in a stab at contacting loved ones or finding out about damage to homes.

When it comes to preparing for emergencies and/or disasters, it’s probably a good idea to have both a landline phone and wireless phone at your disposal- in addition to other tools. The more means of emergency communication, the better- especially as the seriousness of the event being planned for escalates. Who knows exactly what will work when the time comes to call for help. BlackBerries yet again?

While landline phones may be rapidly-disappearing from the American household, they’re still a valuable emergency communications tool. Think twice before getting rid of that old slimline phone.


Blumberg SJ, Luke JV, Ganesh N, et al. Wireless substitution: State-level estimates from the National Health Interview Survey, January 2007–June 2010. National health statistics reports; no 39. Hyattsville, MD: National Center for Health Statistics. 2011. (

Stogel, Stewart. “New York Blackout a Security Nightmare.” 18 Aug. 2003. ( 21 Apr. 2011.

“Katrina outages reveal phone system quirks.” Associated Press. 31 Aug. 2005. ( 21 Apr. 2011.

“For 911 calls, is a cell phone as safe as a landline.” Consumer Reports. Jan. 2011. ( 21 Apr. 2011.


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4 Comments to Landline Phones Still Valuable In An Emergency

  1. I’m not much of a chatter bug but do keep a landline (for internet) and a cell phone for emergency purposes. My emergency cell phone have come to my rescue twice already. And it only cost me about $7 a month! With my luck, I’ve had 2 flat tires already this year!

  2. Karen on June 29th, 2011
  3. Thanks for sharing that Karen. While I used to be a “telephone person,” I don’t use the phone as much anymore. Despite that, I still have a landline with corded/cordless phones, a pre-paid mobile phone, and MagicJack. It’s all I really use- and need- at the present time. Should an emergency pop up, it’s nice to know I have a number of options for requesting help and communicating with others.

  4. Editor on June 30th, 2011
  5. how do we get a no cost landline for a hearing loss senior citizen on a very limited income

  6. Anonymous on July 23rd, 2016
  7. Thanks for the question Anonymous. I dug up the following two articles on the Internet which may be of some assistance to you:

    “19 Free Services for Seniors or Their Caregivers” (
    Read #8 and #9

    “Put Your Wallet Away: 13 Things Senior Citizens May Be Able to Get for Free” (The Motley Fool)
    Read #9

    I hope this material gets you going in the right direction. I wish you all the best with your search.

  8. Editor on July 23rd, 2016

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