Text, don't call when natural disaster strikes - US

WASHINGTON Thu May 31, 2012 6:21am EDT

Tropical Depression Beryl is seen in this NASA handout satellite image dated May 29, 2012. REUTERS/NASA/NOAA GOES Project/Handout

Tropical Depression Beryl is seen in this NASA handout satellite image dated May 29, 2012.

Credit: Reuters/NASA/NOAA GOES Project/Handout

WASHINGTON (Reuters) - It is better to send text messages than to call when natural disasters strike and networks get congested, a senior U.S. official said on Wednesday, also urging people to add battery-powered cell phone chargers to their storm emergency kits.

Craig Fugate, head of the Federal Emergency Management Agency, told reporters that forecasts for a "normal" Atlantic hurricane season should not keep those in potentially affected areas from getting ready for storms that could make landfall.

"There is no forecast yet that says where they are going to hit or not hit. So if you live along the Gulf Coast, the Atlantic, and as far inland as the folks in Vermont found out last year, you need to be prepared for this hurricane season," Fugate said at a White House news briefing.

The U.S. government is working to extend its public alert warning system beyond radio and television to mobile networks, Fugate said, noting that most new and upgraded cell phones have the capacity to receive such emergency notices.

Households without fixed-line phones should be ready to charge cell phones during power cuts, the FEMA administrator said, also calling on families to make alternative communication plans for when wireless networks are congested.

"When there's a big crisis, don't try to call people on your phones - text message. It's a lot faster and gets through. Use social media to update people ... and also be prepared when power outages occur how you're going to keep your electronic devices charged," Fugate said. "Add to your evacuation kits your cell phone chargers."

(Reporting by Laura MacInnis; Editing by Anthony Boadle)