Floridians escaping Hurricane Irma

Evacuees (from left) Beth Weber, Stephanie Vollack, Tim Vollack, Yolanda Weber and Ron Weber, all of Florida, had to evacuate to the Cades Cove campground in September 2017 during Hurricane Irma.

If you’ve found your way here by way of Hurricane Florence, chances are you’re in a strange place with no contacts and little-to-no support structure.

Cell phone carriers like Sprint and U.S. Cellular have reported working in affected areas to keep their networks up and running, but also are providing preparation tips for those who might find themselves in an emergency situation.

Maria McHale, public relations counsel representing U.S. Cellular, said residents might not be able to control network problems, but there are other steps they can take.

“What we can tell them to do is to prepare for the things they can prepare for,” McHale said.


U.S. Cellular provided the following tips to help people stay safe, connected and informed:

• Text to Stay in Touch —Texting can be helpful during severe weather. If phone service is impacted because of a storm or high call volume, text messages still could go through because they require less network bandwidth than calls.

• Leverage Device Settings —Cellular access can be turned off on apps not currently being utilized or modified to only allow programs to sync when connected to WiFi, saving power and data. You also can save power by turning on the device’s “battery-saver” mode, dimming the screen’s brightness, and using ringtones instead of vibrate, as vibrate mode uses more battery power.

• Prepare —You can find severe weather preparedness tips on social media by searching the hashtag #SevereWeatherPrep. Ready.gov encourages families to develop and practice an emergency plan.

• Charge Your Device – An extra battery is ideal if you need to use your phone during a storm and can’t charge it. Carry a spare car charger or external charging device and keep it in a waterproof bag.

• Access Social Media — Social media sites, such as Facebook and Twitter, have become a preferred way to quickly get and share information. During severe weather, they can help provide real-time updates and keep you in contact with loved ones.

• Check Weather, News Apps — The Weather Channel and AccuWeather have reliable and popular apps that provide weather updates anywhere. Download apps such as FEMA, AccuWeather and Flashlight from the Google Play Store or Apple App Store. Another suggestion is to add a local news station app.

• Organize Contacts – Save emergency phone numbers and email addresses in your devices for police, fire, hospital, schools and other essential contacts. Designate two “in case of emergency” (ICE) contacts on your phone: one locally and one out of town.

Sprint’s Response

Sprint announced in a news release Thursday that between Sept. 12-25, the carrier will waive call, text and data overage fees for its customers in areas affected by Hurricane Florence and the resulting flooding in North and South Carolina and Virginia.

“The last thing we want is for people to worry about how to stay in touch with loved ones or critical services,” Sprint CEO Michel Combes said.

Legal Help

For those in need of legal assistance with insurance claims or disaster-aid paperwork, there are resources available.

Legal Aid of East Tennessee provides free assistance to lower-income individuals and families. LAET has office locations in five cities, including Maryville and Knoxville.

Jane Morris, managing attorney for the Knoxville office, said LAET can assist evacuees as it did for those displaced in the 2016 Gatlinburg and Sevier County wildfires.

“The one thing we noticed when we had the wildfires is the attorneys in Tennessee have just really big hearts, and we just had an amazing number of volunteers who came through and assisted,” Morris said. “So if we end up with a lot of displaced people here in Tennessee, I’m sure we’ll have no problem finding volunteer attorneys, as well as our staff attorneys, to assist them.”

The Maryville office is located at 307 Ellis Ave. and can be reached at 865-981-1818. The Knoxville office, 607 W. Summit Hill Drive S.W., can be reached at 865-637-0484.

The Tennessee Alliance for Legal Services in Nashville is another resource. TALS can be reached at 1-888-395-9297, but it also helps operate a free civil legal helpline, 1-844-HELP4TN (1-844-435-7486).

Crime and courts reporter for The Daily Times.

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