Pros & Cons: Should I Keep a Landline for Emergencies?

published Nov 12, 2013
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Last week’s much debated and nicely reader participated discussion on whether a single mother of a 7-year old child should get rid of her land line sparked some important discoveries – several important points about landline telephones during an emergency were brought to light. Here are some of the great reader comments and important points to keep in mind when using a landline telephone service in an emergency situation at home.

Apartment Therapy reader lifeonthelane made an important discovery for those who keep a landline with the idea that it will be more reliable than a cellphone in an emergency scenario.

After Hurricane Sandy, I reconsidered a landline (I had no power for a week), but learned from my telephone service provider that my phone line goes through my modem so I still wouldn’t have had phone service.

Not all landlines are created equal, and depending on a telephone provider’s technology and configuration the old assumption of landlines working through an emergency may not always hold true. So doublecheck with the provider to ensure that landline phones will still work in the home, especially if this is the reason for hanging on to one.

Reader Kate from 1500sqft says her parents land line reliability seems just as bad and perhaps worse even than cellular service, with the “obsolete” technology not even being supported by their provider.

My parents live in a rural area. They have a land line that is less than optimal (it basically shorts out whenever it rains.) The phone company (good ol’ ATT) straight up told them that they are no longer maintaining the lines in that area because they are becoming obsolete. Makes it heard to pay that $40-ish bill each month to a company that isn’t even supporting your service any more. (That comes to almost $500 a year.)

Reader miranar brought to everyone’s attention that emergency service is not guaranteed on all disconnected land line telephones.

Before this magical “plug the land line phone in and get 911 access” belief gets further out of hand, you should all know that such a service is required for cell phones but NOT for land lines. There is no federal law that requires this.

You MAY have 911 access on a land line if your state (or area of the state) mandates a “soft” dial tone for emergencyaccess. Some large carriers may also provide it. Consumer reports last had a list of those here: but it’s best to contact your provider directly. 611 is commonly the number to your local carrier and will work on a soft tone. If you don’t have a dial tone, you probably don’t have this as a soft tone sounds the same as a regular one.

The other option is to call your provider and ask if they have an “emergency only” service for a reduced rate. While you’re on the line, verify that your phone line is through the wire, and not through a modem (which requires power). Pick up a phone with a cord…if you can find one nowadays!

Having a telephone jack and wiring connected to a telephone carrier does not guarantee that emergency access is available. Even if it is available in a particular area, consider that the connection from telephone jacks in a house might not be properly connected to the provider if service was previously disconnected. This was true in my own case living in a condominium where my Verizon installer found nothing connected and had to spend quite some time hunting down my unit’s line.

Don’t forget also the telemarketers and robocalls that come through on a landline – particularly during dinner, as reader ensuenos points out:

I HATE my landline because I am deluged by sales calls.

All that being said, there are many fine points to keeping a landline telephone, but be sure to check with your provider to ensure that service will not be interrupted in case of a power outage and alternatively see if a carrier offers a “soft” dial tone for emergency access without having to pay for the service.

There were some great perks of landline telephones mentioned by our lovely readers other than the oft-repeated theme of poor cellular signals, call quality, dropped calls, misplaced cellphones, and dead batteries.

Reader darlincaro commented on better reliability with international calls:

We have a landline because my husband is Australian and have found that making international calls isn’t as reliable via cell phone

Reader Lauren R. also commented on the reliability of a landline over cell phones, especially during important work related conference calls:

Cell reception in our home is typically fine, but I do use the landline when I have conference calls for work that take place during the evening hours, just for that extra reliability that cell phones sometimes can’t provide.

Reader Adreamer points out the ergonomic advantages of a full sized landline phone:

None of my cell phones have provided me with the comfort level (shoulder-neck-ear)…

Reader agevans illustrates a great advantage of landline telephones being in a home where conversations are more likely versus mobile cellphones.

I also appreciate being able to call my parents landline instead of their cell phones, because if they’re not home, they’re most likely not available to chat. More often than not, when they don’t pick up the home phone and I call a cell, they’re in a place or at an event where we can’t talk anyway.

Reader krikkit points out that network congestion during emergencies where everyone is using their cellphone can make

Can’t help adding one more important factor to consider in whether to ditch your land line as a backup – in the event of a disaster, network congestion can make cell communication difficult or impossible. (for example, Superstorm Sandy and the Boston Marathon bombings.)

Reader 3dogma provides a nice tip to locate those sometimes hard to find corded telephones:

For anyone wondering where to get a corded phone for backup: try a thrift shop. I’m such a dinosaur that I still don’t have a cell, & use a cordless landline for everything. I keep a thrifted corded phone & a flashlight stowed close to the phone so that I can still make/receive calls during a power outage.

Reader dgatlin pointed out that as a nanny in a household without cellular service there was no way she could reach anyone and properly handle an emergency situation:

i was a nanny for a family that didnt have a landline, and they also had almost no cell service. at least my phone didnt get any service. i could email and what not because they had wifi, but that was all. i also didnt have a car. so if something were to have happened i had no way to contact them or take their kid to the hospital. while im sure if it were a real emergency i could have gone to a neighbor, i had no way provided to deal with an emergency. for them it was really about the cost and the fact that their cell phones got service so they didnt need it, but we were all a bit uneasy that i couldnt properly handle an emergency. so at least look into the cell reception in the area before ditching the landline, so that anyone taking care of your kid has a way to contact out.

Reader saleva spoke of a specific situation where the known location of a landline telephone helped save her life:

To each their own, but I collapsed suddenly while alone with my young child. A true medical emergency can leave you unconscious before you even realize what is happening. My child knew where the phone was. She had no clue where my cell was. We

All of this wonderful insight and experience from our Apartment Therapy readers is truly amazing, especially with our pragmatic readers understanding perspective and realizing that everyone has a different situation. Kudos to the Apartment Therapy community!