id=”article-body” class=”row” section=”article-body”>
This story is part of , CNET’s series on how we’re preparing now for what could come next.
If you lose power during a storm or an earthquake, you may be able to get by for three hours, but do you have what it takes to stay connected if the lights go out for three days — or longer?
On Aug. 10, a series of violent windstorms — a derecho with winds of more than 100 mph — battered Iowa without warning. An estimated 12,000 customers in the state were without power for nearly two weeks, according to poweroutage.us. And when Hurricane Maria hit Puerto Rico in 2017, it knocked almost all of the island’s power grid offline and kept parts of the island in the dark for almost a year.
Even mild storms can take out power and infrastructure for an extended time. Tropical Storm Isaias hit the Northeast briefly on Aug. 4. At least 43,000 customers of New York and Connecticut were without power for a week — some even longer.
And it’s not over yet. Two major storms are forecast to hit the US this week. Hurricane season keeps coastal communities on edge until the end of November.
In today’s smartphone-dependent world, those in the path of a storm can’t count on apps to be a sole source for all news and communication with the outside. A natural disaster might leave you stranded without power days on end in a dark home with nothing but a dead phone battery. And if you need to evacuate, you’ll need towith basics to keep you safe.
I grew up in South Florida, where planning to go for a week without power is part of the norm for summer hurricane season. It was 28 years ago today that my family huddled around the radio and battery-powered TV for information after the monster Category 5 Hurricane Andrew leveled entire neighborhoods nearby.
There’s no app for this
Sure, stocking up on enough water and canned food to last a week is important, but it’s just as vital to think how you’ll power the essential tech, including your phone, lights at night, and even a small energy-efficient radio or LED TV for news (that is, as long as you have an antenna to pick up over-the-air broadcast signals). In an emergency, you can’t rely on your phone for news.
For some firsthand perspective, I went to survivalists, including Lt. Col. Scott Mann, a retired Green Beret who served in conflict zones and now trains corporate execs on how to tough it out in the wild. Mann stresses the importance of owning a variety of backup power sources.
Before turning to a battery, explains Mann, you’ll need to change your phone habits. No playing games and no scrolling through Facebook (except for getting news on the safety of loved ones, of course). Your phone is now a survival tool. Turn it off to conserve power unless you need to reach someone.
Keep in mind that even if you have power, checking in with Mom may be impossible, at least for a while. Cell towers, if operating, aren’t designed to handle everyone in a given area trying to use their phone at once. Hurricane specialist Bryan Norcross has seen this firsthand during monster storms. During Hurricane Andrew, he was the voice my family counted on through his broadcasts over the radio. Now, he shares his storm warnings with the world through his Facebook and Twitter posts. He sees the potential complications with our phone dependance.
“It’s very scary that there’s a significant part of the populous that doesn’t have a way to get information if cell phones don’t work,” Norcross says. “That’s the biggest public safety problem we have.”
He advises that if there’s network congestion, send a text message instead of calling. Not only does it take up fewer network resources, but even if the text gets stuck in a network traffic jam it should eventually get through.
An outage can last a day or a week, so you’ll need a few options for backup battery packs. They come in many sizes and capacities, depending on how much you’re willing to spend. A power bank — likeand , which can handle the TV, fan and a few phones.
Once you buy them, though, don’t let batteries sit in your closet for a year and expect them to work when disaster strikes. Batteries degrade over time, and leaving one idle is a sure way to kill it. But as a general rule of thumb, follow the manufacturer’s guidance, keep it charged up and use it every so often, and store it in a cool room to preserve it longer.
Don’t forget: The car can give your gadgets an emergency charge, too. And be sure to keep enough gas in the tank to drive away if you need to evacuate quickly.
Camping stores are a great resource for good portable solar battery chargers. But think of solar chargers as the backup to your backup. It can take a long time to harness enough energy just for one phone — sometimes at least five hours of direct sunlight.
When buying a solar charger, know that the larger the panel, the more successful the charge. And since not all solar chargers will store the energy for extended periods, you should transfer collected juice to another battery pack. Plan to spend between $50 to $100 to get a decent one — the better models are made by— and always look for products with a manufacturer’s warranty.
Give it some gas
If you’re planning on buying a gas-powered generator, you’ll want a UPS pack, which is short for Uninterrupted Power Supply. Gas-powered generators can put out “dirty” power, meaning the voltage fluctuates and can damage electronics. Using a UPS to filter the power can prevent your tech from frying, Norcross says.
Some generator models, like the(and plenty of extra batteries).