Logo for Gary's Column - 8-22-13TECHNOLOGY AND YOU – GARY M. KAYE  GARY’S TECH TIP: No, I don’t believe the sky is falling.  And I’m not getting ready for the breakdown of society.  But in just the course of the past three years I’ve had power outages lasting from three to eight days, including Superstorm Sandy, and a snowstorm that trapped me in the house for three days.

September was National Preparedness Month, and I thought it was appropriate to take a slightly belated look at some technologies that might help you through short term or longer term disasters and disruptions.  Monica Owens Doyle, with the Community Preparedness Program of The American Red Cross points out that we can never be certain about what kinds of dangers we’ll face, though based on where we live we can make some pretty good assumptions.

Of course, there are disasters that we haven’t faced such as pandemic or a hacker attack or sunspots that could knock out the electrical grid.  Preparedness experts like the Red Cross and Bernie Carr, author of The Prepper’s Pocket Guide say most natural disasters create disruptions that average 72 hours or less, though they suggest being ready for worse. 

One of the primary technologies that can be a big help in any disaster is your smartphone.  Bernie Carr says it’s always a good idea to keep it charged and suggests buying a solar powered backup charger. Your smartphone is good for more than communications.  You can store critical and useful information on the phone that you may need in an emergency. There are many apps that will store your medical information.

Some, like ICE BlueButton by Humetrix will store both medical records and key “In Case of Emergency” (the acronym ICE) contacts and information. The American Red Cross has a whole series of mobile apps that deal with specific kinds of natural disasters including: hurricanes, tornadoes, earthquakes, wildfires, and floods with recommendations for what to do if you have to evacuate, or shelter in place.   It also has apps that deal with everyday emergencies.  There’s a ton of useful information on the federal government’s preparedness site, maintained by the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA).

There are some obvious items to keep stashed both in your home, your car, and depending on circumstances, your place of business.  A flashlight Is an essential.  You can use a tough, almost indestructible light from companies like Bayco/Nightstick and Extreme Beam that rely on disposable or rechargeable batteries.  Solar powered lights never need batteries.  Two that I like were created for the developing world. One is the strangely named  WakaWaka light which is small, quick to charge, and has four different power settings.  The other is the Luci solar powered lantern from Mpowered which is collapsible and easy to store. There are also a number of hand cranked flashlights on the market including those sold by Eton , the American Red Cross,  as well as the Secur SP-1002 Waterproof LED flashlight that is both solar and dynamo (crank) powered.

Another important piece of technology is a radio.  It could be battery powered, solar powered,  or hand cranked.   Even when there’s no cell phone or landline service, a radio will let you know what’s going on in your area, the nation, and the world.  On the battery powered side there are plenty of choices.  Sony’s SRF-M37W Walkman is an AM/FM Weather Band Radio that can be clipped onto a belt.  Sony’s ICF-SW7600GR is an AM/FM shortwave set that brings signals in from around the world.  Eton makes solar powered AM/FM/Weather radios including the Raptor and Scorpion lines. And Eton also markets the FRX 2 and FRX 3 hand cranked radios together with the American Red Cross. The Solarrific AM/FM/WB Cube is both solar powered and hand cranked.

Solar panels are a good way to charge up smaller devices or rechargeable batteries.  The ReVIVE Solar ReStore XL+ can charge USB devices and also has a flashlight with a strobe function.  Goal Zero’s Nomad solar panel will charge batteries and a variety of devices.  If you are looking for something that will even keep a laptop computer going there are large solar panels coupled with storage devices from companies like Brunton, which offer a range of devices, though some are quite pricey, topping $1000.

In many emergency situations potable water can be a critical need.  The SteriPen is a battery operated device that uses ultra-violet light to eradicate most pathogens including bacteria and viruses.  And the newly released KettleCharge from Biolite will let you boil water for drinking while also charging your gadgets.  Many of the rechargeable devices and powerbanks can be charged at home using  a 110 volt outlet.  And If you are going to rely on rechargeable devices or battery powered devices, you should periodically check to make sure that they’re ready to be used.  If you get an evacuation order, it may be too late to start getting them charged up.

One cautionary note echoed by both Bernie Carr and Monica Owens Doyle of the Red Cross is that one piece of technology you may not be able to rely on in a disaster that credit or debit card in your wallet.  If there’s an electrical outage, or major damage to the Internet, the only way you may be able to pay is with old fashioned cash.  And you should think about small bills and even change. They suggest keeping a stash at home that you can grab if you have to flee, though perhaps not under a mattress.

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