You know that good old Boy Scouts motto, “Be Prepared”? Well, it’s pretty good advice no matter who you are, especially in the wake of some of the weather incidents we’ve seen across Canada this year. And since more and more of us are ditching our landlines in favour of our smartphones, it definitely pays to think ahead.
This past week brought that home to me in a pretty big way, when our home lost power during the Toronto ice storm. Thankfully, our power was restored fairly quickly, but it could have been a lot worse; some people are expected to be without power for three or four days.
If you have a smartphone, there’s one thing you know for sure: it won’t make it through three or four days before needing to be charged up again. If you’re relying on your smartphone as your sole means of communication with the outside world, that’s a huge problem, especially if you’re not able to charge up elsewhere.
So, what to do? There are a few different things you can set up – before problems happen – to be sure you’re in better shape when the power goes out.
Get some backup power options
The best way to make sure you don’t run out of power right away is to have some backup power options ready to go.
While there are a number of phone-specific battery-backup cases, there are also a growing number of portable battery packs with USB ports, allowing you to recharge any smartphone, so long as you have that phone’s USB charge cable. My favourite is the Mophie Juicepack series, which comes in a variety of sizes and prices; the larger and more expensive ones will keep you up and running for longer, of course.
If you really want to go into overkill mode, there’s always a full-on uninterruptible power supply solution, like the ones offered by APC. Theoretically designed to keep your computer and monitor running for a short period after the power fails (allowing you time to save your work, or to completely weather out short power outages), you can always use a UPS to keep your smartphone charged. Just remember to silence the beeping that kicks in when the power fails, or you’ll want to pull your hair out.
Once those external battery options are drained, you can still rely on Mother Nature to help out, with the help of a solar panel. There are a number of portable solar panels out there, from companies like Solio or Goal Zero. These gadgets store solar-harvested energy in a connected battery pack, which you can then use to charge a smartphone. (Generally speaking you can’t charge directly from the panel, so it’s always a good idea to start charging the battery pack well before you’re about to run out.)
Lastly, if you have a car, you also have one of the most convenient power generators around. While it’s not always a good idea to get into your car when things are going bad (a roadtrip during the ice storm could be especially dangerous, for example), if you’re able to go for a ride in the car you can tap into some of its power while you’re on the go. Many new cars come with USB charge ports already built right in; those that don’t often have a cigarette-lighter-style 12V outlet. There are plenty of inexpensive 12V-to-USB adapters out there…connect your phone’s charge cable, and you’re on the road to a recharge. Just don’t sit in a running car simply to charge your phone…that’s obnoxious.
Get your phone ready for the worst case scenario
It’s not just about hardware, though. The sad truth is that most of us wait until problems arise to start trying to gather together information, and that’s probably the worst time to do so. It will pay off to have some things ready in advance.
First up, add a few handy numbers to your contact list so you don’t have to spend valuable time looking them all up. That could include your local power company, the information line for your city or municipality, or other utilities. Be sure anyone you may need to contact is in the list, from your friends and relatives to your boss or colleagues. Include a line for a towing company, someone to help if you flood, etc. It’s always better to have these numbers a few taps away rather than wasting time digging through old emails, or trying (often unsuccessfully) to Google them.
Also, it never hurts to have handy the Twitter accounts for the various utilities, government departments and other services, as these places often tweet out important information during a crisis. For a while now, Twitter has given you the ability to create lists, and it’s rather easy to set up a list with all of the Twitter accounts you’ll need in your area. (You don’t even have to follow these accounts to include them in a list, which means you can have the ready in an emergency without having to listen to everything they tweet through the year.)
As a concrete example, during the ice storm, I was able to see updates from Toronto Hydro on outages, find out the City of Toronto’s recommendations, and learn of disruptions to the TTC’s subway and streetcar services. That way we were able to monitor what was happening with the power restoration, and figure out the best route for getting to work the next day with a minimum of disruptions. As they say, forewarned is forearmed. (And remember, if you’re running a business and have a Twitter account, be sure to keep customer and employees updated of what’s happening with your company.)
Whether it’s hardware or software prep, it’s important to be prepared….after all, it’s always good to have one less thing to worry about when you’re already stressed. Got any tips of your own for weathering out the storm? Leave a comment below.