Posts Tagged ‘power bank’

New Power Outage Affects Thousands

Thursday, December 7th, 2017

Power OutageHundreds of thousands in the dark – again?

I just heard the local newscaster say, “ . . . as many as 260,000 will be without power.”

That should give you the clue as to where we are. There are 7 wildfires burning here in California, with all but one at 0% containment. And that one is only 5% contained.

I hope by the time you read this, those numbers will have changed.

Last week we talked about severe winter weather and the dangers the cold it can bring. This week, it’s heat.

Whether from heat or snow, winds or flooding, overburdened electric cables, transformers, and other electrical equipment can fail.

This year will  explode the outage statistics, given the hurricanes in Texas, Florida, Puerto Rico and the US Virgin Islands that left hundreds of thousands without power.

Will you be next?

Up until this year, the average American could have expected at least one power outage a year, and it would have averaged 200 minutes. Unfortunately, given the way things are going, you may need to expect a whole lot more minutes of outage. And maybe even days.

The good news?  We assume you have a sensible approach to outages and are preparing for them. offers these basic suggestions at their site.

  • Have flashlight, batteries, cash and first aid supplies. No candles.
  • Have alternative charging methods for your phone or any device that requires power.
  • Know how to open your garage door when power is off.
  • Keep your car full of gas. Gas pumps require electricity.

This should all sound familiar, but . . .

Let’s take a closer look at a couple of these.

It goes without saying that you should have flashlights in every kit and in every room!

Emergency temporary lighting options

About 6 weeks ago, just after Hurricane Harvey hit, we revisited the topic of emergency lights and lanterns. If you haven’t seen that Advisory, or can’t remember the details, it goes into some detail about different types of flashlights, batteries, what a difference lumens make, the value of adjustable focus, etc.

You may want to take another quick look at that lantern Advisory and see if you need to replenish or add to your emergency supplies. While you’re at it, add Inflatable solar powered lamps to the options.

Shown at left, these are affordable at about $10 each, and are water and snow resistant, small, lightweight, perfect for emergencies or for any evening activity or party. Click on the image to get current pricing.

Alternative charging methods for devices

The technology that allows you to charge or recharge your various devices just keeps changing!

Not long ago we spent time examining the so-called “power banks” that store enough power to recharge your devices several times.  They range from what are termed “lipstick size” (1-2 charges) to considerably larger. Here’s that original Advisory that covers batteries and chargers.

As you might expect, the more charging capacity you ask for, the larger the banks are and the more they cost. The one shown here, for example, is about the size of a wallet, has two USB ports for charging devices, and actually will charge your phone as many as 6 times. Click on the image for full details on this power bank.

Charging methods for bigger stuff

If you’ve ever been faced with a car that won’t start, you’ll be interested in this!

I seem to attract cars whose batteries just can’t keep up . . . so we have added one more piece of emergency equipment to what’s stored in the trunk.

12 V Car Jump Starter

start your carAfter years of backing a second car up to mine, fighting with jumper cables, etc., I was happy to get a portable battery charger. You can see it in the photo, labeled “old.”

This week, though, I was even more thrilled to get my hands on the portable power pack labeled “new.”

It pops right into the trunk (or into the glove compartment) since it’s not much bigger than Joe’s cell phone (shown) and can provide enough power for 20 jump starts!

The charger also powers phones, tablets, etc, and has a built-in S.O.S. LED light.

Lots of safety features, too, to prevent over-charging, over-heating, etc. And a row of blue lights indicates just how much charge you have left.

Below is a similar model, same size, same price, better picture!, from Amazon. It comes complete with clamps, plugs and cords plus carrying case.

The model shown here has 600 Amps, suitable for jump starting cars or smaller diesel engines, ATVs, boats, etc.  If you have bigger engines, look for a more robust device. The more energy you need, the bigger the item and, of course, the more expensive.

Still, for somewhere around $60 you can get a LOT OF SECURITY for yourself or family members! (Small enough to stuff in a stocking, too.) Click on the image for exact pricing.

Energy to keep equipment running

We’ve heard over and over again the challenges Puerto Rico has in keeping hospitals running for weeks using generators designed for short-term usage. Their maintenance people must be very skilled!

For most of us, a generator is purely a back-up device to carry us through a temporary power outage.

Precisely because it’s not used regularly, a generator requires extra attention as to placement and usage. Some quick safety reminders:

  • Generators can produce carbon monoxide, so they need to be placed OUTSIDE where there is plenty of air circulation.
  • Keep your generator dry.
  • Store the right fuel for your generator in a safe, secure place where it doesn’t become a fire hazard.
  • A portable generator typically can run one or two pieces of equipment. Plug them directly into the generator. Do NOT plug the generator into the home electrical system!
  • Size your generator to meet high start-up electrical requirements as well as requirements for running the equipment. (“Starting watts” vs “running watts”)

I’ve written before about the generators we bought for our neighborhood emergency response group. You may find those stories informational. Here’s a link to one of them.

A generator like the one shown below is a typical, mid-range household emergency generator. This type of generator is rated at between 500 and 15,000 watts. This one (at 7,500 watts, about $1,000) is shown with wheels, but be aware that it is not exactly portable because it weighs over 200 pounds!

This generator has an electric starter and runs on gas or propane. In the yellow triangular space on the front you can see that it has several outlets, both 120 and 240 volts, all protected from power surges. The manufacturer also offers a number of guarantees.

Click the image for full details and to use this model as a start for shopping. (You’ll see that a lot of people buy a cover and extra heavy-duty cords along with the generator itself.)

Whole-house standby generators

Did you notice the sentence hidden above that says a is designed to power “just one or two pieces of equipment.”?

If that’s not enough for you (!), you’ll want to consider a standby generator. This is a different level of equipment, permanently installed and sized to turn on automatically when the power fails. Standby generators generate anywhere from 5,000 to 150,000 watts. To find the right sized generator, you’ll need to examine exactly what you want to power in the way of essential equipment (A/C, heater, sump pump, etc.), appliances (stove, microwave, dishwasher, dryer, etc.) and extras (computers, hot tub, security, etc.).

Prices on standby generators start as low as $2,000, but realistic prices probably start around $5,000.

Get help from a qualified electrician to establish the size you need and to be sure it gets properly installed.

Whew. That’s a fair amount of info about emergency lighting and power. But I can assure you, when an extended outage hits, you’ll be pleased to have some back-up capability.

You can be SURE that after the outage hits, none of these items will be available in stores — either they’ll be sold out, or the stores too will be closed because they have no power!

Your Emergency Plan Guide Team



Emergency Communications Revisited

Thursday, October 5th, 2017


Cell phone no signal

Hard to imagine: “Puerto Rico residents still without communications, now into third week . . .”

But it was hard to imagine that the U.S. would be hit by back-to-back-to-back hurricanes and flooding, too.

Emergencies happen. Overnight they can turn into disastersAnd if you’re caught in the middle, you want to know what’s happening and be able to reach out to let others know what’s happening.

It’s time to take another look at personal emergency communications.

What you’ll grab first – your cell phone!

Since most people have their phone within reach 24/7, it’s likely to be your first choice in an emergency. Phones can connect with family, receive electronic alerts, and come up with what to do in case of disease, traffic jams, etc.

Cell phone tip: Pre-program your cellphone with important emergency numbers (police, fire, utilities) and create a “group” with family members so you can reach them all quickly.

Your cell phone is an important tool, as long as it’s working.

Three reasons why your cell phone may not work in an emergency:

  1. Cell phone towers are pretty sturdy, but can be damaged and even knocked down by big winds or a big earthquake. Result: no service at all.
  2. Service can be overwhelmed by too many people trying to use it at once – ex., the Boston Marathon. Result: busy signal.
  3. Your phone may, and eventually will, run out of battery unless you have made provisions to keep it charged.

Three ways to have a better chance of getting through. 

  1. Text or tweet instead of calling. These messages need far less bandwidth and can be “stored” in the system until they’re deliverable.
  2. Send your message or call your out-of-town family contact instead of local friends or family members. Naturally, this arrangement has to be set up in advance.
  3. Carry a battery back-up for your phone – one of the power banks or a solar charger – to give yourself a better chance of eventually getting through. Some emergency radios can charge a phone, too. (Want more on batteries, power banks or solar chargers? Here’s an Advisory covering these devices.)

 No cell phone? Don’t forget to try a land-line.

When a power outage has crippled communications, a simple phone attached to a landline may still have a dial tone. Of course, you have to know whatever number it is you want to call!  (That’s why you have memorized a few numbers, right?)

And as we’ve said many times, the operator answering your cell phone 911 call only knows approximately where you are, particularly if you are in a high-rise building. A landline pinpoints your location.

Facing a longer term outage?

Puerto Rico has been cut off for weeks. But not EVERYONE there is cut off!

Three kinds of emergency communications are being used there by people who were prepared in advance of the storm.

  1. Short-reach walkie-talkies. Depending on the quality of the instrument, the weather and the terrain, battery-operated walkie-talkies can connect people across the street or across town.We recommend that all families and neighborhood emergency response groups consider getting their members walkie-talkies (with extra batteries). Even small children can master their use easily. See a couple of examples below, and take another look at our updated Walkie-Talkies Reviews to see if you are considering adding walkie-talkies to your emergency supplies: Walkie-Talkies/ 
  2. Wider-reach HAM radios. This is the one option mentioned more than any other by the professionals in my LinkedIn group. Over 3,000 ham radio operators have been active in Puerto Rico since the hurricane hit. They have been assisting the American Red Cross to gather records about survivors, transmit personal messages to families, and help dispatch power authority crews. (Article: Amateur Radio Volunteers Aiding Storm-Ravaged Puerto Rico, US Virgin Islands)You can get started with a HAM radio for less than $100, but realistically you’ll probably want a better device and additional equipment (power supply, antenna, etc.) so budget for more. Joe is a licensed HAM operator and wrote more about the radios and training, here:
  3. Satellite phones for world-wide connection. As the name suggests, these phones use satellites to carry their calls. When cell towers are down or you are so far from civilization that there are no towers (mid-ocean? Antarctica?), this might be your best bet for staying in communication.As you might imagine, it costs a lot more to own and use these phones. Prices for most devices themselves (some rather like a clunky cell phone, others more complex, like a computer with handset) range from $500 to $1500 or more. Prices for actually using the phones start at around $40/month at the low end, or you can buy by the minute. More details here.

Examples of hand-held emergency radios

Most emergency radios are compact, though they are heavier than a regular cell phone. And, they will require practice before you can tune them successfully. Don’t think they are terribly expensive.  Most of them cost less than the latest Apple iPhone.  Some examples are below. Click on the image to go directly to Amazon for full details and current pricing. (We are Amazon affiliates. I’m happy to refer you there because items are almost always available and prices are often better than anywhere else.)

Baofeng -- Basic 2-way dual band HAM radio; VHF and UHF; costs around $70-80. Yaesu -- Mid-range quad band HAM radio. Submersible. Yaesu makes several; this one costs around $500. Irridium Satellite Radio. Click on image and go to Amazon where you should read the reviews, particularly the one about Alaska. Cost around $1,000.

And here are a couple of examples of walkie-talkies. We own and have used both models; the Uniden is what the members of our Neighborhood Emergency Response Team use and practice with every month. Click on the image to get details at Amazon.

Good basic walkie-talkies. Great for local group, family or workplace. Easiest-to-manage buttons. Cost around $40 a pair.I like these because they're yellow and not so hard to locate in an emergency! Alkaline or rechargeable batteries; NOAA weather channels. Cost around $70 a pair.

If a radio and/or battery charging device sounds as though it makes sense to you, get started on your purchase now. It’d be hard to find someone selling one during a disaster.

Your Emergency Plan Guide Team

P.S. An upcoming Advisory will be on serious solar panels designed to drive all these communications devices.  If you haven’t signed up to get ALL the Advisories, do so now! (Fill out the form below!)

Buy Batteries On Sale

Wednesday, July 27th, 2016

Is getting batteries “on sale” a good idea?

Check out this article before you buy! Price isn’t the only factor. In the world of batteries, it seems you get what you pay for, and you’d better know in advance just what you need.
Some Background on Batteries (Skim if you already know all this!)

How batteries work

Batteries use a chemical reaction to do work. Alkaline batteries, the AA, C and D batteries we all know, typically depend on zinc interacting with manganese (through an alkaline electrolyte solution) to produce electricity.

Other batteries use different chemistries to achieve a higher “energy density” so they will last longer and perform better. Some of them: nickelcadmium (NiCd), nickelzinc (NiZn), nickel metal hydride (NiMH), and lithium-ion (Li-ion),

In a regular alkaline battery, the reaction ultimately consumes the chemicals (leaving behind hydrogen gas as a “waste” product) and the battery dies.

When to recharge

While an alkaline battery can be recharged, the process is inefficient and dangerous because of the hydrogen gas buildup. Recharging non-rechargeable batteries can result in a leak or even an explosion.

Rechargeable batteries are designed differently. First, they use specific chemicals (most popular seems to be Lithium Ion, which is even being used in Tesla batteries) that can undergo a “reverse chemical reaction” easily and efficiently. They contain a catalyst to keep hydrogen gas from forming. They have vents to prevent pressure from building up during recharging.

As you might expect, rechargeable batteries are more expensive because you have to buy that extra “charger.” However, studies suggest that you will save money over time using rechargeables, but they need electricity to work, so IN AN EMERGENCY SITUATION you will probably want to have regular disposable batteries on hand, too.

Getting the most out of batteries

No matter where they are stored, all batteries will ultimately die. Eventually, the steel casing will corrode and rust and leak. (Heat like we’ve had over the past several weeks can speed up the deterioration!)

Still, there are things you can do to preserve the life of your device batteries.

  • Don’t attempt to recharge non-rechargeable batteries.
  • Remove batteries from a device that you won’t be using for a while.
  • Replace all the batteries in a device at the same time. (Clean the contacts with a cloth before you install the new batteries).
  • Don’t mix different kinds of batteries in the same device. Use the same manufacturer, same type, same manufacture date.
  • Store batteries in a cool, dry place. (Your car, in the summer heat, is not so good for preserving the life of whatever battery-operated device you store in there.)
  • Don’t mix loose batteries with metal objects – like in your pocket with change. They can short-circuit and burn or explode!

Oh, and that story about storing batteries in the refrigerator? Keep batteries cool, but there’s no need to refrigerate modern batteries.

My phone’s my most important survival tool! What’s the best solution for it?

The battery already in your phone or computer may have to be replaced as some point. If so, you’ll probably have to get whatever the manufacturer requires.

But, you’ll be recharging that device many times before you have to get a new battery! In an emergency, of course, electrical power for recharging may be out or you may be nowhere near a wall socket. One back-up option is a device that holds an extra charge, just ready for you to plug in to when you need it.

So let’s look at portable chargers or Power Banks.

Power Bank with Flashlight

My Power Bank has a flashlight, too.

If your goal is to extend the life of your electronic devices, consider a Power Bank,  otherwise known as a “mobile power supply,” mobile battery, external battery, spare battery, charging stick, or portable charger. These devices can keep you operating for days at a time!

If your time is worth anything, a power bank will be an inexpensive boost to your productivity and, in an emergency, to your peace of mind.

Power Banks are sized from something similar to a small flashlight to a device that resembles a small external storage drive. They all fit in a palm, pocket or purse, but may be a bit heavy to carry around all day. (Check the weight.)

As you compare them, look for:

  • Capacity (measured in mAh, or milliampere hours). The higher the mAh, the more stored power.

    IS THE POWER BANK BIG ENOUGH TO DO THE JOB?  Some negative reviews come from people who expect a small battery to recharge a much larger device. Doesn’t work!

    You want enough juice to reload your phone or tablet completely, at least once and preferably more often than that! For example, one power bank model declares its 15,000 mAh are able to charge an iPhone 6 more than 5 times. To know how much capacity you need, get the specs on your device from the box it came in, or search online for “technical specs.”

  • Output (measured in V, or volts). Generally, you want the power bank output to be the same as the input to your device. For example, your phone and Bluetooth headset probably each have 5V input.
  • How many ports? Some of the chargers can “feed” as many as 4 devices at the same time. (You’ll need the right cord for each device.)
  • What security against short circuits, over-charging or over heating?

The chart below will gives you a quick idea of features and options. These models range from $20 – $40 each; click on the name to go directly to more details on Amazon. And they all look pretty much the same, either flat (like a fat cell phone) or tubular (like mine, in the photo above).

Portable Charger RAVPower 22000mAh 5.8A Output 3-Port Power Bank External Battery Pack (2.4A Input, Triple iSmart 2.0 USB Ports, High-density Li-polymer Battery) For Phones Tablets and More - Black22000 mAhFlat - Wide14.4 oz5.8A Output 3-Port External Battery Pack
Portable Charger RAVPower 13000mAh (Powerful 5V / 4.5A Dual USB Output) Power Bank External Battery Pack - Black13000 mAhFlat - wide10.88 oz4.5A Dual USB Output (iSmart Technology) Black
Portable Charger, RAVPower 10050mAh Outdoor External Battery Pack Waterproof Dustproof and Shockproof Rugged (Premiun Bttery Cell) Built-in Flashlight; iSmart Technology - Black10050 mAhFat - wide7.36 oz2.4A Single Output, 2A Input and iSmart Technology
[Smallest but Powerful Enough] Portable Charger RAVPower 3350mAh 3rd Gen Luster Mini - External Battery Pack and Power Bank & iSmart for iPhone, iPad, Android and Other Smart Devices - Black3350 mAhTubular2.56 ozSingle Output Port

What are the best batteries for our other emergency devices?

Disposable batteries

Understanding all that basic information listed above, we have tested disposable batteriesEnergizer, Duracell and Kirkland (Costco brand) — multiple times for our emergency radios. These radios are used once a month for our Emergency Response Team drill, and then very lightly, so we don’t go through the batteries quickly at all. We do automatically replace them regularly (usually twice a year at the time change.)

Re results of our testing? There doesn’t seem to be too much difference in manufacturers, although our current favorite is the Duracell Coppertop with Duralock.   You can get what you need at your local hardware or big box store, or add them to an Amazon order. Some packages have both AA and AAA sizes in one.

Rechargeable batteries

For multi-use devices, like our emergency radios, we prefer rechargeable batteries. We’ve found that rechargeables are often specified BY NAME by the manufacturer of the product. If specified, use ‘em.Other raters for rechargeables have consistently come up with Eneloop NiMH. These are made by Panasonic, and come in AAA and AA sizes.

Panasonic says these can be recharged 2,100 times!  For that reason alone I would try them!



Solar chargers

Finally, don’t overlook the small solar devices designed to recharge your phone and/or other devices. Some emergency radios have small solar panels, and can recharge a phone.

There are also small, handy solar panels you can attach to your backpack and recharge while you go! They cost around $40. Here’s an example – click on the picture to get full details.

Whew, this is a lot of info, but given the fact that we all seem to invest in batteries on a consistent basis, it’s worth it to get the right battery for the job.
Oh, and buying on sale? A good idea if you know what you’re buying.

But buying just on price alone makes no sense.

Your Emergency Plan Guide Team

If you’re part of a Neighborhood Emergency Response group, you’ll need a budget for batteries for your walkie-talkies. Here’s an article with some ideas about financing your group’s efforts.