Hurricane Irene threat levels

It’s looking like it will be a long weekend for our friends, readers and staff that live on the East cost of the United States.  Currently four TechnoBuffalo writers – Adriana, Emily, Joey and Mike – are all in the path of the coming storm, so it only seems appropriate that a tech blog hands out some advice on how to make sure you can communicate should the storm start to take out power or communications.

You may want to print out this post so you can refer to it in the event the power goes out.

Phones & Communication

Duracell pocket charger

  • Keep Your Phones Topped Up – While normally it’s a bad idea to keep your phones plugged in at all times, since you have no clue when/if the power is going out, you want to have it completely topped up.  (Caveat: If lightning picks up, unplug them lest they get shocked.)  Should you lose power for a prolonged period, you can alternately charge it by plugging it into a car charger (if you can safely get to your car), into a laptop or one of the portable chargers on the market that can use regular batteries.
  • Battery or Hand Crank Radio – If the power goes out, you’re still going to need to get updates on the situation.  A battery-operated or hand cranked radio will become invaluable.
  • Follow Twitter Streams of Local Information – Make sure to turn off automatic updating, and limit how often you check to conserve your battery, but Twitter updates from local authorities and news sources may be the best way to get updates on the local situation.
  • Forward Landline Calls to Your Cell – If you have call forwarding, and you may need to evacuate, forward your calls so you can still hear from friends, family or local updates on the emergency.
  • Mobile Hotspots – If you have a mobile hotspot as a backup to your Internet, connect as few devices to it as possible, and also connect the ones that will use the least amount of data in an effort to conserve battery power.
  • Text Messaging Has a Better Chance of Getting Through – If you find that you can’t get cell calls in or out, opt for text messaging as they are small and can more easily get through the system.  Be warned they may not be as instantaneous as you’re used to.
  • Update Your Facebook Status – If you have any signal at all, update your Facebook status.  This will reach far more people faster than sending out one text at a time.  (And then the resulting flood of replies)
  • Use Wi-Fi Calling – If your phone has a Wi-Fi option, or you have a femtocel device in your home, your odds of using your cell phone go up.  If you still have power that is.
  • Use a VoIP Alternative – Our own Joey Davidson had phone issues during the earthquake earlier this week and used the built in VoIP (Voice over Internet Protocol) option in GTalk to get a hold of family.  If you have power and Internet, services like Skype may become your best friend for reaching loved ones.


Head lamp

  • Light Sticks – More commonly seen at raves and concerts these days, chemical glow sticks are a safe alternative for lighting should your power go out.  They tend to last about 12 hours and give off no heat, so no concerns about knocking them over and burning down the house.  When I lost power for 34 hours back in July, I used four chemical light sticks a night in strategic locations and was easily able to walk through my kitchen, family room and front hallway without having to use any sort of flashlight.  Hang them from your current light fixtures so the light spreads out over an area.  You aren’t going to be reading by these, but they can make it simple to walk around.
  • Head Lamps – You won’t win any fashion awards when wearing a head lamp, but you aren’t going to care when you see how much easier they make your life in the dark.  Consider getting one with a hinge so you can angle it without having to constantly move your head to point it.  They keep your hands free to do things, and you don’t have to worry about trying to hold a flashlight at the same time.
  • LED Lanterns – There are tons of different lanterns out there, but LED versions tend to be cheaper, last longer and put out a good amount of light.  I was able to get through several chapters of a book on my (fully charged) Kindle during my power outage by LED lantern light.

Computers, Tablets and E-Readers

  • Turn Down Your Screen Brightness – Nothing will suck up battery power faster than a screen set to full brightness.
  • Turn Off Unnecessary Features – This applies to cell phones as well, but make sure Bluetooth, automatic features & updates from services, email and even your cellular radio as all of these things constantly search for signals and updates even if they aren’t there.
  • Download Weather & News Apps – This will depend on you having Internet or cellular service, but as long as you do, you might as well keep up to date on all the latest information.
  • Backup Important Data – While local backups are one option, what if your house floods?  A cloud based backup for your important files is a good idea.
  • Unplug Your Computer – If it looks like lightning is coming, unplug your computers entirely from their outlets, and if they are near a window, move them to a safer location.

General Gadget Tips

  • Store any gadgets and batteries you may not need to help in the emergency in plastic bags to protect them from potential water damage.
  • Stock up on batteries of all sizes.
  • Remember, people survived without gadgets for centuries, so can you.  Never risk your life to save any form of electronic device.

For a more full checklist of things to do to prepare for a disaster, FEMA has a PDF checklist you can download that covers planning, escape routes from your home and more.

Do you have any last minute tips for those in the path of Hurricane Irene?