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The information presented on this page was originally released on August 11, 2011. It may not be outdated, but please search our site for more current information. If you plan to quote or reference this information in a publication, please check with the Extension specialist or author before proceeding.
Disasters challenge technology's power
Having the right technology on hand after a natural disaster or emergency can make the difference between being stranded and getting back on the road to recovery quickly.
When putting together an emergency kit, think through technology issues for checking in with loved ones who will be concerned.
Cellphones work well when there is electricity available to charge the phone, but when the power is out or the car is sitting on the side of the road, having a secondary source of power is a must. There are three types of cellphone chargers that do not require electricity: hand-crank, solar and battery generator chargers.
Hand-crank cellphone chargers operate best when the phone is not completely dead. Turning the hand-crank for several minutes generates enough power to make a short telephone call. A single hand-crank charger can cost as little as $10, but many hand-crank chargers come packaged together with emergency radios. A cellphone charger and radio costs around $60.
Solar chargers work best if there is some battery life left in the phone but are capable of charging a phone that is completely dead. It takes eight to 10 hours of direct sunlight to fully charge a solar charger so that it can charge a cellphone or digital camera. Solar chargers work because the sun charges a set of internal lithium-ion batteries. These batteries in turn charge the device. A solar charger can range in price from $30 to $80, depending on the accessories.
A battery generator charger works like generators used in other situations. Place either AA or D batteries in a portable case and connect the phone to the case by a cable. The batteries then supply the charge for the dead cellphone. Depending on the charger selected, the phone can be charged for 20 to 60 minutes. Most battery chargers cost around $10.
When purchasing one of these three types of chargers, make sure it is compatible with your phone and the phones of family members. Some charging devices require a cable to connect the phone to the charger, which is sold separately. Other technologies, such as iPads and laptops, draw too much power to be charged with these devices. At the most, a cellphone, digital camera or mp3 player could be charged.
Another important piece of technology to have in the emergency preparedness kit is a digital camera or disposable camera. Most cellphones have a built-in camera function that will take adequate pictures of the damage for insurance purposes, but using the cellphone to take pictures will run the battery down faster. Digital cameras take a clearer, higher-resolution image that can be printed and enlarged without distortion.
When a widespread disaster impacts an area, send short text messages when possible to keep cellphone lines from becoming overwhelmed. To people in the disaster area, text RUOK, which stands for “Are you OK?” Those in the area may respond with IMOK, which stands for “I’m OK.” Short text messages will also conserve more battery power than voice conversations.
Having the appropriate technology in place before an emergency can make a difficult situation less stressful and help you notify emergency responders or worried relatives more quickly.