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The impact of a disaster takes a toll on everything, but the biggest issues for most is power and communication. When you are stuck without power, your phone’s battery trickles away, eventually leaving you without a means to communicate with family, emergency services and to see what is happening around you. Having power driven to your phone is an indirect way to ensure your safety, so we look at eight alternative ways you can charge your phone when the grid is down.
For Puerto Rico, Florida and Houston, going without power wasn’t just a one-night thing. In some cases, it lasted for weeks on end as citizens were plunged into darkness with no knowledge of what was being done or what was going on. So it got me thinking, how can I charge my phone without power?
The first thing that came to mind, and probably yours too, is to use a solar panel. Innovations in solar energy and harnessing sunlight have made it possible for us to have phone-case sized solar chargers or flexible chargers that can fold up to fit in your backpack.
Of course, in a real catastrophic situation, there is not going to be much point in using a phone except for a flashlight. As we have seen in Puerto Rico, a heavy hurricane can wipe out most of the area’s towers disrupting access to mobile phone services.
For phone signal, we are already seeing some new methods coming out by Facebook in their use of cell-phone drone towers. There is hope, that in mother nature’s next bombing run, that if towers were to be damaged there would be a quick service replacement up and running very quickly.
As I have seen, mobile use is important to more than 70% of you (readers of this site) and it’s the one survival tool that most people carry all of the time, so let’s take a look at how you can charge your phone when the power is out.
I mentioned solar panels before and why not? They’re easy and they actually work when you need them to, especially in a disaster or emergency event where you are left without power.
I spoke to a Florida-based reader who was caught in the midst of Hurricane Irma without access to power and a way to communicate as there was no reception at the time. He was able to use an Anker solar panel charger over the course of the aftermath of Irma to charge his iPhone to communicate with emergency services, speak to others in his area and take videos of the flooding. Rather than telling you what Anker suggests with their charging times, his was a real use in a disaster zone and he was able to get a full charge on his iPhone on a cloudy day in three hours, and one hour for a complete charge in full sunlight.
For communication, he was able to communicate on a mesh network he had previously organised with friends in the neighbourhood.
There are, of course, more conveniently sized solar chargers that are a smartphone case with a solar panel on the back, however, the charging time is not worth the convenience in size.
If you want to try the MacGyver way of charging a phone then you can tape together eight D-cell batteries with tape and connect the terminals using paperclips.
This was an idea uploaded by a Reddit user who’s cousin devised the method as an alternative way to charge without the need for power. Impressive right?
To start with, this is definitely not something you are not going to be carrying around in a survival kit. At the moment, the market for portable, or small-scale wind generators is very small. And it makes sense too. To use them you need to be in an environment with strong, consistent wind. And where you can use one of these, a solar panel would suffice.
The only benefit to using wind power is that you can get an optimal power inlet for night-time use, which overcomes the problem of power usage at night without the use of sunlight, as well as on cloudy days.
There are two types of DIY wind generators on the market at the moment, there are the little modular kits that look like an experimental kit (don’t bother as they take too long to charge anything). And then there are the large kits that raise the fan to a height where the breeze would be more optimal and have a much larger fan span to harness the wind.
I know a few off-the-gridders who use the 12V wind turbine kits. From what I have seen this is a growing area for self-sufficient lifestylists and agriculturalists who are looking for alternatives to power generators. Of course, it would be optimal to use this alongside a solar panel. Using this windmill with the right conditions and placed in a prime and consistently windy spot, can replace a power generator easily, so it is definitely worth looking into.
The BioLite is a wood-burning camp stove that can charge your phone, cook your food and boil water. These are a very new addition to outdoors gear which puts an edge on charging technology out in the wild. In comparison to the solar panels (even the portable outdoors ones) and the wind generator, this is definitely a piece of kit that will be used by survivalists in the coming years.
While it seems like a very technological product, it isn’t, it is a very simple burner that doesn’t use gas but instead uses the twigs and fuel you find on the forest floor (so long as it is dry and not wet). It eliminates the need to carry gas bottles for a gas burner or fuel for other burners so it has a very green aspect to it.
The boil rate on this thing runs at about five minutes for a full litre, and in that time you can get a small amount of charge. But while it is a great way to still use your phone without needing power outdoors, the charger on this thing is slow. Much slower than the solar panel or windmill. The unit has an onboard fan which runs while there is a fire to stop any overheating occurring and this takes the majority of the electricity generated, with the rest going to your phone.
This is a very genius attempt at charging and may take some time to set up, so if you are in a desperate need to start charging your phone, you might want to look into an alternative than this. If you are outdoors and are looking for an interesting, primitive experiment, try it out.
The user in this video made his charger by utilizing the movement of the water with plastic bottles, disposable platters, a three-phase stepping motor and a rectifier circuit.
This new company has been working with the US military to design a shoe that can charge a battery with movement. According to the site, their trials of the shoes have been able to completely charge an iPhone after walking for an hour.
The company behind the shoe, SolePower, are also responsible for working with agencies and emergency response developers on a shoe that can emit data such as GPS locations and temperature to give team leaders a more situational awareness of the environment people are working in. These are currently being trialled by the military and by firefighting units.
With the wind of a hand you can also charge your phone. I know it seems like we are going back to basics here but much like the wind power generator works by a moving fan, you can also use your own strength to give power to your phone, and to be honest, this is one of the best and cheapest solutions for power generation.
Crank chargers are quite often underrated in survival kits but are amazing pieces of equipment. The fact that they are not reliant on power, but rather, use hand energy to work is second-to-none and generally, a crank charger is also coupled with a flashlight and radio.
The American Red Cross have two of these available and they are highly recommended devices for emergency situations and disaster scenarios. The first, and one that I use in my own survival kit is an FM weather alert radio and USB charger hand crank system. You can also opt for the cheaper Red Cross hand crank which is a flashlight with a USB charger.
It goes without saying that this should be the first thing you do to charge your phone if you are in a disaster. If you have a laptop nearby plug it in and take the juice. You’re more likely to use your phone when the power is out than your laptop.
When you are in a power out, preserve your phone’s power. Turn off all of the applications that are running in the background as well as location tracking services as this can use up a lot of power running as a background operation.
You want to keep as much of that highly sought after power in your phone so you can use it when you need to. In these situations, such as the recent flooding disasters we have seen in Florida, Houston and now Puerto Rico, we can see how much a little bit of connection matters to not only your own way of signalling for safety, but to let loved ones afar know that you are safe and well. Get it, keep it and use it when you need it the most.