The Four Devices You Need to Communicate in Any Disaster

JULY 22ND, 2014

In October of 2012, Hurricane Sandy devastated the New York and New Jersey region, destroying power lines and cellphone towers. Thousands were left without power or communications. For some, it was the stone ages. Many people had smartphones, but with no power, no cellphone towers, and no Internet access, communication was near impossible. Fortunately, there are a couple of companies working hard to make sure affordable emergency power and communication access is available to people, even following emergencies like Sandy. Communicating The first device you need to communicate in emergencies is probably in your pocket right now: your smartphone. But as we know, large enough storms can obliterate cellphone towers and halt Internet access. Without Wi-Fi or cell service, what good is your phone? Luckily, a design firm called Pensa has developed a piece of external hardware called the GoTenna, which pairs with most Android and iOS messaging apps. Messages are sent via Bluetooth from the phone to the GoTenna, which then converts the message to an analog version that’s sent over radio signals to receiving users, who must also be using the GoTenna. Messages can be sent to groups, and location information can easily be sent to contacts already in the phone. GoTenna also has a number of recreational uses like for communication while hiking or backpacking since it allows people to communicate anywhere without a signal. It’s cheaper and less bulky than walkie-talkies, and offers far more mobility than HAM radios. Getting Power During Sandy, there were some residents who had power. Many of these people didn’t simply squander the power, but set up extension cords and offered their outlets to those around them who needed it. This allowed neighbors to charge cell phones and other devices so that they could keep in communication, where cell service permitted. The important thing to note here is that power is a very precious commodity for emergency communications. But even while some areas did have limited power, others had absolutely none. Even if your phone had service, how long would the power last? Without power and a signal, there’s no way to send a message. That’s where Goal Zero makes its entrance. Goal Zero is a Utah-based company that makes various solar-charging devices. They’ve got solar panels, solar generators, power packs, and many more devices that allow you to keep your devices charged in any type of emergency using the power of the sun. This keeps you covered if you can’t rely on regular utilities, but there’s a big question: what if it’s cloudy? Following a large storm like Sandy, the sun might not be out for a while. That means solar chargers might not help people recharge devices in all disaster scenarios. But there’s another option. The BioLite CampStove is a small, portable device that allows you to charge any USB device using any type of burnable biomass (sticks, pinecones, etc.). Since it’s also a stove, the BioLite CampStove lets you boil water or cook. It’s really a handy device for emergency and recreational purposes alike. Being prepared Disasters are common. Whether you’re talking about the recent earthquake in Chile, the wildfires that are happening in Washington, or the hurricanes that affect the coastline of the US every year, there are seemingly always disasters happening somewhere. As we’ve discussed at length, the best way to deal with disaster is to be prepared. Basic necessities should be considered first, things like food, water, shelter, but beyond that you need to be able to communicate, and this requires power and a way to send messages. Loved ones want to know you’re safe, where you are, and how they can help, but the only way that can happen is if you can contact them. Take some time to consider how you would communicate following an emergency in your area. Are you getting you emergency plan together? These six apps can help during an emergency—keep them in mind as you plan. Photo credit: Wikimedia  

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