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The gear and game plan you need to stay connected in a disaster

Make sure you can stay in touch with the world -- and survive.

If you lose power during a storm or an earthquake, you may be able to get by for three hours, but do you have what it takes to stay connected if the lights go out for three days -- or longer?

On Aug. 10, a series of violent windstorms -- a derecho with winds of more than 100 mph -- battered Iowa without warning. An estimated 12,000 customers in the state were without power for nearly two weeks, according to poweroutage.us. And when Hurricane Maria hit Puerto Rico in 2017, it knocked almost all of the island's power grid offline and kept parts of the island in the dark for almost a year. 

In today's smartphone-dependent world, those in the path of a storm can't count on apps to be a sole source for all news and communication with the outside. A natural disaster might leave you stranded without power days on end in a dark home with nothing but a dead phone battery. And if you need to evacuate, you'll need to prepare a go-bag with basics to keep you safe. 

I grew up in South Florida, where planning to go for a week without power is part of the norm for summer hurricane season. It was 28 years ago today that my family huddled around the radio and battery-powered TV for information after the monster Category 5 Hurricane Andrew leveled entire neighborhoods nearby.


Juice up

An outage can last a day or a week, so you'll need a few options for backup battery packs. They come in many sizes and capacities, depending on how much you're willing to spend. A power bank -- like those made by Anker -- are good for travel, but you also can buy larger battery packs that could power even your TV in short intervals. There's the Duracell Powerpack Pro and Black & Decker Power Station, which are also sold to jump-start car batteries. On the pricer side are ones like the Jackery Portable Power Station, which can handle the TV, fan and a few phones. 

Once you buy them, though, don't let batteries sit in your closet for a year and expect them to work when disaster strikes. Batteries degrade over time, and leaving one idle is a sure way to kill it. But as a general rule of thumb, follow the manufacturer's guidance, keep it charged up and use it every so often, and store it in a cool room to preserve it longer.


Give it some gas

If you're planning on buying a gas-powered generator, you'll want a UPS pack, which is short for Uninterrupted Power Supply.  Gas-powered generators can put out "dirty" power, meaning the voltage fluctuates and can damage electronics. Using a UPS to filter the power can prevent your tech from frying, Norcross says.

Some generator models, like the Honda EU2200 series, come with a built-in inverter to pump out more stable power for your computers. George Hill, an ex-soldier and expert survivalist who has been through his share of storms, says Honda's models are small enough to store under a bed and can run about eight hours on one gallon of gas (depending on the load). At around $1,000, it's a hefty investment, but it could make a big difference when power is out for the long haul. And although this may seem obvious, never run a gas-powered generator indoors, no matter how desperate you are for power. The carbon monoxide will kill you.

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