Riding out the hurricane with your cell phone

Riding out the hurricane with your cell phone

Summary: Hurricane Irene has the East Coast hunkering down to deal with the beast, and those in the affected area need to prepare for the storm. These simple tips will help you deal with the hurricane using your cell phone and tablet.


The East Coast is battening down its hatches and those in the know are preparing for the worst while hoping for the best. As one who has lived on the Gulf Coast for years I feel your pain and know what you are going through. Having lived through more hurricanes than you can shake a stick at, I have some simple tips for helping you get through the worst of the storm and the possible aftermatch.

1. Head to Tech Broiler and check out the survival tools noted by my colleague Jason Perlow. He's got everything in there for tracking the storm and keeping informed.

2. Charge all of your phones, notebooks and tablets ahead of the storm. If there are major outages as often occur during such storms these devices may be your only method of keeping in touch and keeping informed. To make the batteries last as long as possible during a prolonged power outage, turn off everything you aren't actively using, like Wi-Fi and Bluetooth, and stretch the battery as long as possible. Use one device like an iPad or other tablet alone until the battery is exhausted, and then switch to the next device in your arsenal. Battery life is king in dealing with a prolonged power outage.

3. Use your phone sparingly, and only use text messages to communicate with friends and family. Big storms almost always result in cell phone networks going kablooey, and that's because of all the customers calling/receiving calls to see how everyone is doing. This is a natural reaction, but it kills the networks. Send a text as soon as you can to friends and family stating "we're OK, don't call, we'll call you" and help the cell networks recover.

4. If your data plan allows tethering using your phone by the month, activate it before the storm. Cell data networks come back much quicker than home ISP web connections, but only if you've enabled the tethering can you use your iPad or laptop. I survived a two-week power outage after Hurricane Ike by using tethering to get news using tablets and notebooks. No power means no TV news to find out what is going on locally, and having a data connection enables checking local weather with video for brief moments (conserving battery). Storms like these are much easier to weather if you know what is going on, and hell if you don't.

5. Make your batteries last as long as possible. Turn your devices off all the way when not in use. Batteries are king during a prolonged outage. A useful tool for your cell phone is a car power adapter for charging it during a power outage. Run it dry normally using the conservation tips mentioned, and then plug it into your car's outlet to charge it back up.

These tips are only common sense but worth mentioning for those not experienced in dealing with such storms. Hurricanes are fickle, incredibly powerful beasts and every advantage you can give yourself makes the process of getting through the storm that much more bearable. Be safe and be smart.

Image credit: Weather.com

Related: CNET: Hurricane Irene to challenge cell phone networks

How to track hurricanes on your phone

Topics: Telcos, Hardware, Mobility

Kick off your day with ZDNet's daily email newsletter. It's the freshest tech news and opinion, served hot. Get it.


Log in or register to join the discussion
  • RE: Riding out the hurricane with your cell phone

    Another thing to remember, and it happened to me during Ike, is that cellular data is not a given in times of very high call volume. Several carriers during Ike were cutting all data during the daytime, presumably to get more voice calls through. At night, as call volume dropped, the data turned back on. For my Blackberry at the time, this was the case for at least two or three days.

    Otherwise, your tips are spot on. Also, for people who really want to have a back-up, consider a cellular hotspot, or get your internet from Clear Wireless, which works over cellular networks. For me, a single device, which can be powered by a small inverter in my car, can power the cellular modem and wireless router, giving me 10+ Mbps downloads. Assuming, of course, that Sprint doesn't kill their WiMax 4G in favor of voice.
  • RE: Riding out the hurricane with your cell phone

    IMHO, Cell technology cannot be guaranteed with any degree of certainty. Too many things can break the chain. Loss of power and you only have service as long as the UPS batteries at the cell tower (or backup generator if you are fortunate) last. Water from tidal surges will often take out Local Central Office switch gear. That is not even considering if the Central Office has issues. Really when a strong hurricane hits, short range radio and amateur (Ham) radio is often the only communication left working.
  • Finding more power

    If you have one of those portable batteries to jump start a car they usually have a cigarette lighter port on them. I've used these many times to juice up an iPad or cellphone during an extended outage. The key is to use the cigarette lighter port and not the built in inverter (if it has one). The inverter wastes a bunch of energy. If you have an iPad make sure you have a 10W rated cigarette adaptor like the one Griffin makes.<br><br>If your UPS has a USB charger port on it then unplug your stuff from it and charge it fully. These devices have larger batteries to run several hundred watts for a few minutes. Turn all that off and let it push 5W into the USB port and it can charge mobile equipment many many times. Or if it doesn't have a USB charger port then it can still invert power into a USB charger brick, it just wastes more of the juice.<br><br>AA powered USB emergency chargers and a brick of Costco Kirkland AA batteries. I've used the Energizer model that takes 2 AA's to provide emergency juice. These boost a cell phone or personal hotspot device back into a full charge but I find they suck a lot pf AA's to fill up an iPad's battery.<br><br>Upgrade to LED flash lights and lanterns. I got an LED Lantern at Costco for $50 that eats 8 D cells and provides a room full of light for 30 hours. I also have various flashlights that are LED based and will go for weeks of usage on a set of AA batteries (that Costco AA brick has multiple uses.)<br><br>Carbon Monoxide detector. Especially important if you live in a multi-unit dwelling. During power outages people will do things to cook (and heat during colder months) that generate carbon monoxide. A battery powered CO detector can literally save your life from your neighbors (or yourself).<br><br>An iPod/Cellphone that gets FM is very handy. Don't over look your mobile devices that can pick up FM radio. If the cell 'net doesn't come right back the ability to listen to FM is very valuable.<br><br>Your lowest power web browser is your Kindle. If you need to stretch your batteries and keep up on the 'net don't forget your Kindle has a web browser than can get you around and let you send email and tweets to let your loved ones know how you are doing. I've kept one 3G kindle as my ultimate fall back for when things really get rough as it can go over a week with the 3G on per charge and it charges on the AA Energizer charger. Turn the 3G on and off and it will go weeks on a charge.<br><br>The last amplification I would makes to James' suggestions above... If you need to use your iPhone to keep your kids sane (or yourself) put it in airplane mode to get the most game play time. And don't forget Kindle Active content. Lowest powered game device is again the Kindle and they do have various games available in addition to books.