We may not yet have flying cars, but most of us think smartphones are a pretty good second prize. In an emergency, your smartphone can be a vital tool for communication and situational awareness – but only as long as its battery lasts. As we saw during Hurricane Sandy, sometimes the kindness of strangers involves running an extension cord to the street so passers-by can charge their phones! While that is a great way to meet your neighbors, we’d like to offer some alternative solutions for keeping your phone working while nothing else is.
Charge your notebook computer, then use it to charge your phone. If your phone is plugged into your computer through a USB port, it’s charging even if the computer itself is running on battery power. To maximize your notebook’s life, close all applications, turn off its wireless card, and dim the display.
Use your uninterruptible power supply to charge your phone. If you’ve ever lost your tax forms or homework to a power flicker, you may have invested in a UPS to ensure steady power to your computer. That UPS is a big battery that perpetually charges itself. As soon as the power goes out, though, anything plugged into the UPS is drawing power from it. Turn off and unplug all nonessential tools, then plug your phone charger into one of your UPS’ outlets.
Turn off the nonessential functions on your phone. The big item here is your phone’s core functionality, which comes from its multiple radios. You can turn off Bluetooth and WiFi in your phone’s “settings” screen while still leaving its basic cellular network connection active for calls and texts. For even more energy conservation, schedule a few times to check your messages and send any critical messages. Outside those times, leave your phone in “airplane mode,” which powers down all its radios. Other temporary reductions in function include turning down screen brightness and speaker volume, turning off “push” notifications, and killing all apps that may be running in the background (either manually or by rebooting your phone).
Always keep your phone fully charged. Much like always keeping your car full of gas, keeping your battery topped up ensures you won’t be scrambling to find an alternate charging method in the midst of a crisis. It’s one less thing to worry about.
Text, don’t talk. Unless you’re sending multiple pictures of your ice-laden trees, text messages consume much less power than even short phone calls. They’re also vastly smaller amounts of data, so texts are more likely to go through if the cell network is experiencing its own difficulties.
Purchase (or borrow) alternate charging systems. While we don’t recommend running your car just to charge your phone (and certainly not inside your garage, where carbon monoxide can build up), a car charger is a useful tool to have on any long trip. If you want to make a larger preparedness investment, you also can buy a solar charger, which either can charge your phone directly or can charge a battery pack which can, in turn, charge your phone. We’ve also seen a camping stove which includes a small thermoelectric converter, converting waste heat from the cooking process into a bit of electrical power.
Much of this post’s material comes from Christopher Mims’ excellent phone power article on qz.com, written during the height of Sandy’s fury.