How to Keep Your Smartphone Charged In A Natural Disaster

5 Tips For Keeping Your Phone Charged When A Natural Disaster Strikes

Hands holding a phone and a charger, low battery, white cable, new technologies
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My kids make fun of me because I like to keep my phone charged as close to 100% as possible. As in, I keep it plugged in most of the day, even when I’m using it, and I get antsy when it drops below 70-80%. My kids genuinely think I’m off my rocker, but they tend to wait until their devices are at 0% to charge them, and then they get freaked out when they don’t have enough juice to load a YouTube video.

So hmmm, maybe my system isn’t too bad, kids?

I think part of the reason I’m so anal about charging my phone is that I’m the kind of person who expects the other shoe to drop at any moment, and having a fully charged phone just feels like the responsible and safe thing to do. Lately, with all the natural disasters happening in the world, that type of thinking really doesn’t seem far off.

However, I know that if a natural disaster were to strike, even my fully charged phone may not last for the duration of the disaster. When Hurricane Sandy hit my area nine years ago, some of my family members lost power for several weeks! I learned that when you are in the midst of a serious and dangerous disaster, and may need to connect to others for help, having several different methods for keeping your phone charged—and for using it in an optimal way—is key.

Just last week, in fact, we were hard hit by Hurricane Ida, and before the storm hit, I went through my usual preparedness list: make sure all the devices in the house are charged, make sure the back-up charging brick is charged, and make sure our flashlights have fresh batteries.

But Ida really packed a wallop in our area—and most people who were hard hit by Ida were not totally prepared for just how bad it was going to be. We were, thankfully spared the worst of it. But between the surprising nature of Ida, along with so many other natural disasters happening in the news lately, I decided it was time that I re-up my disaster preparedness techniques.

One of the most basic ways to start is to make sure that I have a very good plan for keeping my phone and other devices charged for long durations. Like most people, I don’t have a landline, so my phone is the only way I would be able to reach emergency services, and it is the only way I’d be able to connect to loved ones in the event of an emergency or extended power outages.

So I did some research and came up with a brand spanking new plan for how to make my phone charge last as long as possible should a disaster strike. Here’s what I’m doing, and what I recommend others do, too:

Get An External Charger, Or Several

I’ve had an external charger since Hurricane Sandy hit. It’s one of those bricks with several ports in it. But I’m realizing that having one of those suckers may not be enough if I lose power for many days and aren’t able to leave your house. I’m ordering another few of these babies, and making sure they are always charged up.

Apparently, there are also solar chargers, which don’t rely on electricity. The problem with those is that you need adequate sunlight, which is often not possible during a natural disaster. There are also “hand crank chargers,” which rely on you manually cranking and squeezing them to generate electricity. They apparently don’t generate a ton of electricity, but aren’t bad if you are in dire straits and need to make an emergency phone call.

Use Your Laptop

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One easy way to charge your phone if your electricity is out is to use a port on your laptop for charging. Make sure you have the proper charging wires necessary for your phone to connect to your computer’s USB port.

You might feel concerned about draining the battery on your laptop, but honestly, in an emergency, having a charged phone is more important than having a charged laptop, so it’s probably wise to prioritize that.

Charge Your Phone In Your Car

During Hurricane Sandy, we charged our phones in the car when we had no power. To do this, you need to make sure you have a car charging adapter, if your car doesn’t already have one built in.

You might be concerned about draining your car battery, but Consumer Reports explains that charging your phone isn’t likely to do that. “You’re not going to kill your car battery,” Richard Fisco, head of electronics testing for Consumer Reports, explains. “You could charge 20 phones simultaneously and your car would still crank.”

If gas is low in your area as a result of the disaster, this is a legit concern, so you may want to ration those times that you use your car for charging, or charge your devices when you are otherwise using your car anyway.

Conserve Your Phone’s Battery

There are a whole bunch of things you can do to conserve your phone’s battery while you are using it. You can put your phone into “low battery mode.” Most phones have this option. You’ll likely need to go into your phone’s “settings” area to select this.

Other things you can do to extend your battery life on your phone is to close all apps that may be running in the background and turn down your brightness. If you don’t expect anyone to be getting in touch with you, go into “airplane mode” to preserve your battery. When possible, it’s best to rely on texting rather than phone calls, and especially video calls. (Sidenote: make sure you know how to text 911 in an emergency, in case your phone’s cellular connection conks out. Most areas have this option, so look into it beforehand.)

It’s also best to rely on Wifi when possible, as it drains your battery less than cellular data, according to The Washington Post. The Post also says that it’s better not to turn your phone on and off too many times, as that can drain your battery as well.

Utilize Charging Stations

During natural disasters, many towns set up disaster relief sites and many of these have charging stations. Many public places, like libraries, have generators, and will allow people to come in and charge up their devices. You may even be able to do so at your local Starbucks!

Consumer Reports has a great tip for this: add a power strip to your emergency preparedness kit. This way, if you go out to charge your stuff somewhere, you can connect several different devices at once, and charge ‘em all up.

Of course, these are all just tips for charging up your phone and other devices. Getting prepared for a natural disaster has so many other vital components, such as having a to-go bag packed, keeping up with emergency alerts, and having evacuation plans.

You should also have a good plan for how to stay in touch with loved ones who may be impacted. For example, you may want to decide on a texting app or social media platform where you can connect with others one, in case texting isn’t possible.

These sorts of things are definitely not things most of us like to think about. And yes, it’s possible that you will end up being over-prepared. Or that your kids will make fun of you for ordering an excessive number of external chargers (just me?). But it’s always better to be safe than sorry.

And sadly, when it comes to natural disasters, it’s not a matter of if this sort of stuff is going to affect you. Thanks to climate change, this is our reality right now. So we all need to be prepared.