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Hurricane survival tips for your electronics

Consumer Reports News: August 26, 2011 12:38 PM

Hurricane Irene is expected to make land-fall in North Carolina this evening and affect the East Coast this weekend. If you're a resident in the area, hopefully, you've already done all your disaster preparations—such as packing "go-bags" (or "urban survival packs") for you, your kids and your pets. And perhaps you've got your escape vehicle ready for the storm. But do you know what to do with your electronics? Here are some tips that might help your high-tech gear survive Mother Nature's wrath.

Pack an electronics "go bag"
Your electronics' survival pack shouldn't be much different than a personal go bag: Tough, waterproof, and strong enough to carry (at the very least) your gear and:

  1. Batteries. Make sure you have all the right types—disposable alkaline and lithium batteries—and sizes (AA, C, D) to keep all your electronics powered for at least a day. Spare, rechargeable batteries—especially for your mobile phone—should also be fully charged and ready to go.
  2. Portable chargers. Make sure to pack all your devices' power adapters—versions which plug into a standard wall outlet as well as ones that go into your car's 12-volt power point (cigarette lighter). Many devices now share a common power input (either mini or micro USB ports) so one adapter might be able to power several devices. Universal chargers—especially ones that provide energy produced by wind, solar or human muscle—should be considered valuable go bag occupants.
  3. Plastic bags. Water is the enemy of all electronics. Portable gear—mobile phones and GPS navigators, for example—which will be used heavily during natural disasters are especially vulnerable. Make sure you protect them in resealable plastic, zipper-locked sandwich bags. Batteries and other devices—such as your back-up external hard drive (see below)—should also be packed in protective plastic.
  4. Your back-up, external hard drive. Your storage device, packed in plastic, should have back-ups of all the personal data stored from your home PCs, laptops, and tablets. (You do create data back-ups, right?) This will be a godsend should you return to a wreaked house with non-functional computers. You might also want to store on the drive copies of your digital media. Playing movies and tunes on your portable laptop is a good way to keep yourself and restless kids entertained while sitting the storm out at a relief center without wireless Net access.
  5. Low-tech options. Sure, your smart phone with GPS maps and wireless Net connections can be great—until the service gets knocked out. Consider carrying simpler items such as paper-based maps (sealed in plastic), flashlights, whistles (for signaling), walkie-talkies (to keep in touch with others in your immediate group), and portable, hand-cranked emergency radios (for news and weather reports).

Preparations for home electronics
If you're not in immediate danger, here are some tips to consider:

  • Back-up important data. You've got paper copies of important financial and personal data in a disaster-proof safe. Copies of digital data from your home PC are stored on an external drive (see above) and packed in your electronics go-bag in case you need to evacuate your home. You might also want to consider uploading back-up copies to cloud storage services such as Amazon's Cloud Drive or Mobile Me. (But there are security risks to consider.)
    Don't forget to store other data—images of the serial numbers of pricey home TVs and appliances, information on your wireless home set-up, account login information, and so on. These bits of information can prove invaluable in post-disaster recovery.
  • Power considerations. Stock up on batteries for your mobile devices. If you have a battery-based uninterruptible power supply (or UPS) or portable generator, make sure it's in good working order. If your local power grid goes down during the storm, make sure only essential equipment—in-home medical devices and your refrigerator—are plugged in to your emergency power supply. And of course, a gas- or diesel-powered generator should never be operated inside your home.
  • Relocate. If possible, sensitive and pricey gear—such as your HDTV—should be moved away from windows, which can shatter and bring in damaging wind-tossed water. But bring only the essentials and your go-bags if you need to evacuate your home.

Check out our other disaster survival tips, including:

Other disaster resources:

And if you have other disaster tips, share them below.

Stay safe!

Paul Eng

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