A recent article on CNN.com “U.S. electricity blackouts skyrocketing,” reported on the national increase in non-disaster-related power outages:
During the past two decades, such blackouts have increased 124 percent — up from 41 blackouts between 1991 and 1995, to 92 between 2001 and 2005, according to research at the University of Minnesota. In the most recently analyzed data available, utilities reported 36 such outages in 2006 alone.
It offers a good reminder that citizens should be prepared for such events. One particular tip I would suggest is to make sure that you have requisite backup power for your mobile phone as communications in a crisis is paramount.
The need for — and importance — of backup power for mobiles in an emergency was brought home to me a couple years ago when I responded to a building collapse in Manhattan with my CERT team. The accident displaced a number of apartment residents who came to the Red Cross evacuation center with two questions: when can we get into our homes? and second, how can we could get our cellphones charged?
Eventually, power chargers for the various mobile phone makes owned by residents were found. But it was a bit of an epiphany for me. I believe that the cellphone or PDA is the most important emergency tool you need to have and learn how to use. In fact, I recommended, on the suggestion of Mitchell Moss, that everyone have an extra cellphone battery.
I had worked with the Wireless Foundation and technology expert David Stephenson to add mobile phones as a recommended tool on emergency management sites. The Ready.Gov Get A Kit section now also recommends a battery-powered or hand crank radio and a NOAA Weather Radio with tone alert and extra batteries for both; flashlight and era batteries; and cell phone with chargers, inverter or solar charger. Another option is to have an extra ‘low-end, energy-efficient’ phone.
Rebecca Marquis, the Ready Program’s Deputy Director told me she was at jazz concert in New Orleans where everyone was given a free Energizer® Energi To Go® Portable Power for Cell Phones. I think that is the type of business involvement in advance emergency preparedness which needs to be expanded.
Also, the American Red Cross has a broader checklist of how to prepare for power outage beyond just communications.