Hi-Tech Tips That Can Save Your Life

Hi-Tech Tips That Can Save Your Life: How to keep your gadgets safe in a crisis.

While we’re preparing for natural disasters like Hurricane Sandy, our gadgets can do more than just help us pass the time. Here are the best ways to keep your devices charged and operational when the power goes out.

We all know we’ll be hit by a disaster at some point — whether it’s a hurricane, earthquake, or other natural disaster. That’s why we plan ahead and prepare, or store canned goods and bottled water. But when it comes to our gadgets, we tend to get complacent. Is there really any way they can help us?

As it turns out, these high-tech tools can actually be life-savers — if you use them correctly. To get the scoop on how to prepare for any situation with your devices in tow, we tapped experts from FEMA, The American Red Cross, as well as gadget-safety site ReadyCommo and mobile security company AVG Technologies for their tips on how to stay connected during a crisis — and beyond!

Gadgets are great, but what use are they in a crisis?

There’s plenty of technology that keeps us safe, from earthquake detectors to smoke alarms. But when it comes to the gadgets we use every day, the advice is clear: have backups and prepare an emergency kit.

“Keep your phones charged, keep your laptop charged,” says CNET senior editor Dan Ackerman, who recommends keeping a car charger in your bag. “If you’re at home and you don’t have electricity, you can plug into your car.”

If you’re traveling or on vacation, Ackerman says travelers should always be prepared for the worst. “I always like to think about what would happen if all this stuff was lost or stolen,” he says. “It’s good to have multiple ways of doing everything.”

For instance: “You want to make sure you have a hard copy of any key documents…and make sure that you know how to get into any key accounts if it’s all locked away inside your phone.” That includes having passwords memorized and stored separately from the equipment itself. Even something as simple as an old-fashioned paper map is better than nothing, if all else fails.

As hurricane season approaches, it’s time to start thinking about how you’ll protect your gadgets from disaster.

If you live in a coastal area prone to hurricanes, you’re probably used to keeping a stock of flashlights, batteries, and bottled water on hand. But don’t forget about your digital devices: They can be just as useful as a flashlight if the power goes out.

Here are some tips that can help you prepare for the worst.

The first thing to worry about when there’s a natural disaster coming is whether you’ll lose power. If there’s no electricity, your phone will eventually die, and so will everything else that needs charging via USB cable or wall outlet.

The best way to prevent that is to invest in a mobile battery pack like the Mophie Juice Pack Plus, which has an integrated battery that can charge an iPhone 4 or 4S twice over before needing a recharge itself. You can also get external batteries for iPads and other tablets.

It’s not enough to have a cellphone, PDA or laptop. You also need to protect your data and batteries so you can use them when you need them most.

If disaster strikes, it will be impossible to charge your devices or replace their batteries. Your cell phone, PDA, laptop and other electronics may become the only way you can stay connected to the outside world and the people who care about you.

Experts say you should keep enough power in your gadgets to last at least three days. This might mean keeping three fully charged extra batteries on hand, or taking your laptop, cell phone and PDA on a business trip with spare batteries already installed, says Steve Sintra, a technology consultant based in New York City.

You can also find solar-powered chargers that will keep gadgets powered up without needing an outlet. Companies like Freeplay Radio offer a variety of crank-up and solar-powered radios that require no electricity for recharging.

In a crisis situation, you may want to reach out to friends, family and co-workers who are far away. A natural inclination is to use your cell phone — or if it’s a landline emergency, your home phone. However, with everyone else trying to do the same thing, it’s likely the network will be overloaded. In that case, try sending text messages instead of making calls. They’re easier for cell towers to process in times of heavy congestion. Also use text messages as much as possible when talking long distance; they don’t go through the regular phone networks and are therefore less likely to be jammed or down altogether.

If your mobile phone has a built-in GPS chip — and many do these days — make sure to turn it on before you need it. That way emergency responders will know your location without having to ask you where you are.

If you rely on social networking sites like Facebook and Twitter, consider using them in times of emergency only for non-critical communication. As with texting, they work well even when phone networks are congested because they don’t rely on the same infrastructure as voice calls. But chances are good that if a disaster occurs in an area where many people use social networking sites it will overload those sites too,

If you’re a smartphone user, your phone is probably your most vital possession. It’s an essential tool for communication and data management, and it’s also likely to contain your photos, address book, calendar, and other irreplaceable data. If you’re traveling in an area affected by civil unrest, natural disaster or other emergency, it’s critical that you protect your phone and its contents. Here are five tips to keep in mind.

1. Make sure your phone is fully charged before leaving the house.

2. Buy a portable charger (also known as a power pack) which allows you to recharge your phone on the go.

3. Keep a car charger with you whenever possible; many cars have USB ports which allow you to charge devices even when the engine is off.

4. Turn off GPS and Wi-Fi when not in use; this will help preserve battery life without sacrificing safety or functionality.

5. Consider using a privacy screen protector to deter thieves from attempting to steal your device or access its contents without your knowledge.

If you live in California and have a garden hose, you already know how to water your plants in the event of an earthquake. Turn on the outside faucet.

If you live in hurricane country, you may have tried this one: Fill up your sink with water. If you have a portable dishwasher, drain it into the bathtub or toilet, then fill it with water and lock the door.

If you live someplace where the power goes out during snowstorms, and you have a gas stove, try this: Fill all your pots and pans with water, and set them on the stove to boil. You’ll be able to cook dinner, take hot baths or showers, do laundry and wash dishes without electricity for days. (Don’t try this if you have an electric stove.)

And if you live where tornadoes are common? Don’t bother adding plywood shutters to your house; install a storm cellar instead. It’s cheaper than storm windows and plywood shutters, and can save yourself money on home insurance premiums.

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