We take a lot for granted. What happens when we can no longer rely on the way we normally use internet or power? What happens if you are in a situation where you may need to get communications? Let’s take a look.

A home with solar panels, but there are plenty of other options.

Needs

Most people rely heavily on the power grid to get their electricity that powers their homes, computers, and their lives. Some conditions may have adverse effects on this such as natural disasters, cyber attacks, or where they choose to have a structure they wish to power. Internet and power are so ubiquitous for most American’s that it is often overlooked that in some places it is not possible to get without getting creative and using alternative sources. According to this map provided by the FCC website, most areas should have broadband available in residential areas.

This map can be found on the FCC.gov website. A top level view of internet access in the lower 48.

You can find the same type of information regarding power in the United States by going to US Energy Information Administration Website. You will notice in both maps that there seems to be coverage in most locations and for population centers this is true. In rural regions, this is not always the case. In an FCC report one in four in rural areas still do not have access to broadband. Some arguments could be made to rely on satellite internet or mobile, however, these at this time are not considered reliable. Starlink, is making huge leaps and bounds on addressing reliability of satellite internet. We still also need to consider that reliable power can and is a problem in a variety of conditions. As we continue to progress technology the need for more robust power infrastructure grows, but it is not always growing outside of metropolitan areas. In a disaster situation, power is lost due to trees and power pole destruction. This can pose serious safety concerns not just for those sent to repair but also for the individuals in the impacted regions. Power systems have also been linked to causing catastrophe’s, PG&E has done it’s fair share and they are not alone.

Power and Stability

Power is a requirement for internet access to be sustained, this is prevelaint in how we need to connect. Your phone, your router, your other devices, and the need for electricity to move across the wire for your precious downloads. Whether, you are using satellite, WiFi via broadband, or your phone, a power source of some type is needed to power the relays to get information across. This makes power the cornerstone of communication access. While it is possible for short durations(under 24 hours) to use most backup battery solutions or reliant on your phone or laptop batteries. What happens when this duration of a power outage begins to go for days?

We will need to employ other methods for our power sources. You could rely on your vehicle to do a quick charge of your phone and possibly your laptop if you have such adapters, most people do not have all the things they would need to make it through such impacts. We would also need to consider our operating conditions for all the other options. A point to make here is that someone who lives in an apartment is not going to be able to run a generator in their location, a home may not have a generator, or lack of fuel. Any of these types of scenarios pose serious issues to an individual in a disaster or outage situation. As we have taken for granted our phones, what happens when towers are knocked out due to damage? Not only are we now without reliable power but now without reliable communications. Communication is vital for survival in the modern era, whether the adversary is human or of natural causes.

Aftermath of a tornado in Tennessee. Little warning, lots of damage, loss of power and communication.

If you were to be without power for a week would you and your family be safe? If you were to be without communications and power for a week would you and your family be safe? Let’s consider the following methods to keep power available to us somewhat reliably. The first step in guaranteeing some safety and communications.

Keeping Power Available

There are a number of power backup methods that we can use, however, we need to be very aware of the operational requirements for them. As previously pointed out someone in an apartment will not be able to run a generator, but it is possible they could use solar panels, a crank charger. or even mini windmill dependent on the weather. Though each of these options do have a cost and several considerations for storage when not in use and size of your domicile. Apartment dwellers are also subject to rules during non disaster times that may impact their ability for disaster preparedness. You should be aware of what you can and can’t do for your preparedness plan before you need to use it.

We are also assuming that you are able to remain in this location, you will also need to understand how to properly use these tools in order to retain power. Another consideration for why power is important is your food sources, many rely on their refrigerator and freezers for food storage. This will also require power and if food spoils it can be disastrous if you decide to eat it in a dire straits situation, this happens a lot in disasters. Just part of the operation considerations we need to consider, you should always have some non perishable food stores and water just to avoid this issue.

Home dwellers have the most options for handling power concerns. Solar panels, generators, and in some cases windmills. Each home and location have their own operational hazards to consider. In some cases it could be hurricanes, tornados, snow, wind storms, earthquakes, or flooding dependent on locale. This can make for some interesting threat modeling on how to address power options. There also plenty of alternative methods for repurposing other devices in order to provide power, however, you should do your research prior and know how to use them. One example is using welding machines, some have converted old washing machines, and some use bicycles. There are alot of options dependent on the space that you have and what resources you have access too. I would encourage you just with any tool to understand how to use it prior to needing to use it. A tool will only perform as well as the person using it.

In regions without stable access to power, even without a disaster, we can utilize more common approaches as we looked at with home dwellers. This applies to off grid living which has started to gain popularity in recent years. The prepper movement has also gained momentum and the exploration of such off grid setups are now going to the mainstream. It all began with minimum requirements, now some are luxury conditions while being in isolation with all you need. You and your family needs should come first, plan around safety and stable power access via some method. Let’s tackle communications.

Generators can come in various sizes and vary in their usefulness, you should research before buying one.

Communications

Now that we have a plan for our power, now we will need to establish some communications. Just as with preparing for loss of power, we should also make a plan for lack of communications and understand our options. You should plan for being without cell service for a week, usually service should be restored by this point in most cases but it is also advised to understand long term communication options. Analog works best in disaster situations CB(Citizen Band) Radio, HAM(Amateur)Radio, and in some cases even Marine VHF Radio if it is a serious situation. We can also utilize HAM radio with others to form meshnets with far reaching coverage if you and your community work together to create on. Just with any other tool, it is only as useful as the person using it. It is best to practice use and understanding prior to needing to rely on it.

A handheld CB Radio can be quite useful for communications up to a couple of miles(~2) if conditions of line of sight are ideal. This is the most readily accessible and requires no license to operate. There are many CB Radio operators in the United States, most long haul truckers have them as well as off-road vehicle enthusiasts. CB does not require a license to operate and it is the most accessible to most people. You can easily find them or other two-way radio bundles for you and your family to keep in touch in disaster environments. They are also fairly affordable.

A HAM radio will require you to get a license to transmit but not to listen. You can transmit if you are requiring emergency help. Getting a HAM radio operator’s license is fairly easy. It no longer requires you to know morse code as the test did in the past. You can also pick up several different types of portable and battery operated HAM radio’s for fairly cheap. Many of them can be used as a modem and support data protocols to use with APRS gateways to connect to the internet. You will need to find an operator running a gateway, this gateway is essentially allowing you to use their internet access via the airwaves. With this type of gateway one could run a series of routers and networking interfaces to interconnect other connections to form a meshnet with other individuals or entities. These types of networks are not super common but are growing in some communities. To find out more find your local amateur radio club and inquire.

VHF Radio is typically a marine specific radio communication channels and does require a license. In emergencies you are also permitted to use them to seek help. Vessels that are equipped VHF have an identifier on the radio and this allows for emergency response to help in determining location using this MMSI identifier. I have very little usage with VHF, even in the ocean most rely on HAM, CB, or Satellite phones.

In rural areas satellite internet is more common now, and with the rise of Starlink we will begin to see these devices possibly becoming part of emergency preparedness. It is a welcome change to see such changes and simplifying of it’s use, it is also an underlying aspect is to not rely on one company. It is also important to understand that an internet outage for such devices is possible. Just always consider your threat modeling and reliance on technology.

Radio antenna, these can be a lifesaver in a pinch. Never overlook resources.

What if?

There are always a number of considerations for disaster preparedness and there will always be evolving conditions. You will not be able to plan for all of them and it would take years to threat model everything. Let’s do go over some things that you could easily put together in an emergency bag aka a bug out bag for each of your family member’s in order to guarantee some resources available in a worst case scenario. So far, we have only assumed we did not have to leave our location but what happens when we are going to lose our location due to flooding, tornado, or some other condition? We need to have some basic level of understanding of our must haves. With each addition to your pack you need to consider weight, usefulness, and your understanding of it’s use. You will need to learn how to use each item prior or it could be the difference of safety or demise.

A couple of things I keep in a pack for such conditions may differ than most, however, again you should adjust to your needs and your conditions. What is needed during a warm hurricane season preparedness is not the same as what would be needed in a winter storm condition which you lose your location due to weather. Always be aware of your situation and operation hazards and be sure to have clothing for the situation. Any link included below are just some examples to start with.

With these tools and supplies you should be able to get to safety if you are presented with a condition to which you may be forced to be outdoors for a few days and rely on some of the equipment listed. I would also suggest getting some familiarity with field dressing and make sure you have all of the documentation for each device on hand, whether in print form or digital on your device(s). You may not have internet, so be sure to have it accessible without need of the internet.

Disasters can occur at any point and time, try to be prepared. It can save you and your family.

Conclusion

A lot of this information stems from direct impact from natural disasters in my own personal life. Having grew up in the southeastern U.S. we are exposed to the needs of this information and how to apply it. Many are never going to have to deal with disasters, and I am happy for you. For some though, we will and it will be something that we will have to overcome. This information is not a 100% guide to surviving or options in such conditions. This is just to get you to consider options and look into how prepared you may be for yourself and your loved ones. It is good to have a preparedness plan and to go over it with your family. Much easier to ask questions when times are calm versus when chaos.

Stay safe out there and be sure to get to know your local community. You might be surprised to find out there are plenty of people out there looking to make things better and you could play a part in it. There are a lot of topics on this matter and it will forever be evolving as technology evolves. The biggest advice I can give you is if you have tools you do not know how to use, then they are not actually tools to you. You should learn to use them when times are good instead of chaotic situations. Be sure to always read the documentation. You will find that it will answer most of your questions.

You can find me on Twitter, Signal(+1 867–675–1041),Telegram(@nixops), andTox(D7D264EA7541C4324625A8360267C3C54F9C1AF564D4266FE45F2BCB68924E21CB2A75746D51). Tox or Signal is easier for me to respond these days. Thanks.

General purpose hacker and deadhead. Sometimes I do things…