Smartphone Communications During A Power Outage


During a regional (or wider) disaster (e.g. major storm) and subsequent power outages, one of the main things that people will be trying to do is communicate with others via their cell phones / smartphones, and searching for information about the event.

Back during Hurricane Sandy, many people walked long distances from areas that lost power in a desperate search for working electrical outlets to charge their cell phones, smartphones, and gadgets. Images of people crowding around smartphone charging stations were widely circulated, as in the image above…

Note: One of the first things that gets fixed when emergency electrical crews go out are cellphone towers, because they are an integral link in today’s network of modern communications. Generally speaking, cell towers will get fixed before the power lines in your neighborhood.

But if your cell phone or smartphone is dead (dead battery because there’s no power at your house) – then what are you to do, or what could you have done ahead of time??


Charge it ahead of time!

Keep your phone charged up! Sounds stupidly simple, but all you need to do is be sure you fully charge your phone if you know a storm is coming (for example).

Hand Crank Emergency Radio Charger

You might acquire an emergency radio which also has a cell phone charger outlet (typically a USB connection for charging external devices).


The American Red Cross FRX3 Hand Crank Radio
Get it here…

The Sangean MMR-88 Hand Crank Radio
Get it here…


USB Car Charger

You can charge your cell phone with a USB adapter for your car…

Car Charger, Maxboost 4.8A/24W


Solar Charger

If the sun is shining, this solar charger will charge up your cell phones and gadgets…

21W USB Solar Charger


Portable Charger External Battery Power Bank

A stand-alone pre-charged USB external battery will provide many subsequent recharges for your cell phones, smartphones, and many other USB devices. I personally like this device due to its compact size vs. many available recharges.

Anker PowerCore 10000


A Portable Generator At Home

A small portable generator will be enough to supply power to some of your home essentials. It doesn’t necessarily have to be a monster whole-house generator!

Yamaha EF1000iS, 900 Watt, Gas Powered Portable Inverter

Yamaha EF2000iS 2,000 Watt Gas Powered Portable Inverter
(The Yamaha generators are SUPER QUIET, but they’re expensive…)

Or maybe something significantly less expensive such as the basic…
WEN 1500 Running Watts, Gas Powered Portable Generator



Txt messaging can sometimes get through when voice calls will not. They use a different type of transmission technology that is somewhat more robust.

It may be worthwhile to either have a wifi hotspot for your network or know how to turn on your WiFi sharing on your smart phone. The data and voice networks are seperate and you might be able to access the internet before being able to make a reliable voice call.

Most cell phones will consume and use power faster when searching for service or roaming (this can be significant), and will drain the battery when out of service. Turn it off if the service is out, and check back once in a while…

Consider a land line rather than relying solely on your cell phone for communications

2-way radios are a great method for short distance communications and do not rely on any external network.


  1. We’ve got the external battery thing covered, now I need to get one of those solar chargers in case of long term outages. Phones and internet I would kind of miss but no more music would really make me sad. Once you have the necessary preps, go for the stuff you would miss the most.

  2. Don’t forget that land lines have generator backup, but that only helps if you have an old style corded phone.

    1. Not always. I wish it was so, but from experience when power goes out from a storm, often the land phone lines are out as well around here. When our week without power came in July 2012 we had a week without land lines. I couldn’t tell my family I was okay because it was a regional outage. The cell towers in some areas took 4 days to repair I was told.

      Several times the phone was dead when an accident hit a pole or someone digging hitting the buried cable/junction box took out the land lines. When this happened once, my daughter tried to get a hold of me for two days and couldn’t. Being very concerned, she called a local deputy sheriff to come way out here to see if I was okay. They had to call her to tell her I was.

      1. Throwing shade at a President you obviously don’t like? However, anything given that you could benefit from, you would take anyway. Hmmmmmmmm

  3. We still have the old land line, but Sandy took out telephone poles and we lost our phone line, cable line, and electricity. Luckily I was able to text family that all was well. Funny thing is, I didn’t want to let go of the land line because of its reliability, because of DH’s health issues. Then I end up relying on a cell phone instead.

  4. One of the best gadgets I have for back up power is a Goal Zero charger. It recharges four AA or AAA rechargeable batteries from a solar charger or you can connect it to a USB power source to provide charge. With the charged batteries installed, it can also be used as a power source for your electronic devices such as a cell phone. I have never tried it, but I would guess the charger could be loaded with standard AA and AAA batteries to deliver power to a cell phone as well. As an added benefit, the device has a single LED that can be used for light in a pinch.

  5. Don’t forget to double check your external battery & chargers for compatibility with your current devices!

    I thought I was all set when I went to a convention last year with my external battery & a solar charger. Turns out the solar charger is useless because good ol’ apple put out a software update that eliminated unlicensed 3rd party charging cables! I also had another external battery that used the 30-pin cable but now there’s the smaller one. As for my android tablet, my backup charging cable was no longer compatible because it had the (forget the proper term) “flattened” mini USB and the new tablet used the more modern “rounded” mini USB.

    Every time you get a new device, check your batteries, chargers & cables so you’re not stuck! – but it might not hurt to keep the older ones around. Save someone’s cell battery from dying & you’ve made a new best friend!

    1. If you know someone who can and will do it, get someone to root all your devices and get rid of all the nasty “upgrades.”

  6. I just picked up several items last week for power loss. Among them are a 20000mAh Aukey Power Bank, which should charge my cell up to 7 times and holds a charge for 60 days. I also got a 20 W foldable Suaoki Solar charger. This will keep my devices up long term. I also picked up an inverter to charge my Motorola radios. Will need a car for this, but for less than $100 for everything, I should be pretty good for most emergencies. Now I need to figure out a light weight Faraday cage to keep it in. My plan is to always have it in my work pack, which goes with me everywhere and houses many of my daily carry items. The Get Home Bag stays in the truck. My work pack is always with me. Would love ideas on light weight Faraday design.

      1. Try an ammo can lined with cardboard or other non-conducting material. Keep in mind that the the ammo can has a rubber gasket under the lid. I use a/c metal tape to ensure continuity between the lid & can. This works well for my handheld VHF radios & back-up batteries. Prior to any weather events (hurricanes in our area) I pull everything out and give them a charge. I also purchased an Anker 200000mA storage battery and three panel solar panel. So far, it works great. Keep in mind these small panels take 6-8 hrs to charge a back-up battery (depending on the sun). I also have a set of cables to attach to a battery to allow me to charge phones & tablets.

  7. Let me be blunt. If any of us thinks, really deep-down needs, that they need to communicate for any reason other than some extremely life-threatening situation,……. that being able to ‘call Mom’ is so important; please, consider what we all have been talking about for so long. You know – TEOTWAWKI, WROL, SHTF and so on. Seriously folks.

    Listen, I’ll be glad to incur the wrath that’ll be heaped upon me from all the cell-phone junkies out there. I do NOT use one. Ever. Don’t have one, don’t want one, don’t plan on ever getting one. And odd as all heck – I conduct life and business just fine. In fact, I get more done, am more focused and less distracted than most any other person I know. I give my word and keep it. I am where I say I’m going to be – always. I plan ahead for traffic, weather and as many eventualities as possible. When I charge for my time, it does not include me yakking away to some other customer for a single second of any hour. I never allow some personally-perceived immediacy on someone’s else’s part sway me from my own schedule, my own agenda. The old saying, “failure to plan on your part does not constitute an emergency on mine” is my mantra. I follow the news when I’ve time – via of all things, the AM radio in my truck and via the ‘net when home. If that last went down – oh well, I’d just fire up a portable radio here at the old homestead.

    Do I understand the angst people feel when they are faced with ‘going without’ their (Gollum, Gollum) ‘My Precious, My Precious’… cellphone/mobile/smart/blue-toothing pacifier? No. And I’m not kidding. In fact, as you can figure from reading this, I’ve no patience or consideration whatsoever for all those drones I am increasingly surrounded by who blankly walk, drive, sit along the way staring at a little 3″ x 5″ + or – screen as if it is the Ark of the Covenant.

    A classic example – went to the grocery last week one evening. A young man who worked there outside hunched over his mobile. Totally oblivious to the world. An absolutely gorgeous young woman walked right by in front of him. He didn’t notice her, never saw the pretty girl. I went in, got what I’d come for and as I walked again past him, right in front of him – I stopped. Chided him for his posture. He is already developing that dowager’s hump I used to see in my now-departed gran-ma. I asked him if he’d seen that lovely blonde girl. He hadn’t. I recommended that if he wanted to use that screen for something useful, that he look up on YouTube the video “Look Up” by Gary Turk. If you’ve not seen and heard it – do so. You might realize the horror your life has become due to these devices. “….you have a finite existence, a set number of days….”

    If the ‘event’ occurs – the last thing I’ll be thinking of is to call anyone. I love those who are special to me – I will wish to see them, hear them, touch them, hold them. All in my life who know me and know I care for them, know that I’ll be there, to them – as soon as I can get there. That I’m just fine and better prepared than most simply due to not having the constraint of having to explain, connect or in some way flap my gums via a comm. device. And if I should not make it – I’m dead or engaged in something a hell of a lot more critical than some touching base with home, hearth and my honey over a transmitted message.

    Ya’ll say you’re oh-so ready? Okay – do without a week. One week. No cell phone at all. No exceptions. Try it – you might just like it. If you’re first reaction is some bogus excuse “oh I couldn’t, what about my ‘kids/spouse/family/friends….” or “what if I have car problems (or some emergency)”, “I’ve got to have it for my business” – then my fellow survival persons, you’ve lost already. You’re as hooked as a crack-head on the stuff. And you’ve not planned for “Mom” at all.

    I’m so sick of IT’ing for seniors so scared when their Facebook goes down, “It’s the only way I talk to my children… grandchildren…. family” to which I respond – “you really don’t have a family anymore, do you? When did you last see them? – really see them?”. I’m so tired of young people walking like little ducklings in a row, staring at that thing in their hands when the day is beautiful …. or not, and the weather itself is just…. truly awesome in its ferocity.

    I am scared of what the world we have created has become; and, I feel like a drug-pusher, an enabler for having set up so many computers, networks, sat-systems, comm. systems, mobile devices of all kinds since…… 1974. Yep, you read that right. For over 42 years. I know what has been created – and worse, why. And it is not what people think. Not at all.

    And that is why I decided to write all this. What I’ve done is wrong. Look up. Save your life. Just look up.

    Fire at will.

    1. @Heartless, I feel your pain ;) You won’t get any wrath from me…

      With that said, this article is not advise for ‘the end of the world’… rather to throw out a few tips for a potential several-day outage from a blizzard or other such temporary event that knocks out the local grid for awhile…

      These days, there are lots (maybe the majority) who only have a cell phone for their comms (no landline, etc..) and therefore ‘if’ there was an emergency (of whatever variety), they might be up $hit’s creek if their cell phone goes dead when they needed to contact someone for help (for example)…

    2. Need a rant-o-meter on this one. :) Agree wholeheartedly. I have a cell phone (10 year old stupid phone) because in the last few months my parents have started sliding downhill and if I go ANYWHERE and there’s an emergency I want them to be able to get hold of me. I started carrying it when I leave because Mom ended up in the hospital once when I was out and I didn’t know until hours later, after she was back home.

      No one else has the number. No one else NEEDS the number, and if I’m at home it stays on its little shelf and gathers dust.

      Stupid moment: A few months ago I went to give platelets (which I do regularly) and when I came out a homeless man was talking to the receptionist. Backpack, ratty shoes, two day beard, greasy hair, the works. Looked like he hadn’t bathed in a week, either. He was asking her for the address of a place where he could sell plasma. I didn’t see the brand-new smart-phone in his hand until I tried to give him directions and he held it up. “If you give me the address I can use GPS to find it.” So obviously he had a data plan as well. I can’t help wondering…

    3. Good Rant, Heartless. I couldn’t have ranted any better.
      It almost broke the meter. :-)

      Certainly though the new phones and gadgets have been abused, it does have good uses…. but it reminds me of the gun controversy. The phone, computers, networks, sat-systems, comm. systems, mobile devices themselves DON”T cause accidents, obesity, an artificial life or communications for terrorism, it’s the people who use them that do these things.

    4. Like any tool, it can be abused. We also never believed in cell phones. However when we went to visit my daughter several years ago out of state we were forced to get one as she didn’t have a land line. So when she went to work, we were left with no way to call for help if needed. DH has several severe health issues, so a phone was very important to us. Then when we got back home, it sat on the shelf unused for months.

      Now I carry it as my vehicle is old and there is always a concern of breaking down.

    5. Agree with your stubbornness. Disagree with the no anything. One of the great productivity upgrades a smart phone gives you is live weather radar. My morning starts here in Oregon with a weather radar check.. Just looking at the radar I can tell within 30 mins 6 hours ahead what time and how much it will rain. Outdoor projects first, indoor and all tools put away before the first drop.

      But I agree it is an addiction. I don’t need to do any math, or have books that tell me how to do the math, because I can just ask the magic box. A solar flare or EMP would flip-flop who is a third world country and who is a 1st.

    6. Some people do actually run a business and their phone connects them to people who rely on them for essentials. You obviously chose not to participate, that’s ok. There are some who also chose not to use the new technology of the internal combustion engine.

    7. Search the Internet or look at publications about “How to Manage Millinials”. This will give you some insight into why some of this generation behave the way they do. They need constant reassurance from mommy & daddy to reenforce their feelings about themselves.

    8. (An absolutely gorgeous young woman walked right by in front of him. He didn’t notice her, never saw the pretty girl.)

      Search U-Tube for MIGTOW, watch several of the videos (at least 20 or so) and read the comments and you may find that he was not interested in all the drama.

      But I do agree that people today are way too focused on their smart phones.

      I use my (non-smart) phone for business all the time and have it under control. It’s a tool that I control, not one that controls me.

    9. I caved in an got a smart phone when my kids started school. I thought I needed it just for emergencies and making sure the kids got home on time. I haven’t used many of the apps, and once the kids are out of school and on their own I will be canceling my contract and going back to land line only. I don’t like the way the government can follow you around with cell phone tower data, and the way they can dig into your emails. The cost is also ridiculous.

  8. Check out the Devil Watt Thermo-electric generators.

    Ken, How about a article for these type of generators for wood stoves?

  9. Depending on where you are located in the world.

    Most cell towers are completely reliant on utility power. They have some small battery backup capacity sometimes with a bit of solar augmentation.
    The batteries will last a few hours without utility power and then they go down.

    If utility power is off for an extended period forget about cell phones.

    Then…. when a crisis occurs cell networks become overloaded with everyone trying to make calls.

    Christmas day many cell areas become overloaded.
    Y2k : 00.00 on January first the cell network in my city became overloaded until 03:00 in the morning – not because of a system fault but by many revelers and then administrations trying to check their systems out in case the Y2K bug had bought their IT systems down.
    In Bushfire areas the cell towers may go out because of loss of utility power or by fire damage.

    1. Cell towers in N. GA typically have a backup generator and a decent size propane tank. Likely depends on the carrier, though. We do have problems with the systems getting overloaded during things like school closings due to snow storms, etc., and calls not going through.

  10. When I shattered my knee cap a few years back I started carrying a cell phone. It’s one of those old phone styles that I got on clearance for $5.00. I don’t need it but I do keep it for “just in case” I live alone and go in the boonies with the dogs. You don’t have to have minutes (tracphone) for 911 to work.

    I still have the bundle deal through the cable company and when they have trouble and the internet goes down so does the phone.

    1. I was given a cell phone from work only if used to call for help working in the forest during my seasonal job. We also have CB’s in the truck and a dispatcher to relay calls. Didn’t help when I had to take a different truck that automatically locks you out after 20 seconds and I was always in and out to do my job. I wasn’t told this, so I was caught in the forest and had to walk 3 miles to an occupied cabin I found to get someone out to bring another key since everything was in the truck. Humiliating. Oh you should have heard the guys at work tease me about how dumb I was and didn’t believe me the truck locked me out, until it happened to them when they used “Christine”. I had the last laugh. :-)

    1. Heartless I;m sure people said the same thing about the automobile, the computer, land-line phones, the internet and even electricity.

      Ranting about how evil technology is will not get you far as we all use technology of some sort and it’s not going to change. If we didn’t use it, we would still be living in caves. After all you are using electricity, a net connection and a computer to post here? Are you abusing your time playing on the net 24/7 or do you use it in moderation. Before you comment that the computer / net doesn’t control all your time, think about people using a phone in moderation.

      You would make more sense if you talked about using it in a balanced way then to just rant against it.

      I use a cell phone for personal use and in my business. I seem to manage just fine with it and have not lost any of the skills you seem to think it steels from all of us. I can start a fire with just what is in my pocket, the phone didn’t steal that ability from me. Just as it didn’t steal a lot of other abilities from me that I have used in the past 50+ years.

      No one is making any of us own and use a cell phone, most of us do use it in moderation (other then the young that are glued to it) and live a better life because of it. But to each their own, don’t get one if you don’t want to.

    2. @ Heartless and the rest

      I’m not so sure about all of this technology either.
      Personally I think the total downfall started when we started to pipe water into the home. and actually built an outhouse right inside the house, HOW disgusting is that? Actually pooping inside the same house you cook/eat and sleep?

      And what about all those murderous cars and trucks that KILL thousands of people every year? And these disgusting Hospitals and all the rest of this “stuff” OMG!!!! I think we should get rid of it all and go back to living in caves and under rocks as we did 10,000 years ago.

      What ya think? I think I will keep my cell-phone (tool) and use it as I see fit.

  11. So sad, When our grown kids come over for Thanksgiving or Christmas with their spouses and 7 grand children everyone sits and looks at their cellphones
    like no one else is in the room with them. When they put it down to eat they have to constantly pick it up to check if any messages came in over the last 2 minutes since they last checked. I swear it’s an addiction. They can’t stop even if they wanted to, which they don’t. Sometimes I feel like telling them how rude it is to do this, but that’s how most people are nowadays. I carried a flip phone in my pocket for road emergencies and maybe used it once a month.
    I just can’t see letting a phone run my life. Sorry folks but I think this is why people are so difficult to get along with and don’t care about their fellow man anymore. They all live in an alternate reality.

    1. isn’t there some way you could “block” their operation? Some hospitals/businesses do block cell phones…

  12. have 4 ext. batt. can use usb in car an truck
    have 2 of the Beast batt. jump boxes with use and 2 stanly jump boxes all have usb.

  13. Is there a way to emulate an internet connection with my wifi router so that others can connect and contact me without them having to get a third party app? I’m concerned that this won’t be available if the SHTF, so it’d be nice to be able to ‘make’ internet. I guess the Cubans use something very similar to pirate movies. While this isn’t my intent, I’d like to be able to broadcast and receive information via wifi.

    1. @ Joe
      I’m not exactly sure what your asking, but if your talking about using your Smart phone as a internet connection to your router that yes, simply set the WI-FI on your phone and have you router find it. Or you can tethered it directly to your router. Of course you will have to have “data” on your smart phone, which 99% of smart phones have.

    2. @ Joe

      I’ve had god success texting using Firechat from Open Garden without cell connections; however this does require all parties to pre install the apps.

  14. Agree with about 99% of the posts here!
    An outage that was unplanned for but my external came through for me is when I was on a train and the HEP went down (High-end power, and the ‘power’ part means electricity!) so none of the outlets by the seats worked. I was able to keep my phone going.
    Another reason for the phone is indeed to keep track of weather and alerts from the county/city on emergency stuff.
    Other than that, don’t bug me, I’m busy trying to survive.

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