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Gadgets & Gizmos

From the staff of the Tampa Bay Times

Prepare for the hurricane season with these gizmos

Losing power from a storm can certainly make life more difficult. But with good preparation and a few handy gadgets, you won't be left in the dark. Here are some products and devices to help you hunker down.


Having adequate water supply probably is the most important on any hurricane preparation list. You should have at least one gallon of water per person per day. Here are a few alternatives to filling up empty milk jugs or buying bottled water:

waterbob.jpgWaterBOB Emergency Drinking Water Storage system is a plastic container made of heavy-duty food-grade plastic that can be filled with 100 gallons of fresh drinking water in a standard bathrub. The water stays fresh and clean for up to four weeks. It comes with a siphon pump to dispense water into smaller containers. or toll-free1-800-966-8044. $24.95 plus shipping. They are currently out of stock, but the website says it will be available by the end of May.

sawyer.jpgFor a more portable option, there's the Sawyer Water Treatment 32-ounce BPA-free polyethylene bottle. It comes with a hollow fiber membrane filter that removes bacteria and other organisms. Even better, the cap fits on many other wide-mouth water bottles. $49.95 plus shipping at

emergencypen.jpgAnother water treatment system uses no filters. Instead, the Emergency by SteriPen uses ultraviolet light to purify up to 200 half-liter containers of water on one set of AA lithium batteries.The device also is designed to fit on commercial water bottle. Just turn the bottle upside down after installing and you'll have safe drinking water in about a minute. $49.95 plus shipping at


In addition to water, a decent supply of nonperishable food is a must for storm preparations. Sure, you can stock up on canned and packaged food and juices enough to last 3 to 7 days. But if you want something a bit more, try MRE -- or Meals Ready to Eat. These prepackaged nutritionally balanced meals have been issued to the military as field rations for decades. They have a long shelf life without refrigeration. The meals typically include a main dish, side dish or dessert, beverage mix and snack. You can get an assortment of U.S. military issue MRE at, $99.99 for 12 meal packages.


If you have a source of power, you can keep some of your household appliances running, therefore avoiding the inconveniences of power loss after a storm. The most comprehensive way is to back up your house with a stationary "standby" generator, which is hooked up to the wiring of the house and comes on when it senses an outage. Most are fueled by natural gas or liquefied petroleum gas. But these could cost thousands of dollars plus installation.

briggsgenerator.jpgPortable generators, which are fueled by gas or diesel, are typically more within reach of typical homeowners' budgets. Prices start from a few hundred dollars and gets higher depending on output capacity and features. And the higher the capacity, more appliances you can run. These generators typically come with 120-volt outlets, like what's inside your home. Some higher-capacity generators also have 240-volt outlets, which can be hooked up to a transfer switch to power the house. Remember, run the generator outside in a well-ventilated area away from doors and windows to prevent carbon monoxide poisoning in the house.

hondaeu2000.jpgIf you want the convenience of a generator, but hate the noise of a running engine, check out the inverter generator. These are gasoline-powered generators that are usually smaller than the regular open-frame generators, and run much quieter. The engine varies the running speed depending on the output needed, so it uses less fuel. These are pricier than a regular generator in comparison, but some are light and small enough to take in the car or camping.


For more information about generators, check out this article on about the basics about battery backup power vs. gas generators.

Power for smaller devices:
Keeping all of your electronic devices is difficult when the electricity is out. But there's one source you can count on: the sun. With a solar charger, you can harness that power to keep your smartphones, tablets and other small devices. Here are two worth considering:

goalzero.jpgGoal Zero's small solar kit can charge a cellphone in 2 to 4 hours. The kit also comes with 4 AA rechargeable batteries which can be charged in 6 to 8 hours.$129.95 at Larger kits and battery packs are available.

joos.jpgJoos Orange is another solar charger that's durable, waterproof and charges quickly -- one hour of sun equals about two hours of talk time. It charges cellphones, tablets, video cameras, gaming devices and more. And you don't need full sun: overcast and days with light rain are okay too. $149 plus shipping at the Joos store.

biolite.jpgSolar isn't the only power source. BioLite Campstove is a gadget that lets you cook and charge at the same time. All you need are twigs, pinecones and "biomass" --  which should be abundant after a windstorm -- to burn. The stove converts heat into usable electricity for you to power USB-chargeable devices. The BioLite stove is due out for the "2012 camping season," according to their website, but you can put your reservation in now. $129.

Keeping track of the weather is important if you decide to stay put for a storm. A weather radio is a must for listening to alerts. If you have a smartphone, these free weather apps can help you do the same.

weatherbug2.jpgWeatherBug: This is a real-time customized weather app with local data, live images, maps with radar and animation, seven-day forecast and alerts, with intuitive user interface. With information from more than 35,000 monitoring stations nationwide, you can choose a location near you for local data. Free to $1.99.

twcapp.jpgThe Weather Channel: This app pinpoints your location when it launches, and has features including full-screen interactive radar maps, Google mobile maps for faster zooming, hourly and 10-day forecasts, and local forecast video, and acccess to the TWC video library on weather topics and footages. Free.

imap.jpgiMap Weather Radio:
The app sends weather alerts come in voice and text forms. If the National Weather Service sends out alerts for your current or saved locations, the app will wake your phone with beeps for the announcement. (Make sure your phone volume is on.) If you're on the move, it will update with your current location, which would be perfect if you're evacuating. $9.99 for iOS.



Some things are irreplaceable. If your computer is ruined in a storm, what's in your harddrive might not be retrievable. To safeguard your valuable documents, photos and videos, back up your disk to an external drive (if you want to go old-school), or send your files to the Cloud, where you can access them from just about anywhere. Scan your insurance documents and store them in your email. Or set up a Google Drive where you get 5 GB of free space.  

[Last modified: Thursday, May 3, 2012 12:27pm]


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