Everything for Electronics
Posted in: Developing Perspectives (July 2011)

Emergency Preparedness

By Bryan Bergeron

Today, I keep a backpack with emergency supplies in my closet, ready to go. Interestingly, a large component of the backpack by both weight and volume is devoted to electronics. For example, there is a pair of Motorola walkietalkies that work independently of any repeater system that might be down. The pair provides 22 channels with privacy codes in the theoretical range of over 20 miles, as well as reception of the NOAA weather channels. Of course, in the city, the $40 pair of walkie-talkies is good for about five miles, but that should be more than enough to provide communications between me and my significant other.

There’s a small AM and FM radio, an LED headlamp for hands-free lighting, and an inexpensive analog multimeter. I considered one of those hand-crank radios with a built-in light, but opted for a lightweight, palm-sized radio with 20 hour playtime on a pair of AA batteries. Similarly, I considered tossing in one of those heavy-duty Maglites with four D cells, but my experience suggested that a hands-free headlamp powered by a set of AA batteries is both more useful and easier to carry. I chose an analog multimeter because it doesn’t require a battery for AC/DC voltage and current measurement. A multimeter can be invaluable in determining the state of batteries — whether in a radio or your car. It can also be useful in checking fuses and circuit breakers in your house.

Given the low odds of a nuclear event in my area, I don’t keep my Geiger counter in the backpack. However, it is easily accessible and I keep a fresh set of batteries nearby. In case you’re considering picking up a Geiger counter, take a look at one of the inexpensive models available on eBay. The old analog type with a waterproof yellow chassis will provide just as much information as one of the newer all-digital models. Moreover, the older units are lighter weight, more rugged, and easier to repair given that they’re built with discrete components. I bought a CD V – 700 Geiger counter on eBay a couple years ago for about $50. I noticed that during the Japanese event, the same model was going for about $200. Assuming the reactors in Japan are contained by the time you read this, the price of Geiger counters should be more reasonable.

In addition to the electronics, my pack contains basic medical supplies – bandages, antibacterial ointment, alcohol pads, aspirin, tourniquet, and suture kit. There’s also a half-dozen food bars. If you assemble your own backpack, include only the medical supplies that you know how to use. For example, if you don’t know how to properly use a tourniquet, you can do more harm than good. Check your local Red Cross for first-aid training.

Depending on your lifestyle and the most likely manmade and natural threats in your area, you might find it better to keep a box of supplies in the trunk of your car instead of in a backpack in your house. Regardless of where you keep the equipment, it’s a good idea to mark your electronic or paper calendar to remind yourself to check the status of your emergency equipment on a quarterly basis. This means ensuring that batteries are in good condition, that the medical supplies have not expired or become wet or otherwise useless, and that you know where the equipment is. It’s also a good idea to occasionally take out the walkie-talkies and practice using them to get an idea of range and how to operate the controls. It’s much easier to review operating manuals and emergency procedures at your leisure than when you’re in the midst of a storm or other disaster.

I also replace the food bars with new ones every quarter. Military rations might be good for five or 10 years, but a food bar that’s been in the trunk of a car for a year can be hard on your teeth. NV