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5 Things That Helped Me Survive A Massive 24-Hour Power Outage

My family was among 367,000 PG&E customers affected by a massive power outage in the San Francisco Bay Area this week. High winds knocked down trees and power lines, leaving us without electricity, internet access and heat for exactly 24 hours.

It sucked.

The outage made me appreciate how awesome electricity and internet access are, and how essential they are for modern life. Working from home, checking in on schools and the power company, coordinating with my wife – all of this had gone through a woefully poor cell phone connection.

But some things helped me through this difficult time. Some of them were pretty high-tech, but there’s always a place for pre-internet products in your emergency kit. Here’s what I turned to.

Sharing the line

Connecting my laptop to my phone to take advantage of its mobile network was crucial to overcoming the power outage. I’m amazed at how much a person can do with a smartphone these days, but in my case everything seems to go at least twice as slow as with a laptop. Some tasks, like complex photo editing, require a laptop. So for me, tethering was essential.

Unfortunately, the networks my phones use (I have a Google Pixel 7 Pro and an iPhone 14 Pro) aren’t very fast, and with so many others accessing the internet during power outages, I suspect that the networks were overloaded. I remember the feeling of being overwhelmed when my browser estimated that it would take 40 minutes to download a 4.2MB photo file.

Pro tip: On Android, you can connect with a USB-C cable which can be more reliable than Wi-Fi and also keeps the phone charged. It also works with iPhones and Lightning cables. This approach is the origin of the term tethering, of course, but most of the time I connect with Wi-Fi these days because it’s easier and more flexible.

I used extreme battery saving mode on my Google Pixel 7 Pro to drastically reduce its power consumption during a power outage.

Screenshot by Stephen Shankland/CNET

Phone battery saving modes

I love the battery saver modes on my phones and use them often when I’m at conferences all day, on a long hike, or not sure when I’ll be able to charge. I have long since customized my iPhone’s Control Center with the Low Power Mode toggle.

I like my Pixel phone’s approach better, where you can set the battery saver mode to engage automatically when the battery charge reaches a particular percentage. I set it to turn on at 60%, but during the power outage I left it on all the time.

Android takes it a step further with an Extreme Battery Saver, which closes all apps except some main apps and those you specify. You can launch anything and use it, but unless you add it to the exceptions list, extreme battery saver will turn it off again. Overnight, my Pixel’s battery charge only dropped by 2% during the power outage.

Anker's 535 PowerHouse, a large portable battery, with its front-facing LED light strip lit

The Anker 535 PowerHouse has a bright LED light on its front side along with four USB ports and four power outlets.

Stephen Shankland/CNET

Battery Anker 535 Power House

The Anker 535 PowerHouse is one of a host of awesome batteries that, although expensive, can be very useful in the event of a power outage. I’ve used it to charge my laptop and phone, to run an LED light, and most importantly, to run my broadband modem when I needed my network fast. The screen helpfully told me that my network gear needed 26 watts of power, which is more than I’d like, but the battery is big enough to last for hours.

The PowerHouse also has its own built-in LED light strip. It’s pretty bright, and I would have preferred a dimmer option.

This model comes with classic power outlets as well as one USB-C port (not enough) and three USB-A ports (too much). You’re better off charging your devices directly from USB ports if you can: plugging a charger into one of the battery power sockets means you’ll suffer efficiency losses when converting DC to alternating current and vice versa.

Flashlight toy with hundreds of glowing fiber optic strands glows in the dark

This fiber optic flashlight toy came in handy during a power outage.

Stephen Shankland/CNET

My kid’s frog flashlight and other LED lighted toys

Our child loves little toys as much as any other elementary school kid, and I was thrilled when he realized at night that he had brought home some LED-lit party favors . I don’t know what to call them, but they have a shiny cylindrical handle with a brush of plastic fiber optic strands growing out of one end. They are meant to be novelty products, but have also proven to be handy flashlights.

My child's frog flashlight toy has a lever behind the head; pushing him down opens his mouth and turns on an LED light

My child’s frog flashlight.

Stephen Shankland/CNET

I was happier with another trick, however, the frog flashlight we bought him at REI to try to coax him into camping trips. Its carabiner design allowed me to clip it to my belt loop, and it was great for a quick light up at bedtime.

A candle

Candles are millennial technology, and you know what? They are still working. More than 10 hours into the power outage and not knowing when it might end, I was eager to save what battery I had left.

I pulled some soft serve ice cream from our not-cold enough freezer, lit a candle from our emergency kit, and had a late-night dessert.

a candle on a tin of tomatoes

I poured some wax over this can of tomatoes to give this candle a safe and sturdy perch.

Stephen Shankland/CNET


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