I live in New Jersey, in an area hard hit by last October’s Hurricane Sandy. Before the storm struck, we bought non-perishable foods, stocked up on water, and so on. But we also prepped our electronics – chiefly, by charging up all the iPads, iPhones and laptops.

Seven days without electricity is a long time. Of course, the biggest problems we faced were the lack of heat and food deteriorating. But with the internet out, we also lost our home phone service (which uses VoIP). Mobile phone towers suffered as well; early on, our iPhones lost service completely. 

They eventually went from mostly useless to occasionally able to send SMS texts and place heavily distorted phone calls. But that came at a cost: our iPhones struggled so badly to make even those basic connections that they burned through their batteries.

Preparing for the Long Haul

The first few steps were easy: we turned off Wi-Fi, so the phones wouldn’t waste energy scanning for wireless networks that weren’t there. We turned off Bluetooth, too. We dialled down our Brightness settings to the lowest level possible. But the darkest screens were hard to read in sunlight; and very dark iPhones are poor makeshift torches, which we needed with the long power outage.

Before Sandy hit, we charged up five iPhone battery cases, as well as a backpack with a built-in battery, and bought a cigarette-adaptor plug, so the car could do its bit. We also had three fully charged laptops that could charge an iOS device in a pinch.

With all those charging devices on hand, we kept both of our iPhones alive for several days. My wife forgot to turn her iPhone off one night; and since it spent all night trying to cling to iffy networks, the battery was on its last legs by morning. When you can’t charge overnight, remember to turn your iPhone off, or at least activate the Airplane Mode.

We didn’t plug in our iPhones at night because we wanted to unplug them as soon as the batteries were full. Otherwise, we’d be needlessly draining power from the chargers.

I read on my iPad during the blackout – clearing out the bulk of my Instapaper queue and reading a few iBooks – with its brightness turned all the way down and Airplane Mode on. I eked out five days of reading.

One Step at a Time

More than a week after Sandy departed, the mobile reception around our home still fluctuated between awful and unusable.

With power back, finding reliable web access became the challenge, but any connection was better than what we had when Sandy hit.