reflections on 24 hours without power in Ottawa

The 2018 Ottawa-Gatineau tornado and associated windstorm took out power to much of Ottawa and Gatineau.  I lost power for 24 hours.

I don’t have particularly profound reflections, I mostly thought about how to power my cellphone.  Kudos to Rogers to keeping cellphone service including cellphone data working continuously.

Recommendations

  • Have some portable batteries and keep them charged.
  • Have a portable radio, with appropriate batteries / charge.
  • Have some flashlights, with appropriate batteries / charge.
  • Have some AA and AAA batteries on hand if that’s what your devices use.
  • Have a crank power / solar power battery that provides USB out.
  • Leave solar powered devices in the sun (e.g. on a windowsill) so that they have a charge when you need them.
  • Know where all your emergency devices are.

Note: For radios/flashlights that use AA/AAA batteries, you may want to leave the batteries out of most of the devices, otherwise without a regular replacement schedule the batteries will eventually die and burst in the device.

You could consider e.g. having a box of ermegency devices in one place, and writing the battery replacement date(s) on the box, and put a calendar reminder to check it once a year.

I did ok, I basically had everything except my crank power / solar power radio+lamp is so old (it’s a big Freeplay plus) that it doesn’t provide USB power out.  (I don’t even know exactly what it has inside, probably a big spring and maybe a battery.)

I will buy a newer radio with USB power out.

You probably want to follow actual expert preparedness advice from the federal government and the provincial government rather than my cellphone-focused musings.

Main Discoveries

  • A portable speaker with USB out is basically a big battery.
  • CBC Radio One 91.5 MHz FM has pretty terrible signal, at least for analog tuning radios in some areas of Centretown.  (I tried multiple radios in several locations, I was only able to get a clear signal in one location with a Grundig Mini World 100 PE small portable radio.  It seems like there are powerful radio channels just to either side of 91.5, and/or CBC has a weak signal.  Ended up streaming the radio over cellphone data more than using the actual radio.)  I also secondarily realised that I have no idea what the local radio stations are or what frequencies they’re on.
  • Local news including the Ottawa Citizen (via Internet) and radio were useful, I also used Twitter quite a bit.  Hydro Ottawa’s website was not particularly useful, both because it was initially overwhelmed by demand, and because the scale of the disaster meant they couldn’t provide very detailed outage recovery time info.

Power Story

  • I first used my regular portable batteries to charge my phone.  It’s good that I always keep them charged.  I have an old 1800 mAh Kensington (no longer made) and a newer 10000 mAh Aukey.
  • I realised I could use my portable speakers as big batteries to charge my phone.  I had thought the USB power out on my speakers was kind of useless, but it turned out to be a very useful feature.  (I keep them plugged in, so they always have a full charge; I normally use them just as small speakers rather than actual portable speakers.)
  • If the portable batteries and speakers had been discharged, I next would have used my laptop as a big battery.
  • If the laptop had been discharged I next would have used my big and very not portable UPS (Uninterruptible Power Supply; basically a giant battery with multiple power outlets), which in theory could have provided many many hours of cellphone power.  (I have a large UPS which has a button to turn off the continuous “power is out” beeping; many smaller UPS units don’t have this feature.)

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