Project “Brownout” Resiliency

When typhoon “Ulysses” (Vamco) shut down power and mobile data services in our area, it made me realize how vulnerable we were. We didn’t have a single candle for lighting, and I can’t even send out a text message in case of emergency! That’s when I started this project to improve our resiliency. These are the gadgets that helped me with that.

I think one of the most important things that we tend to overlook is lighting. We all know that there’s a great chance of power outages whenever a typhoon passes over and our traditional solutions are candles and oil lamps. Sure, generators have become relatively cheap but how many households do you know that have them? They’re also not that useful when there’s power and a bit overkill if you just what to keep the lights on. Good thing it’s the 21st century and we have made great strides with batteries and lighting! We have very efficient LEDs that require very little power and we have power banks that store a great deal of power. And so as soon as power and our internet is restored, I ordered a bunch of little USB LED sticks as a candle/flashlight alternative and a few USB lightbulbs that I can hang on the ceiling for wider area lighting. These low power lightbulbs are what street vendors usually use and they’re more than enough to give a decent amount of light. And they’re safer in the sense that you’re not burning anything to get lights.

These USB LED sticks are definitely much better than candles and can be bought for ₱10 or less each!
If you prefer the more traditional form factor, there are also LED light bulbs that can be powered via USB.

Internet connectivity, like electricity, is another modern essential. We get our news via the internet and our communications are mostly done through it. In times when power can be knocked off for days with mobile data possibly going out with it, your home DSL may be your last chance to get back online. We lost power for days after Ulysses passed and our mobile data services took even longer to be restored so we were cutoff from all communications. There’s a chance that DSL lines may still be working even when power is out (since they’re normally separate cables) and you only need to figure out a way to power your router. Fortunately, someone already invented a device that enables you to plug your routers to a powerbank! But you first need to figure out what voltage your router uses (normally 9V or 12V) and you may find it either on the device itself or on your wall adapter.

Look for output in you devices wall adapter to figure out your device requirement. In this example, it’s 9V. Your device should also have a similar indicator.

What I got is the more expensive but versatile USB voltage converter that has a switch to select whether to use 9V or 12V. This would come in handy in case I change routers with a different voltage requirement.

Not sure what devices are officially called but you could try to look for USB 9V/12V converter.

Finally, ventilation. One of the most frustrating experiences during a power outage, especially in hot, humid, summer nights is not being able to sleep because of the heat and there are no working fans to bring relief. Again, fortunately batteries have improved and so rechargeable fans now exist! At first, I thought of getting the traditional rechargeable fans but based on my research, you need to charge them longer than they work! But as I explored the world of online shopping, I found out that there already are fans that can last all night because of their bigger battery capacity and more efficient engine, albeit with smaller blades than the regular stand fan.

When power banks first came along, I thought they were just gimmicks for us to buy more things and alleviate pressure from mobile phone manufacturers to lengthen the battery life of their products. Basically a glamorized battery pack. Who knew that they would evolve to be such a reliable tool during power outages? And with newer power banks now able to supply higher voltages and many gadgets now able to charge via USB C, even laptops can be powered by power banks. Some much more expensive power banks even have regular power outlets to act as a mini generators!

Power banks are definitely key to this project.

While our problems from a hundred years ago are still problems today, we can leverage on the development of the last decades to make ourselves more resilient to the effects of power outages. As many of us are working from home, our ability to earn may rely on how resilient we are when these power outages come. Gone are the days when “brownouts” mean living in the dark. Losing power should not mean losing productivity or connectivity—we just need to be more creative and smart in our choice of gadgets.

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