Monday, November 19, 2012

Juicebox Portable Power Box

During my morning browsing I came across the Juicebox portable battery backup box. Built into a USGI surplus ammo can, the manufacturer claims that on a single charge it can:

  • Charge a typical laptop six times
  • Charge a Smart Phone 50 times
  • Charge a Cell Phone 80 times
  • Run an I-Pad® for nearly 100 hours
  • Run a portable radio for weeks
  • Run a GPS for 140 hours
  • Run a desktop fan for 20 hours
  • Light up a campsite for several nights

It's a neat solution for providing power in the field or in the event of an outage. Even if you don't want to buy one from them, it can serve as inspiration for a homebrew setup. See, for example, ChinoUSMC's emergency communications ham radio and backup power setup, here.

{Hat tip to InstaPundit.}

Sunday, November 18, 2012

Champion Generator Follow Up

I received my Champion generator about a week after I ordered it.

The generator came well packed in a heavy duty cardboard box. Luckily, I was able to work from home the day it was scheduled for delivery. I met the UPS driver and he wheeled it back to my shed and helped me lift it in. The generator weighs about 140 pounds, so this made my life a lot easier.

Champion packs them without the wheels, handle, and support leg attached. Installing them takes maybe 10 or 15 minutes, it’s just a matter of bolting them to the frame.

Most generators ship with no fluids (i.e., motor oil) in them. Champion did include a 0.6L bottle of 10W30 and a long funnel with the generator.

I had my first opportunity to test it yesterday. After connecting the battery cables and putting in the oil I moved it outside, then added about a half gallon of gas.

Before trying to start it I turned over the engine a few times using the starter cord to get some oil circulated through the system. (The unit has a recoil starter, but as long as the electric start works that’s what I plan to use. Why make life difficult?)

Next I switched the battery to On and the ignition to On, took a step back and per the instructions, briefly pressed the start button on the included remote start key fob. It clicked and started right up. I waited a bit, then tested the key fob’s off button, and finally did the same with the onboard ignition switch.

After I was done with testing the starting buttons I let it run for about a half hour. When I decided it had run enough I changed the fuel shutoff valve to off. About a minute later it conked out.

I don’t have any kind of sound meter but the noise isn’t too bad. The muffler is pretty large in relation to the 196cc engine. It makes less noise than my snow blower, and a hell of a lot less noise than the monster generator my neighbors were using after Hurricane Sandy.

Overall, I am pretty pleased with it so far. It seems well designed, came with clear instructions, and starts easily.

I have a long, heavy duty extension cord on order to use with it; one end has a twist-lock to connect to the generator, while the other has three standard three-prong outlets.

At some point I plan to build a “dog house” to cover the generator while it’s running to protect it from the elements, and hopefully muffle the noise even more.

Saturday, November 17, 2012

Another Hurricane Sandy AAR

“Ar-jedi” posted a Hurricane Sandy after action report that’s worth reading, over on (The lack of capitalization is in the original. Regardless, he included a great deal of useful info.)

hurricane Sandy visited us and left behind a mess. not but a week later a Nor'easter visited and caused more issues. the result was 12 days without utility power. i thought that it would be useful to document some of the successes and failures of dealing with this short term outage.


i live with my wife in a semi-rural community approximately 15 miles inland. my immediate family members live either very near the water (mom) or just a few miles in from the shore (brother and sister). i work about 35 minutes north of home.


our house has a well, 220 feet deep with a 0.75HP submersible pump at the bottom of the hole. it requires 240Vac at 8A running current, with an inrush of about 40A. aside, everyone in my town is on well water –– but this is not the norm for the county, where municipal water is most common.

build up:

the NE (specifically, the mid-Atlantic coast) does not get frequent hurricanes; our worry is generally about Nor'easters –– which can carry a lot of rain (>8" in 24 hours) or alternatively a lot of snow (>24" in 24 hours). hurricane Irene passed over last year, leaving most folks in our area without power for 2-4 days. Sandy first appeared on our collective radar about a week before landfall, although at the time the projected tracks were all over the map. some models had the eye going north of us, some south, some showed it veering out to sea, etc. one note –– the NE area is structured primarily atop rock and clay-based soil; ergo, unlike areas with sandy soil it does not absorb water and then drain all that easily. frankly, with a storm of this size i was more worried about the quantity of rain versus the wind.

common preps:

my wife and i live fairly simply and have on-hand at all times enough for about a month of "no societal contact" living. we keep our food, water, and other staples maintained. from this perspective, if Sandy had just "shown up" i don't think we would have had much of a problem overall. for example, in the basement are 24 cases of bottled water, qty 4 NATO type 5 gal water cans, and upstairs there is plenty of stored pasta, rice, soup and other. in addition i have a modest store of freeze dried food as well. there is a shallow creek out behind the house and this non-potable water could be used for flushing toilets, for example. it is relatively high in iron and so it's not a great input to a portable water filter.

event preps:

i anticipated Irene again, and there would no power for 2-4 days. nevertheless on thursday (5 days before the storm arrived) i topped my available fuel stores to the maximum: 25 gallons of gas (5 x 5 gal NATO cans), and 16 gallons of diesel (2 x 5 gal NoSpill cans + 6 in the tractor tank itself). so i believed from the outset that we were "covered" in terms of fuel stocks, and of course these stocks could be prolonged by changing usage. fuel tanks in my truck and my wife's car were also filled.


my primary concern was the safety of my family, including my mom and siblings. at my home, my worry was structure penetration or damage from trees. while i have culled some trees away from the house over the years, there are one or two that could give the house or the detached garage a good sized headache. the other concern was of course power –– for water, heat, and comfort.

Read the full report here.

Comet CTC-50M Antenna Line Feed-Through

This week I received from Universal Radio a Comet CTC-50M antenna line feed-through. It’s a piece of coaxial cable designed to allow you to pass an antenna line through a window, but still allow you to shut the window all the way. It does this by using a special piece of flat coax, instead of the normal round cable.

The ends are terminated with SO-239 connectors, allowing you to attach a PL-259-terminated line from the antenna, and another line from the radio.

I had been using a PanelRelief Lexan pass-through panel from QuickSilver Radio. However, it wasn’t very weather tight. Not a problem in warm weather but unacceptable when it’s cold.

So far it seems to work fine on receive but I haven’t tried transmitting yet. I’ll post a follow up after I do.

Monday, November 12, 2012

Notes from the Sandy Zone

The following was originally posted by "Crowgirl" on I am copying it here so that the info is kept available to all, after it slips into the site's archives. I have cleaned up the formatting somewhat, but otherwise haven't edited the post.

1) My trip to LI (parents were in the hurricane area)

I left here Thursday AM, after loading out the car with a lot of equipment, most of it newly purchased as I was planning on leaving it there and didn't want to sacrifice my own home preps.

I brought: 2 small generators (1800 and 2000 watts), 2 inverters, 2 deep cycle batteries, a battery charger, an extension cord (from house preps), a camp stove (from house preps), 2 power strips, 8 cans of camp stove propane, firestarters, matches, solar lanterns (from house preps), a ton of batteries, a metal cot (from house preps), a shotgun (from house preps), ammo, 2 cases of water, and 10 gal empty gas cans (more on that later).

Also cell phone, chargers, laptop, groceries, clothes and the usual stuff you'd take on a trip.

The ride down from VT was fairly uneventful except for the gas situation, which started to be noticeable 60 miles north of NYC.

I stopped once on I-87 for gas for the car. Then I stopped in Newburgh NY for a cell phone charger that I had forgotten and thank God I did. When I got off the exit I noticed that lots of people with cars with New Jersey plates were huddled around the gas pumps filling up cans. I stopped and asked the guys there where the northern edge of the "no gas zone" was. One told me "you're lookin' at it, baby".

I ended up filling the cans there rather than in White Plains as I had planned. If I had waited it would have been too late.

I topped off the car one last time halfway down 684 and there was nothing left at the station but super unleaded and the line was fairly brutal.

When I got to my hometown I drove right down the main street. Most of the lights were out. Many of the stores were boarded up with plywood against looters and unsavory characters were lurking around.

Trees were down all around, and I had to take a few alternate streets to get to my parents house. Arrival there was uneventful.

I was there for 8 days. The trip home was also uneventful. At the time I left the houses across the street still had no power and gas was still very limited in supply.


2) Notes on physical issues:

- You may have to head INTO a disaster area rather than out of one, because of family members (or bad luck). This was something I had never really considered. This is a more difficult situation than bugging out or staying put as you have to both pack and assume that nothing is available at your target destination (whereas if you bug out to a safe zone it may be and if you stay put you have all your stuff right there).

- Make sure your vehicle can handle the weight of what you are carrying. My car had so much stuff in it that it steered like a shopping cart with a bad wheel. I
never weighed it but I think I was close to the gross weight the car could handle.

- You will forget things if you don't prepack it and doublecheck it all. I did pretty well considering the circumstances (on top of it all a family member was ill) but forgot my toothbrush, a prescription, my cell phone charger, and some tools.

- Whatever you forget will be the one thing you need to get everything else working. The toolkit had some screwdrivers I needed to get the generator cover off. Fortunately a neighbor had some.

- Gas, gas and more gas. You can't have too much gasoline. If you don't use it or need it someone else will.

- In bad or questionable areas, or in good areas bordering questionable ones, looting will start very quickly after the disaster. What will be looted first are luxury items, such as electronics. The "cash for gold" and the fake nails place also got hit. Food stores won't get looted until later.

- In better areas looting will take a little longer, but will still happen unless it is defended against.

- It is mostly stores that will be looted. Unoccupied houses are at risk but less likely. Occupied houses were generally left alone. The looters are lazy and are looking for a quick hit with no resistance.

- The people on the roads during a crisis will be 2 of 3 groups. The first responders will be out, responding. The normal clueful people will be home waiting it out. And the thugs/morons/lookie loos will be out driving around and getting in the first responders way.

- A crisis will make people drive like they are auditioning for The Road Warrior movie. You need to be very defensive, because if your vehicle gets damaged you may not be able to get it fixed.

- You need multiple ways of doing anything. For instance, when paying for gas some of the stations only took credit cars, some only took cash. Bring both.

- You need backups for critical items. For instance, the built-in connection cord for one of the inverters fell apart in my hands as I tried to hook it to one of the batteries, and I couldn't repair it with what I had on hand. Luckily I had a 2nd inverter. "Two is one and one is none".

- Test out your equipment ahead of time. This wasn't really possible for me because I had just bought it all, but if you have the time don't get complacent and assume it'll all work together when TSHTF. What I encountered was the inverter cord falling apart, and the newfangled gas can nozzles being a) completely cryptic and b) not working to get gas into the car. We never figured out how these "green" nozzles worked. And on the working inverter the cable loop wouldn't fit over the battery post on one of the batteries.

- You need some sort of night vision equipment, even if it's the cheapie game-spotting kind. Blacked out suburbs are DARK. And they will have bogeys in them and you're going to want to see them without them seeing you.

- Have a bicycle. In addition to it being transportation, riding it around can help you quickly acquire information from a larger area than you could get by walking.

- Don't rely on cell phones for communication. They were horrible for the first 5 days. Even texting was bad. I finally received some messages 8 days late just before I left.

- If you have VOIP phones instead of the old-time land line, make sure you have a backup power source for the home router etc. If the line are up and the regional switching gear is intact and working but you have no power in your house your phones will be out when they could be working if you had a way of powering them. Old land lines had their own power source into the phone, the newer bundled VOIP setup does not.

- You are going to need a funnel. Never leave home without a funnel.


3) Notes on mental and social issues:

- In a crisis people become more of what they already are. Thugs get thuggier, selfish people get moreso, helpful people overextend themselves. Know who you are and who your family is, and multiply it by 100 to get a sense of who you'll all turn into if TSHTF. You will have to figure out how to deal with this.

- Living in close quarters when you can't go out will have you start grating on each other. Most people aren't around others 24X7. If TSHTF you might be and it can get ... interesting. Make sure you have a way of coping, like using earplugs or bourbon or something.

- People will start hoarding even if they don't need the items. Just for grins I stood on a gas line for about a half hour one morning to try and get a gas can filled up for the neighbors generator. The guy behind me on line in his car had gotten gas twice the day before. He had close to a full tank. I still don't know why he was there. It's almost like hunting gas became a hobby for him.

- Acquiring needed supplies in a crisis requires third-world skills. When supplies are scarce everything reverts to who you know and who your friends are. The hispanics and the indians in my town who came from countries that rely on this paradigm did really well with this. Mutual backscratching and a network of friends kept food and gas flowing to them without them having to stand on lines. At one gas station they got a 12K gallon delivery at midnight and opened at 7 AM in the morning with 8K gallons. 4K gallons went *somewhere*.

- I'm convinced that when TSHTF for real the hispanic gardeners are going to be the only ones left standing LOL. They came from hardship conditions so they aren't soft, they work their butts off, and they have the skills needed to thrive in third world conditions. They somehow managed to always have gasoline and were zooming around the neighborhood with leaf blowers when everyone else was still trying to figure out how to get gas or make coffee on the barbecue.

- Expanding on the previous point: the FSA (Free Shit Army. --Dave) is too lazy to survive and will eat each other. The white collar class will still be trying to figure out what the rules are and how to cope with it all and won't do well. The blue collar people with practical skills will partner with the gardeners and will do ok, but only if they have skills in demand such as engine repair, welding, etc. Lazy blue collar workers or unskilled people won't cut it.

- Speaking of practical skills: Get some if you don't have any. Today. Of the 6 neighbors I worked with trying to get the indian people with the disabled family members down the block set up with a generator only 2 of them were of any use. One was familiar with generators. The other wasn't but knew how to hook a generator to a natural gas furnace. This cooperative effort kept those people from freezing to death but this luxury of multiple people with complimentary skillsets was pure luck and should have been able to be done by one person.
You need to understand HVAC systems, electricity, small engines, plumbing, etc. Know your home systems and that of people you will interact with.

- Most people will be appallingly unprepped. The old lady across the street didn't even have any matches. The people I loaned the generator to didn't have a working flashlight. I could go on but you get the picture. You need to either prep extra for these people or be prepared to deny them your help. And if you do the latter they may come back with reinforcements and take it anyway. It's far better to give them a box of matches, look forlorn and say "here, it's my last one, please use them carefully".

- Good neighbors will be your allies. Even ones that are unprepped may have either information or abilities that will help you all out. The guy down the block from my dad rode his bicycle all over and brought back information that was very useful. The ones up the street knew an electrician who could be brought in to help with generator hookups.

- a place that looks unarmed probably isn't. I found out from one of the neighbors that there were a lot more guns in the neighborhood than I ever suspected.

- People's slowness in getting a grip on the situation will drive you insane. For those who have been prepping for years, a crisis is much more "ho hum" and we snap into action, knowing what to do. Its very easy for us to forget that most others who we will interact with have NOT been mentally chewing on it for a decade and will come to reality much slower than we'd like.

- People slow to come to grips with the situation will look at your take-charge attitude and abilities as you being a bull in a china shop, and bossy. I had to really dial it back and gently lead them into understanding the new reality rather than barking orders at them like a Field Marshall, which is my MO in a crisis.

- Normalcy bias is a powerful thing, even in people who prep or at least somewhat get it. For instance, my mother was making tuna salad on the Friday after I got there and asked me if I wanted celery in it. She then said she was out of celery but "could run down to the store to get some". I had to remind her that the store was closed and out of power and that the traffic on the roads near the store looked like the chariot scene from "Ben Hur". This happened several times while I was there.

- Elderly people will have more trouble adapting if they haven't worked on staying flexible. My parents friends refused to come stay at our house, preferring to stay in theirs despite it being 40 degrees indoors. Their son finally forcibly removed them after coming in from another state.

- There is definitely a 'grace period" after a disaster where people are nice and cooperative with each other. It's about 72-96 hours. After that point people start getting pissy because they're cold, tired, uncomfortable, inconvenienced, etc. At that point you need to be careful how you interact with them.

- Proud parents or family members who you are helping will brag to everyone within earshot about how much you brought and how great that is. You do NOT want this to happen so warn them right at the outset to SHUT THEIR PIE HOLE. For a short term disaster this wasn't a problem but in a long term one it could have been fatal if what we had was all we were going to have for a long period of time.

- If you're female, you especially need to get a grip on practical skills. The women in the neighborhood during this were far more clueless and afraid than the men were, and the ones that had no man to rely on were especially lost. You may not always have the luxury of a guy around who knows how your furnace works. You need to be able to do it yourself.

Thursday, November 08, 2012

Sandy Aftermath Gear Report

The following was posted by member "NYC-M4," who went through Hurricane Sandy and its aftermath in New York city:

This is a list of much used gear during my week with no power in NYC.
Flashlights (assorted)
Gas cans/funnels
Butane stove
Propane BBQ
G19  (Glock 19 9mm pistol. DM)
870 with SF light  (Remington 870 shotgun with SureFire weapon light. DM)
4 Bassett hounds
MREs  (Meals, Ready to Eat. DM)
Bottled water and stored water in jugs.
Oil radiator heater
Ramen soup
Pocket knife
Cordless drill
car inverter
Batteries (assorted)
Having this stuff prior to the storm made my life a hell of alot easier. So if you don't have any of this, get it. 


Sunday, November 04, 2012

Backup Power

I came to the conclusion last week that I need to improve my own backup power situation. Here in the Northeast, we've had the following weather events in the past 14 months:

  • Hurricane Irene
  • Tropical Storm Lee
  • The Halloween 2011 ice/snow storm
  • The June 2012 derecho
  • Hurricane Sandy

I have been really lucky in that my power wasn't out for more than a couple hours at a time. I've lived in the same neighborhood since 1979, and up until Sandy I can't remember any of my neighbors being out for longer than 12 hours. Well, some of them got power back just yesterday after being out for 5 days. At some point my luck is going to run out.

On Friday I ordered a Champion 3500 running watts/4000 surge watts generator from Cabela's. This will allow me to power the 'frige, some lights, and charge batteries. Fuel consumption will be more than a smaller generator but it's the right choice for my particular situation.

( also carries this generator, but it's currently out of stock. Not surprising considering that the most populated part of the country just had a major storm come through.)

Don't forget that electrical motors, as found in refrigerators, may need up to 3 times the running wattage when they startup. Your generator needs to be sized for this surge.

They have it on sale through 11/5/12 for $429.99, which is $110 off the normal price. If you have any Cabela's bucks or promo codes you can get it for less. I had a promo code for $20 off any Internet order over $150, plus $6.70 in Cabela's bucks, which brought my delivered price down to $469.

I also have on order from Amazon a Black & Decker VEC1093DBD battery charger/jump starter pack.   My main purpose for buying this is to recharge the 70 ah gel cell that I have as backup power for my ham radios, but it can be used to recharge lead acid and AGM batteries, and jump start cars. The gel cell is currently charged and maintained by a PWRgate from West Mountain Radio, but it provides only 1 amp for charging, which would take forever to recharge the battery if it gets depleted. (It looks like WMR no longer carries the specific model that I have, only the Super PWRgate.)

The next thing to get will be a source of backup heat. We have a gas fireplace in our den downstairs that does work when the power is out, but we should have something for upstairs to augment it. I'm looking at propane and kerosene heaters.