Surviving A Power Outage, Web Worker Style

By Dameon Welch-Abernathy

Many web workers are nomadic in nature. If working conditions at a particular place aren’t conducive to working, just go find somewhere else to work. However, that’s not always desirable–or even practical.

One situation that comes up frequently, especially here in the Pacific Northwest during the winter, is the loss of power. Depending on when the power outage occurs and what you have to get done, you can either call it a day or suck it up and get to work. Yes, it’s quite possible to get web work done in a power outage–if you have the right stuff beforehand.

There are four basic requirements for spending the day working without AC power:

  1. Some kind of phone, be it a corded landline or mobile phone. Both are preferable.
  2. A laptop (or multiple laptops) with spare batteries.
  3. Some form of Internet connectivity.
  4. Non-perishable food you can get to without opening your fridge.

A phone seems like a given for any web worker, but it’s especially important in a power outage. Given how popular cordless phones are these days, you should always keep a hard-wired handset along with your other emergency supplies. If you’re landline free, or even if you’re not, make sure you have a mobile phone with a fully charged battery. I actually keep several charged at all times for this exact reason.

A laptop also seems like a given for most web workers. What might not be obvious is the need for extra batteries. Most laptops only last a couple of hours on a full charge. Extra batteries give you extra runtime in a power outage. And when that fails, there’s always extra laptops. I happen to have a number of laptops at my house that I use for various work-related tasks and they come in handy during a power outage. I am able to access the majority of the tools I need to work from any computer, so moving from one computer to the next is not terribly difficult.

Of course, a phone and a laptop means little if you have no way to get online. Fortunately, I just received a Verizon EVDO card from work. Prior to the power outage, I tested the EVDO card to ensure that it would work from my house. Sure, I get occasional dropouts and the speed and latency varies a bit, but it works well enough that I can get stuff done.

In the US, Verizon, Sprint, and Cingular all offer wireless broadband services. They aren’t available everywhere, so do your homework and figure out which card will work best for you. Outside of the major metros, you may have to settle for dialup speeds either using an analog modem or tethering your computer to a mobile phone. Again, test all this stuff out before you need it.

You can replace a phone, laptop, and Internet connectivity with a higher-end smart phones. They frequently include support for email and web browsing and utilize some sort of high-speed data network. I won’t cover specific models here, but rest assured that several smart phones have been reviewed on Web Worker Daily. While the form factor of some of these devices can be a bit awkward to deal with, in a pinch, they frequently can get the job done. Like laptops, phones that use data services will drain their batteries quickly. Keeping an extra battery charged for this phone is a good thing.

And finally, you need to eat. It’s difficult to get any work done under any conditions if your basic needs aren’t being met. Make sure you have non-perishable items that are readily accessible. Last thing you want to do is open your fridge several times, causing the little bit of cold air to get let out. You don’t want that perishable stuff to go bad, do you?

Obviously, being able to work without power is not for everyone. It’s not practical for some jobs or some locations. It’s also not exactly cheap to prepare for this situation, either. However, with the right resources and preparation, it can be done.

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