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2011 was a difficult year with many parts of North America being hit by hurricanes, tornadoes, wildfires, and other severe storms and natural disasters. With hurricane season basically over, it's time to prepare for winter storms and blizzards. So, it's a good time to update your home and automobile "Emergency Preparedness Kits." We live in the Northeast where millions lost power twice in recent months: first from Hurricane Irene and then from an early winter storm just weeks later. While many people saw the power come back on within a couple of hours, hundreds of thousands of people were without electricity, cable and/or phone services for several days. During these outages, FEMA and state emergency agencies recommended using solar chargers, particularly to maintain communications. Here's a discussion of what to look for in solar chargers / portable solar panels as well as solar emergency lights and flashlights. We've also include a FEMA-developed list of items recommended for a simple emergency kit. Basic Emergency Kit Recommendations The Federal Emergency Management Agency has a website, that provides great information on what should be included in home or office emergency kits. It's also a great idea to keep emergency kits in automobiles in case you get caught in a storm, stuck in a remote area, or if events require you to leave your home very quickly. Below is FEMA's list of what should be included in a Basic Disaster Supplies Kit. Please visit the site noted in the source box at the end of this article for more details for what else to include in your home, automobile or office Emergency Preparedness Kit. "Basic Disaster Supplies Kit...A basic emergency supply kit could include the following recommended items: Water, one gallon of water per person per day for at least three days, for drinking and sanitation Food, at least a three-day supply of non-perishable food Battery-powered or hand crank radio and a NOAA Weather Radio with tone alert and extra batteries for both Flashlight and extra batteries First aid kit Whistle to signal for help
Dust mask to help filter contaminated air and plastic sheeting and duct tape to shelter-in-place Moist towelettes, garbage bags and plastic ties for personal sanitation Wrench or pliers to turn off utilities Manual can opener for food Local maps Cell phone with chargers, inverter or solar charger (See source below)
Solar Chargers Along with powering cell phones, smart phones, satellite phones, many solar chargers can power laptop computers, GPS navigation systems. Other commonly used electronic gadgets that solar can power include wireless routers to keep you and your family "online" during power outages and digital cameras, so you can document damage! Some solar chargers/portable solar panels can even work for items normally charged through an electrical power outlet. With the right accessories, some solar chargers work with "rechargeable" lights, radios and other traditionally powered products including digital cameras, and portable games that can make life more comfortable during power outages, particularly for restless children. Emergency Solar Lights and Solar Flashlights Like all solar- powered products, there's a lot of flashlights and emergency lights to choose from. And, it's up to the consumer to pick what is best for their needs and budget. Generally the cost of the latest products is more than older models. But the new ones are generally the most reliable and, in the long-term, the best investment. Since the daylight recharges the light and not a utility company, solar lights are great during power outages. You can turn the product off during the day and let it sit outside or sometimes in a very bright window. Things to look for when choosing emergency solar lights or flashlights include: The level of light emitted by unit; How long the solar light works on a single charge; and How long the solar light will retain its charge when unused (like when it's stored in an emergency kit).
Light levels vary greatly and you usually get what you pay for. We like "Two-in-One" products in particular. These have different "heads" that can be put on one base, for use as long-lasting bright flashlights or as strong spotlights that stay continuously lit for shorter periods of time. Different solar lights provide different light levels and lengths of quality light on a single solar charge. This should be noted in the product's description. The longest running and strongest solar lights cost more than alternatives because the technology is newer. Another thing to look at is how long the light will retain the energy it stores from the sun. Many
newer solar flashlights and solar emergency lights retain up to 80% of their charge when fully charged and stored for 12 months. So, if you fully charge the item and put it away until an emergency, it is going to reliably provide light for a significant period of time. Don't Forget About Regular Outdoor Solar Lights! Outdoor solar lights are also helpful during emergencies. Unlike alternatives such as kerosene lights or candles, there are no fire risks and no carbon monoxide is produced. When high winds are predicted, many outdoor lights (particularly those not secured to a building, wall or post) should be taken indoors anyway, so why not keep them where you use them if you lose power? Indoor solar reading lights are great and there are several "portable solar lamp posts" and solar lanterns that can easily be taken indoors! Solar shed lights can be used inside your home by putting the cable outside and the fixture inside. For houses, we recommend opening a window just enough to accommodate the cord. Remember: you can easily move the light to another room when it starts to get dark. What to Look for When Selecting Products When you shopping, remember that solar technology continues to advance very rapidly. Usually, the best products available carry a higher price tag. Does this mean that the more inexpensive products aren't any good? Not necessarily. Important things to think about when purchasing solar products are batteries and solar panels. For chargers, it is also important to look at what types of connections a product uses to power electronic devices. Some solar battery chargers work on far more products than others! Batteries: Important Part of Solar Technology Remember that electronic devices MUST use the battery for which they were designed. If you replace a device's battery with a type or strength battery different from what originally came with the product, the product will be destroyed. This isn't because of marketing in any shape or form: it's due to basic scientific principles. Solar items that use NiCad batteries are usually older and have dated solar technology. Most products work just fine, but the cost of replacing NiCad in a couple of years may be more than the item itself. NiCad's work great for simple accent lights, but they are a poor choice for solar chargers in particular. Products that use Lithium Ion (Li-Ion) batteries generally are state-of-the-art products. Li-Ion batteries are particularly good for rechargeable items because of the way they store and discharge power. The majority of good solar items on the market today use the NiMH batteries, which are better than NiCad from technical perspectives and also non-toxic. (Like fluorescent lights, NiCad batteries must be disposed of as "hazardous materials.")
Viewed by many experts as an "interim step" towards Li-Ion batteries, NiMH batteries and the products that use them usually cost less than Li-Ion options. Since batteries for solar powered items usually last for two years, use your own judgment and budget requirements. For example, Li-Ion batteries are the most expensive today and can be more difficult to find. But, two years from now, they are likely to be far less expensive and easier to find than NiCad batteries. Solar Panels In general, small solar lights or gadgets using monocrystalline solar panel are the best. But, many solar products (particularly those for use with emergency products) use "amorphous solar panels." Amorphous solar panels use different components from mono or polycrystalline panels. And, most amorphous solar panels have one great feature, particularly for emergencies: they usually can charge during cloudy weather or when located in moderately shady places. Options for Charging Electronics/Accessories Let's say that two solar chargers appear very similar, except for cost. Look a little closer because the more expensive product probably can be used to safely charge a wider variety of electrical devices. Some chargers use USB cords, others use CLAs (similar to a car cigarette lighter), and still others use clamps usually associated with jump-starting cars. The best products use all of the above and sometimes more. Solar chargers also should use technology to protect electronic devices from over-charging or other quirks related to battery discharge/charging rates. This may or may not be noted in the product description, so if you have any questions, call the merchant selling the charger and ask them. This is important because a lousy solar charger won't only give you lousy results: it may damage your expensive electrics! Always Follow Advice from Local or National Authorities In any emergency situation, you should track and comply with any emergency alerts or warnings from local authorities! The best emergency kit in the universe won't keep you safe in a place that is in imminent danger. Along with evacuation notices, local and national authorities often broadcast "Stay Away" notices, or warnings to stay off of the roads. Of course, if you have no power you may not hear these notices. This is one important reason why solar chargers and solar products are great tools during natural disasters and severe storms. Solar power means you can keep in touch with the outside world regardless of whether electricity is available or not. Hope for the Best, Prepare for the Worst! Everyone hopes that 2012 brings better weather and less natural disasters than 2011. We hope
this article gives you some ideas on how to prepare now so that you and your family are safer during a power outage. Even if you live in a warm climate, remember that storms and other disasters happen far too often. Take the adage "Better Safe than Sorry" to heart and consider solar products as an integral part of your emergency plans. *Source: http://www.Ready.gov
AM McElroy has over 20 years experience in corporate communications and marketing/sales within the banking, civil/environmental engineering, high-tech and natural sciences (physics) arenas. An avid fan of solar technology, she runs an online store that focuses on solar products ( http://www.solarflairlighting.com ). In addition to sales, the site hopes to educate consumer about solar lighting and other renewable energy. To help with this endeavor, a new blog dedicated to solar lighting and other renewable technologies: http://www.SolarLightingSmart.com was launched. She vigorously protect her copyrights and while you may copy this article, we check to see that EzineArticles's rules for including the Author's resource box, including working links to both of our sites, are included. We enforce copyright infringements by all means necessary, including obtaining "Cease and Desist" orders and other legal avenues.