How to Protect Yourself from the Year 2000 Crisis
Copyright © 1998, 1999 by A.Lizard.Use of this material other than "fair use" as provided by copyright law is forbidden. For permission to use this material, contact email@example.com
How to Protect Yourself from the Year-2000 Crisis
Part 3 - Personal Preparation
This section concentrates on affordable preparation. There are many books and Web sites on how to build retreats and how to stock them, and a fair number of places that offer 1 year packages of food (military rations, freeze dried foods, etc.) at relatively high prices should they still happen to be available. While I'll be happy to point people at them who actually want them, food is only part of the problem.
WARNING: This chapter will probably be recommending that you purchase tools and devices unfamiliar to you that are dangerous as well as useful. When you do, READ THE MANUAL BEFORE USING, and if you can't make sense out of it, FIND SOMEBODY WHO KNOWS HOW.
Chapter 6. Communications and Other Ways to Burn Juice.
6.1 Basic phone service: My first advice here is to get a POTS (plain old telephone service) phone: Your phone line may be working and your electric power may not be. This is highly likely. A cheap, dumb phone that doesn't have any fancy features requiring AC power may be a real lifesaver, especially if 911 still works. This is also true for business. The best phone for emergency use is the good old fashioned Ma Bell office / wall phones if you can find one. Simple, no functions other than touch tone and dial hook, and a rated service life that's greater than yours. If you can't, get anything that has no special services and no transformer brick that plugs into the wall.
6.2. cellular phone: Cell phones have been known to work in the event of temporary telephone land-line outages. However, I would not advise getting one for this specific purpose. I'm saying if dial tone goes down on your land-line phone, try the other if you need to.
6.3. CB radio: This is probably the most likely alternative for most people in the event that the telephone lines go down and stay down for any length of time. The price is $50-100. The usual emergency channel is Channel 19, unless your local emergency service organizations have announced that they will be monitoring a different channel. You can also use CB type walkie-talkies to keep in touch wifh family members. The range is generally several miles, possibly several hundred under unusual radio propagation conditions, but this is a more likely source of interference than something usable. Outdoor rooftop antennas and directional antennas will substantially increase your range.
6.4. Family band walkie-talkies are a good, inexpensive way to keep in touch with family members or relatively close neighbors. In this case, the limited range (under 1/2 mile) is an advantage. Being able to call an neighbor for help might save your life sometime. If you can use this to set up a network for tying into a neighborhood watch committee (one that'll bring in armed neighbors) this is likely to save your life.
6.5. Amateur radio: - (also called "ham" radio) This requires that you learn enough electronics to pass a written FCC test. The type of license and what kind of access you get (how much power, what frequency bands are open to you, etc.) depends on what level of test you pass. This may be a valuable survival skill and may well be worth doing for you, this kind of learning might even help you troubleshoot your own computer or other electronic / electrical items whether Y2K season is a disaster or not. I strongly recommend that you do this. What you learn doing this and the people you will meet this way will also help you make better decisions about your electrical power needs and how to meet them than I can give you in this book.
A ham radio license also means you can participate directly in amateur radio emergency communications networks intended to keep going through telephone outages, i.e. you can actually help disaster relief efforts, you can help people find out if their loved ones are all right, etc., you can find out if your own loved ones are all right. It means you can send e-mail to other ham radio operators, perhaps patch to the Internet at 9600 baud if you are in an area where your Internet access is down for reasons ranging from your provider closing to having all the big bandwidth pipes closed down.
Power requirements range from a few watts (12 volt mobile / portable ham transceiver types are available in abundance, price a few hundred dollars and upward) to a few thousand watts, depending on what you are trying to do. Range depends on a lot of things, direct transmission for a battery powered set might be a few miles, but if your regional repeater is working, that might get you international communications capability. For a 2000 watt set, several hundred miles to anywhere on the planet, depending on transmission conditions at the frequency you are using. Data types available are voice, Morse Code, teletype, and digital data via repeater network. Novice and Technician Class Licenses no longer require learning Morse Code. However, Morse Code (remember the telegraph key you've seen in old Westerns and movies showing steam ships of the 1920s?) is a good thing to know. It gives you the most range for the least power, which might save your life in an emergency situation.
6.6. laptop computers and modems: Internet access might be available from your area even if power isn't if the phones and broadband links stayed up and your ISP has an emergency generator. You might even be able to contact your local police via Internet if 911 is down. If customers are active, it's possible that you might be able to continue doing business that way if the chief business you do involves transportation and processing of information.
Note that I do expect the Internet to keep working through Y2K season, this does not mean that it will necessarily be working in your area or even country, or to the places with people in it you personally need to talk to. I expect the Internet to be down in quite a few areas even in industrialized countries and probably down for international traffic in less developed countries.In areas where it is not working, if power and phones are up, the Internet will follow shortly. Not only are there a great many people who use the Internet for personal and business reasons (I researched this book via Internet) but many businesses depend on the Internet for internal and customer communications, and the economics and convenience that favor use of the Internet over other forms of communication or going places in person may favor the Internet even more strongly during and after Y2K season.
6.7 Broadcast radio receiver: - A battery powered radio is the absolute minimum communications capability you should have. It will let you hear incoming announcements from emergency services, (e.g. the fire is moving in your direction, prepare to evacuate) let you know what's happening in the rest of the world, and help you feel less isolated. Not only is this important for your morale, but being entertained might persuade you to stay put instead of going out and doing something stupid. This is one of many reasons for buying a solar-cell battery charger for rechargable batteries. Other alternatives include "power-free" radios, like the Baygen with built in wind-up crank handle spring-driven generators and solar cells. This costs about $89, and is available at Radio Shack and via Internet at C. Crane . Crane also has a cheaper windup / solar cell powered unit for about $30 plus optional Ni-Cd.
I'd use the solar cell power whenever possible and also keep replacement NiCd cells, I'm not sure how long the windup generators will last in a real emergency, especially on the lower cost unit. Another thing you should look into are "weather radios" fixed-tuned to pick up the US Weather Service transmissions, these receivers usually also have AM and FM available. As to whether the weather reports will be available after Y2K, I don't know, either, but if they stay up a weather radio can save your life with storm / blizzard / other severe weather warnings. While none that I know of have built in solar cells or windup generator, that's what a solar cell battery charger is for. You might even want to consider "short wave" radios for getting news directly from short-wave broadcasters all over the world. If UK broadcasters announce that everything is fine, and US mass media (what's left of it during Y2K season) announces that the UK has just slid into the ocean, you may think it reasonable to doubt that US media have the story straight. (recommend a good short-wave radio or three)
6.8 Television: The arguments for having one are the same as for having a radio, but get the radio first. Conventional battery powered TVs (5"-7" diagonal, color or monochrome, CRT (picture tube) type) eat C-D cell batteries like candy. However, they also can usually use 12 volts directly and often come with cigarette lighter plug adaptors. While the LCD (Sony Watchman) type are much better on power, only one person can really view it at a time. If you get one, you need to be able to recharge them. Also note that video games pull about 5-20 watts of power, it may be possible to power one via a plug adaptor connected to the power input on one side and a 12 volt cigarette lighter plug on the other.(check this) The older generation videogames (cartridge, not CDROM) are better on power consumption. VCRs run at comparable power levels, but 12 volt VCRs are hard to find (Jade Mountain or your local RV dealer, maybe) and rather expensive. As for keeping your 300 W 35" TV going, think twice, this will cost you major money. Or get a TV tuner for your laptop and watch TV that way. A packaged large screen 10.4" diagonal LCD TV with tuner / interface / power supply may be available from http://www.flat-panel.com by the time you read this for $795. Think about 20-30 watts or so for LCD TV.
6.8.5 Books: While we are on entertainment devices, remember that a book is a zero power (at least during daylight) entertainment alternative. Since there's a pretty good chance you'll be out of work at least during the first few months of Y2K, this is your chance to catch up on your reading, whether it be for pleasure, general education, Y2K survival information, especially if it looks like the recovery isn't part of the foreseeable future, or professional reading in your field in case a recovery looks likely and immediate. Note that it's quite possible that many professionals and people holding other kinds of jobs depending on a complex technological infrastructure reading this will never be able to profitably resume their professions again if the results of Y2K are bad enough.
6.8.6. Timekeeping - IMPORTANT! Your digital watch will probably work just fine for 2000, but check it now by giving it a 12/31/1999 11:59 PM time and see if it rolls over to 1/1/2000 12:00 AM (or 00:00). Check if it will accept a 2/29/1999 date as well (leap year test). If it passes, get a an extra battery or two, the battery life of a watch is usually a year or so. I don't believe that rechargable batteries are available in the coin type format found in watches and hearing aids. If there are transportation or other problems after Y2K seasons start, the specific type of cell for your watch or hearing aid may not be available for quite a while. Get spares.
The most useful timepiece for the home in a disaster scenario is probably the battery type travel type analog or LCD digital travel alarm using rechargable batteries. For digital units, do the 2000 rollover test described above. The windup type alarm clock is not recommended as the main timekeeper for a household because they are not accurate. They require an external time standard to reset them against and an external time standard may not be available. However, your digital watch will do for this if it's set correctly. In a disaster situation, there are probably going to be events you'll need to get up for at exact times whether you want to or not, in the event of a rolling blackout, you may really have to get up at 3AM to charge batteries, emergency food distributions may happen in early morning hours, you can probably think of other reasons why you may need to do something on time whether or not your job survived Y2K. Also remember to start using a paper calendar. You won't necessarily be able to depend on the usual indicators (walking by a newsrack, seeing the date on TV, etc.) and knowing the correct day might be very important.
AC type clocks, whether LED or analog depend on a continuous source of AC power. You probably won't be able to figure on one until the recovery from Y2K trouble is well underway.
6.8.7. Computers for monitoring security or power, etc: If you're experienced with electronics and computers, the BASIC Stamp microcomputer modules are relatively inexpensive, available in a number of package types, consume minimal battery power, are easily programmed in a subset of BASIC, and are available from Radio Shack or Parallax. (see Vendor List) Use an EPROM programmer if you want to burn programs for practical use. (I said this was an option for the experienced!) Parallax and other companies also sell a number of products designed for use with the modules, and there is a lot of information on the Web that can be turned up simply by going to Altavista (http://www.altavista.digital.com) and searching using "BASIC Stamp" as keywords. When you do this, include the quotes.
6.9 Y2K power quality problems: If your power is working, expect problems with power quality. These quality problems will range from low voltage (brownout) conditions, power surges (periods of overvoltage ranging from microseconds to hours). Many of these problems will fry things ranging from your lights to your appliances, electronic equipment is most sensitive to these. Why this may happen and how to deal with it follows:
6.9.1. Rolling blackouts, brownouts, massive power surges - why? The best informed opinion (Go to http://www.euy2k.com or read the book Electric Power and the Year 2000 by Rick Cowles) on power in the new millenium says that many power plants will either go down to celebrate the new year because they have not had the year-2000 fixes done (some power companies haven't even started as of 9/13/1998) or they had them done and they didn't work. When power plants go down, other plants on the grid are supposed to take up the load. Ordinarily, there are no problems with this. However, even without Y2K problems, we still have rare cascade failures taking out entire geographical regions. Y2K problems may directly affect power control at individual facilities, i.e. control may not work quite right causing voltage or phase fluctuation in your area, or worse, plants will fail without notice or warning. If your local power is working correctly and others aren't, it may be possible for your local power company to unplug from the grid. Some power plants may run out of fuel if there are transportation (rail) problems, most fossil fuel (coal, oil) plants have 7-14 days or so or less fuel reserve. Power plants may wind up overloaded in parts of the grid that are still operational, and in order to shed load, reduce voltage (brownout) or (hopefully) announce that power to certain geographical areas may go down for periods ranging from hours or days. You might get power 24 hours a day, 22... or 1, or zero hours a day. We simply don't know, and what's true in my area will probably not be true in yours.
If you have very occasional power, it's best to use it to charge your rechargable batteries and pursue one of the Low Power electrical scenarios described above... except that if water and power are on at the same time, run your washing machine while you have the chance!
6.9.2. Surge / brownout protection: How to keep your equipment from getting fried during brownouts and power surges: Note that it is unlikely that a surge big enough to take out a major appliance like a refrigerator or electric stove will happen, if it does, file a claim or a lawsuit against the utility along with the rest of your neighborhood. Major appliances don't need surge protection, in fact, their use would result in the premature failure of the MOV based surge protectors.
18.104.22.168. surge protectors: The cheapie power strips are based on MOV varistors. They last about 2-3 years; the MOVs wear out. If you buy one, make sure that all 3 wires are protected (H-G, H-N, N-G) and that the unit has a UL1449 rating. These units are usually built into power strips, and shouldn't cost you more than $10. After it wears out, it makes a very nice circuit-breaker protected power strip. Since they give no warning when the MOV becomes useless, replace them every couple of years or if they get hit with a sufficiently large surge to burn out the unit. I once had my computer plugged into a generator through one. The surge that hit the protector was big enough that smoke could be seen and smelled coming out of the unit and the plastic was blackened. I'm using the computer that the unit protected right now. However, the power strip died the final death. That protector cost less than $10. The gas-discharge type is $70-100 and last indefinitely under normal use. Tripp, for instance sells a very nice line in metal boxes. (Tripp-Lite) I've got one. Either type does a good job of surge protection, they are no protection against brownout. You may also want to plug in your entertainment electronic equipment through these things as well, I do that right now.
22.214.171.124. UPS: Uninterruptible Power Supply, i.e. a battery that's continuously being charged and a very well-regulated inverter that automatically cuts in when the supply senses that AC utility power has disappered. These usually have built-in surge and overvoltage protection and unlike surge protectors, will also protect against undervoltage. However, surge problems may be so severe during Y2K season that buying a cheap MOV based surge protector or two to protect the UPS may be a good idea, better lose a $10 surge protector than a $150 or more UPS supply. If you want to do this, plug the UPS into the surge strip and plug the surge protector into the AC outlet. or generator. UPS supplies generally have enough battery capacity to run a system for long enough to shut down in an orderly fashion. It is also possible to extend the on-time of a UPS by using external (lead-acid, etc.) batteries to replace the ones that came with the UPS. Don't do this unless you know exactly what you are doing and don't mind voiding the warranty. That's why the instructions for doing this are not present. This is an option for the experienced and knowledgable only. Some manufacturers (APS, for instance) have UPS systems with plug-in power packs. You might be able to use take apart a power pack and use the connectors to give your UPS access to your large deep-cycle batteries if voltages are compatible. However, don't do this unless your charging source is comparable in size to the requirements of your desktop computer system.
126.96.36.199. backup generators and surges: Gasoline, diesel, propane generators using internal combustion engines often produce power surges for various reasons, it's in their nature to do so. The power protection means discussed above will work here as well, use them.
6.9.3. Advanced Projects of interest: contingent.net This is intended to provide a backup backbone for the Internet network, the intended market is corporate / government. If you're a ham radio operator, you might find participation in this interesting. Information currently available only on the Web, http://www.datasafe2000.co.uk/contingent/ .
C. Crane Company
For more information, go to A.Lizard's personal Y2K page.