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How to keep your gadgets running during a power outage

Power failures can happen at any time, whether its a major rainstorm in California, a hurricane in Florida, tornado in Kansas or just a random occurrence. And when they do happen, many of our tech gadgets stop working. So here’s some advice on what to do in case of a power failure.

Keep your phones working

Your cell phone is one of the most important things to have working in a power failure, even if you have a landline, because the same issues that take out power could also take out local phone service. If you suspect a power failure could be on the horizon, be sure to charge your phone ahead of time. It’s also a good idea to have an external battery charger for your phone.

These chargers are rated in milliamp hours, or mAh, just like cell phone batteries. Ventev, for example, offers a $55 powercell 5000 battery charger that’s rated for about 15 hours of talk or 11 hours of Internet, according to the company. It’s a bit expensive, heavy and bulky, but for $20 you can buy an Anker Gen Astro Mini 3200mAh Lipstick-Sized Portable External Battery Charger that the company says will keep an iPhone 5s running for about 7 hours of talk time and doubles the battery life of a Samsung Galaxy S5.

These backup batteries are also handy if you find yourself running out of battery power by the end of the day, but be sure to keep them charged up so they’re ready to use

It’s also a good idea to have a USB power adapter plugged into your car’s cigarette lighter. Not only does that keep your phone charged while you drive (essential if you use it for navigation), in a power emergency you can charge your phone from the car. You can also get an inverter that will charge a laptop from the car. And speaking of cars, if you have an automatic garage door opener, make sure you know how to open the door manually and avoid parking under big trees if you’re expecting hurricane-force winds.

If you have a landline, make sure that you have at least one corded (not cordless) phone. Cordless phones require power while most corded phones will work even when the power is down, as long as the phone lines are working. Another advantage of corded phones is that you won’t misplace them.

Keeping your Internet connection alive

You can also invest in an uninterruptable power supply, or UPS. A UPS sits between your wall plug and your devices to keep them running in case of a power failure. These devices are rated in terms of “voltage-amps,” or VA — the higher the VA number, the longer you’ll be able to use your devices.

But unless you get an expensive industrial-strength UPS, don’t expect it to keep a desktop PC and monitor running for long. For example, the CyberPower 650VA model is designed to provide power for a typical desktop PC and LCD monitor for just a few minutes — barely enough time to save your work.

You don’t need a UPS for most laptops: They already have a battery. My MacBook Air, for example, can run for several hours on a single charge so as long as it’s been plugged-in, I can keep it running almost all day if the power does go down. It happens to be one of the most energy-efficient laptops around, but unless your battery is old and tired (which can happen after a few years), most laptops should last at least two hours.

These days, I’m dependent on my Internet connection not only for the web and email, but for my Voice Over Internet Protocol, or VOIP, phone system. So, instead of plugging my desktop computer into the 650 VA UPS I have, I use it only to provide backup power for my cable modem, Internet router and VOIP adapter. The combined power usage of these devices is below 50 watts, so the relatively inexpensive UPS should keep them running for between 30 minutes and an hour. CyberPower’s $140 CP1500AVRLCD model should keep a router, cable modem and VOIP adapter going for between 2 and 3 hours.

If my power were to go out for a substantial period of time, I’d look for a coffee shop or other place with public Wi-Fi, but if you go that route, expect possible crowds during a community power outage.

Another option is to use your cell phone for Internet access. Most smartphones enable you to “tether” — connect your computer via USB or create your own Wi-Fi hotspot. So, if my Internet were to go down (which could easily happen if a fallen tree took out the cable to my house), I could use my phone to create a hotspot and access the Internet on my laptop.

If you go this route, be cautious about data use unless you’re one of the lucky ones to have an unlimited data plan. It’s not a big deal if you stick with email and web surfing, but if you use your cellular connection to stream a movie, you could be in for an unpleasant surprise when your cellphone bill arrives.