When the lights go out: 12 gadgets to keep you working

It's snowing yet again, bringing with it a chance of power failures. How will you keep your devices working when things go dark? Here are some ideas.


June 19, 2009 (Computerworld) This story was originally written in June, 2009, but considering the recent winter storms that have battered some U.S. states (and damaged not a few power lines), the information in it remains useful. Note: Some of the prices cited may have changed in the intervening months.

Whether you live in Las Vegas, Nevada or Lagos, Nigeria, power failures are a fact of modern life. But don't worry -- there is light at the end of this particular tunnel. When the neighborhood goes dark, your digital life (and business) doesn't have to stop dead in its tracks.

According to Department of Energy records, between 2002 and 2006, power failures became increasingly frequent and affected more people. The Edison Power Research Institute of Palo Alto, Calif., the research arm of the electrical utility industry, said in a 2001 report that the toll from power failures is nearly $46 billion a year in damage and lost work.

Blackouts are caused by a variety of reasons, from a worn out transformer on a power pole down the street or an overloaded feeder cable across the state to a power-plant problem hundreds of miles away. But winter brings more than its share of blackouts as snow and high winds snap tree limbs and power lines. And while enterprise server farms and data centers have backup power, the chances are that you and I -- and our computer systems -- will be left in the dark.

Some things, like local networks, TVs and desktop computers, shut down right away. Others, like cell phones, notebooks and digital media players, will follow when their batteries run out.

It doesn't have to be that way. With the right strategy and equipment, you can laugh at an electricity outage and stay connected, regardless of whether you're watching an episode of "House" online, sending e-mails or finishing that killer presentation.

We've assembled 12 gizmos and gadgets that can help keep you connected even when your AC outlets go dead. Some are easy and inexpensive, like emergency lighting or an uninterruptible power supply for a desktop PC. Others are harder to install and more expensive, like a backup generator for a home or office.

However you decide to prepare, you may want to take a good look at these products. They could offer you some good ways to keep a power failure from knocking you offline.

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