Information Collection for the Prepper – Part 2
Most of the information discussed in these articles will be electronic files – specifically PDF and TIF files. This article will discuss how to safely store these files and use them before and after the SHTF.
Portable Storage of the Library
What I need to be able to do is read PDF and view TIF (graphic) files using my cell phone. It would be best if I could read these files from a USB drive, or secondarily, from a miniSD card. The plan would be that I would copy these files from my computer to these storage (USB and/or microSD) devices. I will sometimes call the information stored on these devices as the “Library”.
I like the Corsair Flash Survivor Stealth USB 3.0 Flash Drives because the USB drive is built into an “armored” case. The case appears to me to be made out of steel and rubber and is shock resistant with a water seal. These devices are about 3 inches long and about 1 inch in diameter. I have carried 2 of these devices in my pocket, along with my EDC (every day carry) stuff, for over a year now. My grandson carried the one I gave him on his keychain. The paint is a little worn but the devices still work fine. I have two 256 GB drives.
Here are the things that didn’t work:
I can carry thousands of PDF and other computer files with me everywhere I go. I just needed a portable device to read them with. Read on and I will tell you about my struggles finding a portable device to read these drives with.
- My current cell phone is an Apple 4S. It has no capability to store computer files, nor any way to read files even if it did. I searched diligently for a cable with a female USB connector, into which I could plug my above-described USB drives, and that would plug into the connector on my phone. I never found one. Given that I never found a cable that even if I made up such a cable myself, which I didn’t, there would be no software with which to read the files.
- Prior to the Apple 4S phone, I had an Android phone that I could copy a few files into from my computer, but storage was limited. Not the solution I really wanted.
- From this experience, I decided what I really needed was a small tablet device. On Father’s Day in 2017, I was in a Barnes and Noble store and saw they had their new Nook 3.0 device (an Android device) on sale for only $40. Never having had a tablet I thought “Ah, a small tablet and only $40, wow.”, so I purchased one. This Nook accepted a microSD card, up to 128GB, as removable external storage. Thinking this was the solution to my problem I ordered a 128GB microSD card and loaded it up with files copied from my Windows computer. When I inserted the card into the Nook I could not make the Nook recognize the card. It seems that Android devices do not recognize the drive formatting used by Microsoft. Not finding a solution to my problem online, I wrote a letter to the Barnes and Noble CEO asking how I could make this work. I got a call back from a very nice young man in a few weeks who explained that with recent changes in the Android operating system no Android device will read devices with this Microsoft formatting. Clearly, they want you to buy their files. Well, the files I want to read with my portable device are not available from such sources.
Finally, a solution
A few months later I was having a new DVR installed by my satellite provider and I was telling the tech this story. He suggested that I go to Best Buy and tell them what I wanted. So I carried my USB drives and my miniSD card to Best Buy and explained what I wanted and he pointed to a tablet and said: “There’s your solution”.
What he pointed to was an Insignia (Best Buy’s house brand) Model NS-P11W7100 that runs Microsoft Windows 10. I thought “Ah, a Windows tablet!” I had not even realized there were Windows tablets!
The device includes a detachable keyboard, which contains 2 USB 3.0 ports. The screen/tablet portion contains 1 microSD 128GB port. At $200 it is more expensive than the Nook, but IT DOES WHAT I NEED!!!
At $200 I could afford to buy a couple of spares to hide away in EMP proof Faraday cages. There is a USB Type C (small) port in the tablet (screen) unit that is used for charging, but it is a full USB 3.0 port for data as well.
The machine comes with a USB Type C cable that plugs into a wall wart type charger unit. To charge the machine with a solar panel, car charger or another device, you will need a USB Type C to USB male Type A adapter cable. Best Buy sells the NS-MCAB4 4′ cable for $19.99. Their NS-PU396CA-WH cable USB Type C to USB female Type A adapter for $9.99 attaching a single USB drive. An NS-PCH6430 4-Port USB 3.0 Hub provides additional flexibility.
Beware: Best Buy has an identical looking product called Model NS-P11W8100 that is less expensive but uses the Android OS. This device won’t work with the Microsoft formatted USB drives, so I don’t recommend it.
I started downloading these files two years ago, long before I found the tablet described above. So I devised a folder structure (I’ll describe that in Part 3). I download everything to my laptop and copy to the Corsair drives in big gulps later. I cut and paste a lot of survival articles and save. I’ve been doing that with Microsoft Word so being able to read Word documents with the tablet was originally a requirement.
Microsoft Word and Excel come installed in the Best Buy tablet, but you have to buy a separate $150 product to activate them. I decided not to buy that upgrade so I now save my cut and pasted documents directly to PDF document using the “Save As” feature in Word on my laptop. Yes, the PDF documents are much larger than Word files would be but it eliminates the need for Word on the tablet. I never use the tablet on the internet so I won’t have to buy virus software for it either.
However, it occurs to me that some of you might choose to use the tablet as your download platform. If you plan to use Word for cut and paste operations then you will need to buy that upgrade package. If you plan to use the tablet on the internet you will need antivirus software. I use the Trend Micro anti-virus product.
Durability and Spares
There are two problems using electronic devices to store large numbers of books and other data in an SHTF or TEOTWAWKI (The End of The World As We Know It) disaster: Keeping the batteries recharged, and keeping the devices operating for many years.
Now, I don’t know how durable this Best Buy tablet is. I travel very little and this tablet has been sitting in my desk drawer ever since I got it. Durability is a big issue for a device upon which the fate of civilization may rest. Given what I know about what is commercially available today, I think I would rather have some model of the Panasonic Toughbook. A few of these stored away in secure Faraday cages, with spare parts, batteries, chargers and complete field level and depot level repair tools and documentation would be enough to last many years.
An EMP-proof Faraday cage briefcase, or better still a backpack, would also be needed. Alternatively, you could simply buy some EMP bags and use them with a regular briefcase or backpack.
Also, the possibility of multiple EMP strikes must be considered. Consider having multiple backup tablets and not opening their EMP container for 4 or 5 days after the initial attack. You may want to consider having all your group members purchase Corsair flash drives and carry copies of yours. You may want to consider the same for the Best Buy tablet, cables and accessories. By carrying these drives with your EDC gear you can read them with any Microsoft computer or tablet available to you.
Keep Paper Copies of All Critical Maps and Documents
Electronics are great (when they work) but you should always have a paper copy of your most critical maps and documents in your bug-out-bag. I have a paper road atlas in my car and waterproof state highway maps of my state and all surrounding states in my car bug-out-bag.
(More on maps in Part 3.)
Keep Your Batteries Charged
Recharge all your batteries on a regular basis. I recommend making a list of all rechargeable devices that you plan to use after the SHTF. Then once a month charge all of the batteries and any spare batteries. For AA, AAA, C, D, and 9 volt you will have to buy the rechargeable versions and appropriate recharging devices.
These batteries may not all need monthly recharging. Check the instructions on each battery.
I plan to use solar panels to charge batteries for the electric and electronic devices I plan to use during disasters and other times of power outage. For more information please refer to these books:
Look into other resources and local experts in the field of solar-powered systems.
- Solar Panel– Small solar panels designed to charge cell phones using USB Type A ports can be used here, although a larger solar panel should be used to recharge a tablet computer. I have an Anker PowerPort Solar, 21 watt device, which has 2 USB Type A ports for charging USB devices. A more powerful solar panel, maybe in the 40 watt range, may be needed for the tablet.
- Smart Phone– Any cell phone can be charged from this device, if you have a charging cable that has a male USB Type A connector.
- Tablet Computer– You can use any type of tablet you choose, if you have a charging cable that has a male USB Type A connector. I own and recommend using the Best Buy tablet described above.
This diagram is intended to be an example of the types of devices you can operate from a 12 volt DC battery and is not intended to be a complete design. It would not be possible to operate all the devices described here at one time from a single 12 volt DC battery. Please refer to other resources and local experts in the field of solar-powered systems to design your system. Not shown are 110/120 volt AC chargers solar-powered DC deep cycle battery nor 110/120 volt AC power supplies typically used with ham radios.
- Solar Panel(s)– Any type of 100 watt solar panel can be used here. For additional solar panels, please see the references listed above. I have a Renogy 100 watt suitcase solar panel.
- Charge Controller– A charge controller regulates the amount of electricity reaching the battery based upon the charge state of the battery. This prevents the battery from being overcharged and damaged. My solar panel includes a built in charge controller.
- 12 Volt DC, Deep Cycle Battery– These batteries are available in several different types and sizes. Please see the reference material for more information. I have a Duracell Ultra 12V 80AH Deep Cycle AGM SLA Battery
Warning: These types of batteries discharge hydrogen gas during charging and possibly during use, so make sure the area is well-ventilated, or use them outdoors.
Figure 2B – 12 VDC Duracell battery with attached MFJ 12 VDC distribution panel.
- 12 VDC Distribution Panel– This purpose of the distribution panel is to connect only this one device to the battery and provide multiple, fuse protected, connection points for additional devices. For more information see 12 Volt DC Power Distribution Panels below.
- Ham Radios and other 12 VDC radios– Please see Part 5 of this article for additional information.
- Other 12 VDC devices– RVs (recreational vehicles) and small boats typically operate 12 volt DC systems. Sellers of such 12 VDC devices you can use are com, campingworld.com, and search listing
- Alarm System and other 12 VDC devices– You could conceivably use a battery charged by solar panels as the backup battery for your house alarm system.
- 12 VDC to 110/120 VAC Inverter– To power electronics like computers, TVs, etc. you will need a “true sine wave” inverter. These will NOT be found in drug stores. I have a Renogy 1000 watt 12-volt inverter.
- 110/120 VAC Devices– I plan to charge my laptop computer batteries, operate a small TV for short periods of time, operate my CPAP machine and other devices as needed. A single battery system is very limited in what it has enough power to operate and how long it can operate devices. If the Internet is up I plan to occasionally operate my Internet router using this system as well.
- Battery Chargers– You will certainly want to be able to charge AA, AAA, and D cell batteries and possibly specialty batteries such as for handheld ham radios. Be sure to use batteries designed for recharging as normal flashlight batteries can’t be recharged. I have several different battery chargers
- 12 VDC to USB Type A Adapter– These devices are frequently found in drug stores and numerous other stores as well as online. Most of these devices are designed to operate from the cigarette lighter in your car. Therefore, you will have to have a special cable made up to attach to your distribution panel. To work with a power distribution panel you will need an Anderson Power Pole to a female cigarette lighter adapter. I ordered such a cable from West Mountain Radio.
- Smart Phone– Any cell phone can be charged from this device if you have a charging cable that has a male USB Type A connector.
- Tablet Computer– You can use any type of tablet you choose if you have a charging cable that has a male USB Type A connector. I own and recommend using the Insignia (Best Buy’s house brand) Model NS-P11W7100 tablet described above for using the tablet described above for using the Library.
12 volt DC Power Distribution Panels
If you have a whole-house solar setup with multiple solar panels and a battery bank of many batteries everything would be wired together more or less permanently. The solar power diagram above does not provide the detailed specifications to build such a setup. My thought is more like the ham radio operator who takes all the devices and parts with him and connects together what he needs when he goes into the field. Many hams go into the field after major disasters, particularly hurricanes, to provide communications capabilities to others.
Most ham radio equipment is battery operated. In the above scenario, they will typically use a generator to recharge their batteries. In a survival situation, the fuel for your generator will run out in a few days. If you are trying to restore civilization or just lookup one subject in the Library you will likely be doing so some months or years after the initial disaster. At that time solar power (unless you are experiencing a disaster winter) will be just about your only option (until you get water wheel powered generators going).
Many hams have standardized their equipment using Anderson Power Pole connectors. These connectors simplify connections when using DC power. As you know from putting batteries in your flashlight or portable radio, there is a right way and a wrong way to connect batteries. With a flashlight, if you put the batteries in wrong the flashlight just doesn’t work so you change them. When dealing with 12 volt DC batteries and sophisticated electronics, such as ham radios and computers, be extremely careful because if you connect the battery the wrong way the radio will be destroyed. Take it from a person that has destroyed a radio this way that it can happen. These connectors won’t let you plug them in the wrong way even if you are panicked or otherwise distracted.
Both West Mountain Radio and MFJ Enterprises manufacture and sell 12 volt DC power distribution devices that use Anderson Power Pole connectors. If you decide to use one of these power distribution panels, you may need to purchase Anderson Power Pole connectors separately (see below). You will have to attach Anderson Power Pole connectors to the 12 VDC devices you plan to power using one of these panels. Instructions on attaching these connectors are here. You can find a local ham radio club here and some club member will be glad to help you. Hint: ham radio skills are a good survival skill to have and will be covered in Part 5.
This is the distribution panel I bought for my system: MFJ-1128, DC OUTLETS, 12 ANDERSON, MTR/SW, $104.95. Mine came with enough Anderson Power Pole parts to assemble 12 connectors. In addition, 10 extra fuses and a built-in battery cable that bolts onto my battery were included. The user’s manual, which I had to download, has complete instructions for assembling/attaching the Anderson Power Pole connectors to your devices. Be sure to print out all user manuals!
I normally keep my backup electronics in cardboard boxes wrapped with Super Strength Reynolds Wrap and sealed with a metal duct tape I found at the hardware store. Factory made EMP bags may work as well. However, I am not really happy with these solutions for devices that need to be charged up on a regular basis.
I wish somebody made a Faraday cage that worked like an ammo can that was the right size for this tablet, solar panel, cables, and accessories that didn’t cost a fortune. If you know of such a container, please report it in the comments.
Other Power Choices
These devices below have interesting possibilities and are worth considering if you don’t want the worry about all the parts described above. I have not used these devices and express no opinion on them.
- Goal Zero Yeti Ecosystem
- Tesla Powerwall
- Renogy – The Phoenix Generator + 100 Watt Monocrystalline Foldable Solar Suitcase Kit
Renogy – The Lycan Powerbox — Solar Power Generator With Solar Panel Suitcase Options
- Patriot Power Generator
Here are some other articles to reference on the subject.
- Solar Powered Equipment for Disaster Preparation
- Simple DIY portable solar power box for camping or emergencies
- Solar generators – find reviews of 11 of the best
- How to start your electrical energy stockpile
Part 3 will provide links where you can download many kinds of state and local maps.
Part 4 will provide links where you can download useful information about people and places on those maps. Supplement the maps with real and useful information about what you see on each map.
Please feel free to ask or comment below.