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How to stay informed during a storm

There was a saying in New Orleans that when a hurricane enters the Gulf, don’t panic.  But when a hurricane enters the gulf and WWL-TV brings out Nash Roberts – panic!

Those who went through Gustav don’t need to be reminded of how intense the storm was on Baton Rouge.  An official wind gust of 91 mph was reported at the Baton Rouge Metro Airport.  Trees were down, power was out for weeks, refrigerated food had to be thrown away.

I had to deal with the above issues, but my issues were wondering when my cable would come back on and how long my uninterrupted power supply could maintain my cable modem.

Depending on if FEMA will reimburse you (don’t count on it), you can stay informed and entertained, even when everyone else has no access.

First, get a landline.  Go through AT&T, not Cox.  The reason?  cell phone coverage will be horrible during and after the storm, especially AT&T wireless.  Never depend on a cell phone for emergencies because when the towers lose power, they don’t work.

They are relately inexpensive.  If you live on campus, it’s included in your resident fee.  For those that live off campus, AT&T has landline service for $14 a month and it includes unlimited local calling in the Baton Rouge area.

Second, get an uninterrupted power supply, or UPS.

It’s a big battery that keeps your computer running during a power outage.  How long of a battery life depends on how much power your desktop computer consumes and how many devices are running off the battery.  I was able to run my cable modem and wireless access point for four hours after I lost power.  The UPS I have is the APC ES-550VA and retails for $58.99 at Circuit City and Best Buy.  This unit can run my gaming desktop pc and LCD monitor for 42 minutes.

Now you can get a generator instead of a UPS, but generators are more expensive than UPSs ($200 for a 2000 watts generator compared to $59.99 for a 330 watts), require maintenance like changing the oil, keeping it outside unless you want to die form carbon monoxide poisoning and you have to refuel it with $3.63 a gallon gas every two hours.

And UPSs are greener than generators, if you want to go down that route.
Third, have backup access to the Internet via dial-up.

Since many notebook computers have a telephone modem built into the computer and can run for up to six hours on the battery, having a backup connection to the Internet will be useful to get information even when everything goes out.  I found out more about what was going on in Baton Rouge by logging on to New Orleans media websites than I did through Baton Rouge media outlets at the height of the storm because they were either off the air (WJBO, WFMF, WYNK), covering the New Orleans area (KYRK [before WJBO went off the air], WDVW) or playing music like it was a typical thunderstorm (WDGL).

Some providers charge as low as $3.33 a month, making it a cheap backup for Internet access.  Check with your current high speed Internet provider to see if they offer dial-up access as some offer it.

Having a UPS with access to the outside world was the only thing that kept me informed and from going insane while setting in a dark, hot room, hoping the big thud sounds coming from outside don’t land on the roof.
Until Cox’s generators fail.

When the Internet died in my apartment, I had a backup plan — move into one of the resident halls.  Power, Internet and cable was restored to many of the resident halls the next day.

Hopefully these tips will help to be better prepared for the next storm to come our way.

This column appeared in the Daily Reveille newspaper on Friday, September 12, 2008 called "How to stay informed during a storm"