Making Do in Disaster

“A quarter of cell towers, broadband Internet and television services in Superstorm Sandy’s path were still dark Wednesday.”

see Sandy knocks out 25% of cell towers in its path – Oct. 31, 2012.

One of the things I have noticed on the CNN coverage of the hurricane’s effects is that citizens are gathering around CNN’s vehicles, charging their smart phones and accessing free wifi. This is something citizens with a little technical know-how could do for themselves. Anyone with a south-facing window, roof or just the lawn can put up a solar panel to produce a few watts of power for charging batteries. The wholesale cost of one panel is ~$1/watt and a charger needs only a few watts. Walmart sells gadgets based on the same idea but at a much higher price per watt.

A small but rugged wind generator could supply power in the aftermath of the storm in a brisk wind day or night.

Combine wind and solar power with a batter and inverter for gadgets and almost any home could be self-sufficient in electrical power. Add gadgets to connect to the Internet by satellite and to open a wireless access point and every home within 100m could have free wifi and a bit of power during a prolonged outage. That does nothing about heat, food and shelter, but it’s a start. A stock of tarps, ropes, blankets, water and dehydrated food should keep folks alive indefinitely. The ability to communicate will facilitate recovery.

About Robert Pogson

I am a retired teacher in Canada. I taught in the subject areas where I have worked for almost forty years: maths, physics, chemistry and computers. I love hunting, fishing, picking berries and mushrooms, too.
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12 Responses to Making Do in Disaster

  1. oiaohm says:

    Robert Pogson on the finer point the Ag Cu mixes that passes are an alloy they are not pure metal. Different wire makers in fact use different alloy mixes that mean they do have slightly different properties in conductivity and corrosion resistance.

    Just to be stupid you can get C11000 rating on a alloy that contains no copper. You find some of them in Manhattan USA and some building where they don’t want to replace wires in particular areas any-time soon. Those are Ag/Au Wires. The Cu percentage of the spec in fact can be Cu, Ag or Au. Of course due to the high price of gold Ag/Au wires are rare. Yes you could officially label Ag/Au wires copper C11000 wires(not that you would in current market). There are some tri mix C11000 wires in existence that are Cu/Ag/Au.

    This is why you see electrical wiring with different corrosion resistance. Yet same C11000 rating its all todo with how much silver and gold is mixed into the copper.

    Really old wiring has lower odds of being a corrosion resistant alloy and more odds of being pure copper. Also more odds to have broken isolation in places so letting contamination enter along the run as well.

    Yes the fun of government specs for wiring. 99.9 percent really Cu or 89.9 Cu 10 Ag or even 50 Ag 49.9 Au are all the same to being C11000 wire as long as the conductively passes.

    So there are a quite a few approved alloys for so called copper wiring under C11000 not all of them can be used in Australia due to the fact not all of them have enough corrosion resistance. Not all of them are affordable to use like Ag/Au wire(absolutely corrosion resistant stuff).

    Robert Pogson sorry its just the reality of it. Electrical Copper wire does not have to be copper at all. Just currently Copper is cheaper than Ag and Au so the percentages of Ag and Au makers will want to keep down. Of course is a trade off more copper less corrosion resistance.

    Next time you strip some new copper wire from different makers pay attention to the colour. You will notice some are a lighter colour and some are a darker colour. Higher the Ag content the lighter the colour. Some less dependable makers the colour varies between batches quite a bit even along length of wire worse. I had silver colour in what was called copper wire because that section was basically pure silver. Poorly mixed metal for wire yes this does bring some nasty expand and contract problems. If they were all pure copper with low O2 they would be all basically the same colour.

    This is how I found out they were alloy not pure. I was wondering why different areas in one building had stuffed up and other areas had not. Even that the wiring had all be done at the same time and exposed to exactly the same stuff. It was 3 corrosion resistant different rolls of wire from 3 different makers.

    After that I paid more attention to corrosion resistant rating on the wire I was getting. Conductively is only one value.

  2. “C11000 – also known as Electrolytic-Tough-Pitch (ETP). This is the most common copper. It is universal for electrical applications. ETP has a minimum conductivity rating of 100% IACS and is required to be 99.9% pure. It has 0.02% to 0.04% oxygen content (typical). Most ETP sold today will meet or exceed the 101% IACS specification. As with OF copper, silver (Ag) content is counted as copper (Cu) for purity purposes.”

    Again, this is not an alloy.

  3. oiaohm says:
    Electrolytic copper is not pure copper. C11000 is what your house hold wiring is here. That is copper/silver. Cu-Ag wire used by Australian standard does not suffer from creep. The Cu-Al stuff was never approved in Australia. The silver content high enough gives corrosion resistance.

    Robert Pogson
    –“to make sure there is no hidden joins.” – Here, our building codes require all joints to be made in junction boxes accessible from outside the finished wall. The drywall and insulation have to be stripped anyway.–
    Australian building codes badly allow for junction boxes inside finished walls with out exposed markers they are there.

    The wiring older than 15 years old in Australia could be joined and taped without having to be placed in a junction box. Taped with that horrid self gluing rubber stuff makes the connection when new fully water proof. A few years on not so much. At worst this will be inside one of the noggin or studs. So not visible until you pull the wire out.

    Also illegal wiring modifications in other countries have a habit of being worse.

    Residual-current device RCD is what a Ground-fault-interrupters are called in Australia. They are mandatory here. So those ground faults that are human killing the system just will not work.

    –Corrosion is a problem when electrolysis occurs on wires left “live”.– Mandatory building wide RCD means this don’t happen here straight from the flood normally short to ground will kill power with the RCD.

    Our issues are all active neutral bridging.

    Robert Pogson
    –It is possible to GFI every outlet in a house but it has a capital and labour cost.–
    This is cheaper and simpler than most governments think. Australia the RCD(what you call GFI) is boxes in the fuse box. So checking power points in groups.

    Labour cost doing it that way is dead cheep. No different to a RCD with a power board. Just the power board is huge.

    What you call Australian straight forward thinking. Look at a GFI power board and think how in heck does that work. Then compare that to house hold wiring. Copy and you get GFI every min cost. Ok it does have a downside. It is not selective to one power point. All the power points on a circuit go out at once. In flood this is exactly what you want to happen.

  4. oiaohm wrote a bunch of nonsense:

    • “to make sure there is no hidden joins.” – Here, our building codes require all joints to be made in junction boxes accessible from outside the finished wall. The drywall and insulation have to be stripped anyway.
    • “official operational life span for wiring is 40 years.” – There are homes in Winnipeg that were wired in the 1940s using “knob and tube” wiring that is still in use. Modifications/renovations almost always replace what is found but when I took the course in the 1960s “knob and tube” was in the curriculum. I helped my father replace it in our home which still stands today.
    • “Due to the copper alloys used in wire Corrosion is that slow flood is not the problem.” – copper wiring is high-purity electrolytic copper here. It’s not an alloy. Joints made decades ago with simple splices are still good. There was a period when some idiots approved Cu-Al wiring which promptly failed from corrosion and creep. Corrosion is a problem when electrolysis occurs on wires left “live”. Oxygen can be released and chemically combine with the wire and steel in boxes. Currents in salty water in a box can also degrade the copper to steel grounding joints. Salt water does not conduct well enough to trip breakers in most cases in house-wiring but it does introduce corrosion in all metal parts pretty quickly and can expose humans in the water to electrocution. It only takes a few milliAmperes to shock a person. In Winnipeg people have died in wet basements with just run-off water. Ground-fault-interrupters should be used in all such locations but the building codes assume basements are dry. It is possible to GFI every outlet in a house but it has a capital and labour cost. In future, homes may be wired with low-voltage wiring to reduce this danger thanks to the efficiency of LED lighting and Moore’s Law for much electronics. Only heavy loads need the high voltages which are lethal to people.
  5. oiaohm says:

    Robert Pogson
    –Building wiring can be submerged for days and then dried off with little effect on function. Done properly, covers should be removed to enhance drying before power is reapplied.–

    To be correct its where the wiring joints are is the problem. The big hazard contamination at wiring joints allowing shorting leading to fires. The method you described could see a house fire 3 to 6 months after the flood when wood dries out near the short that slow not enough to blow fuses or flip circuit breakers.

    So the wiring is basically destroyed from being usable until it can be fully inspected and cleaned. To fully inspect to you basically have to remove all the walling in the area flooded or pull new wiring through to make sure there is no hidden joins. Then when the buildings at 20+ years old you might as well while you at it replace the wiring. Since by doing that you don’t miss a join.

    Basically removing the covers is not enough. All the wall points and switches that got wet and possible contaminated has to be replaced. Every junction or join that got wet has to be redone. After flood everyone is out of that stuff.

    Flood followed by Fire really does sux. Yes its a direct result of no doing the clean up properly.

    I should have been more exact. Destroyed from being able to be used and possibility to the point of being simple and safer to replace than dry. Fully submerged building it is really simpler to write the existing wiring fully off. Since then when you strip the wall panels you strip all wiring and start over.

    –House-wiring can last a century without flooding and a single flooding will not do more damage to the wiring than a century of neglect.–
    True but official operational life span for wiring is 40 years. Flooding might do 40 years worth of damage to a joint somewhere leading to a fire. Yes the joints fail before the wires themselves.

    So after flooding you are stuck without power for quite a while even if the power grid is restored. People do get themselves into big trouble letting the wiring dry and not redoing the joints and connect a generator to house resulting in them losing more due to fire. What insurance will not cover.

    This is the most important thing you have had one disaster. You don’t want todo anything that can bring another disaster down on top of you.

    Problem is even well-made connection(joints) due to wind and other vibration effects on buildings over 20 years will develop defects defects large enough to let flood driven mud that may or may not be conductive/flammable into joint. The big nasty problem is you dry house the mud can go non conductive but when the next rain/storm turns up and the humility rises turns the mud conductive and a short followed by possible fire. So the short-circuits from flooding can happen months to years down the track.

    Corrosion is not what you are worried about. Due to the copper alloys used in wire Corrosion is that slow flood is not the problem. Its the contamination that is the issue.

    If a wire was fully submerged at a end. Most electrical wire is multi core. It is possible for the contamination to go inside the isolation react with the coper alloy and make it more resistant so generate more heat as well. This does depend on what minerals were in the flood water.

    Rules of wiring replacement do alter slightly based on what your house was flooded with.

    The sea water is not that bad. Some river water on the other hand the wiring that was wet is classed as fully destroyed due to what it done to copper. You generic statement is a very hazard one Robert. There are a few factors that define if can dry the wiring or if you should just replace it all. Big one is what was the flood water.

    Even so wiring still basically destroyed and worthless until it can be fixed properly. You are normally talking weeks until the building wiring can be fully fixed. Due to the fact new wall switchs and points and other required items to fix will be in short supply.

    This is something people who are about to be flooded don’t get. Its not a few days to bring power back to a flooded house. Lack of supply of parts is the biggest delay. Really you have to get the parts. If you want to run the risk of people being electrocuted or fires due to the contamination yes you could possible bring power back up in days.

    Electrolysis of water of what is a big one we had here. It was from something you could forget about. Solar panels on roofs. They don’t turn off when power grid turns off. Robert Pogson we had a few people hospitalised due to solar panels resulting in hydrogen and 02 building up in a wall cavity(yes big bang problem). Rule one now when considering entering a building that was flooded building go up and check roof for solar panels first if they are there make sure they are disabled then be really really careful.

    After flood its not over.

  6. oiaohm wrote, “Flooding will have destroyed all the house wiring.”

    That’s not generally true. Some connections poorly made may corrode but a well-made connection is copper to copper and not prone to corrode. The serious effects of flooding are short-circuits, electrolysis of water, and electrocutions. Power/gas/water should be cut off in flooded buildings when the danger of flooding is anticipated or as soon as possible after flooding is observed. Building wiring can be submerged for days and then dried off with little effect on function. Done properly, covers should be removed to enhance drying before power is reapplied. Drywall and insulation should be stripped too. Prompt action would reduce damage to wiring. Unfortunately, in Sandy, many were caught off-guard despite nearly a week of warnings and certain knowledge that houses would be destroyed, not just wiring. One does not take time to flip the mains-breaker when a wave just crashed in through the window.

    For the deniers, consider that flooding increases rates of corrosion but corrosion occurs even in a normal atmosphere especially on humid days. House-wiring can last a century without flooding and a single flooding will not do more damage to the wiring than a century of neglect.

  7. oiaohm says:

    –WHat good is a bicycle equipped with a generator when your house is ruined in a flood….–
    Ok so you will get flooded and looted because you could not remain on site how bright of you.

    oldman bike with generator you can use at a shelter. Also lot of these bicycle generators are water proof. So even if they had been submerged by the flooding they are still usable after very minor cleaning and drying.

    Being able to run you electronic devices allows you to submit your insurance claims. So get your house repaired sooner. Flooding will have destroyed all the house wiring. So even if you can clean the house enough to camp in it your will not have power.

    Being able to run your communications is key to be able to rebuild. You don’t need a full computer to start the process of submitting the insurance claims or to be organising relations and the like to help you out.

    Bike with a generator is your best friend. Allows you to stay on site sooner even in a tent. This reduces the odds of looting.

    Bike generators are tough little buggers. Solar and Wind will be destroyed before they are.

    Bike generators have been useful in Australia after areas were burnt completely to ground as well. The means to be operating on-site without needing large volume of fuel allows the clean up and rebuilding to start sooner.

    Communications means you can have resources brought to you. Communications is also key if someone on-site gets hurt. Due to road and other damage it might be impossible to get a car in and out where a push bike with effort can get through.

    Ideal set of vehicles. 1 push bike with generator, 1 motor bike, 1 ute. Bare min vehicles 1 push bike with generator.

    After flooding and fire there can be a fuel shortage for trucks and motor bikes. The fuel is better uses for moving rubbish away and bringing supplies in. Organising full loads in and out needs communications. Also needs people at each site to receive stuff.

    Of course there is nothing to say you will not be the bugger who has run completely out of fuel. Bike + generator at least allows you to talk to emergence services to get food and other key items delivered while you do the manual labour cleaning up the site.

    Remember after a flood you may not have a job either since that can be destroyed as well.

    Sorry oldman your the idiot here. I have worked with after natural disaster quite a bit here in Australia.

    The people with working generators and the means to be on-site will normally get their houses rebuilt first also suffer the least after the flood property damage.

    Yes bike generators are not ideal. But they are tough. Petrol generator that has been under water are normally major-ally damaged. Cars that have been drowned also have problems.

    Bike generators are one of the few things that you can possible salvage from a flooded house that can be got to working order in a few hours. Normally the issue is the bike not the generator.

    Yes you want at least 1 power source that is tough and simple to repair.

  8. oldman says:

    WHat good is a bicycle equipped with a generator when your house is ruined in a flood….


  9. oiaohm says:

    Robert Pogson 50w-H was presumed. Generators on bikes have seen effort to be between 750W to about 900W when on a stationary stand. Turns out a human walking around requires a nice bit of force. This is why you don’t need special fitness to generate 250 if you can walk at a decent speed that is all that is required. Yes the 4 hour limit is allowing on how unfit on average the USA population is. 50w-H is what you can extract from bike going somewhere with the human.

    The basic generators to charge usb devices have a power maximiser circuit. That is a regulator and capacitor combination. The device you are charging has the battery. Due to portable devices being made to tolerate charging from basic car power circuits they are the battery in this case. Ok this is for a 12 volt motor and solar. For DC charging of devices a maximiser beats inverter.

    A maximiser circuit can deal with the worst problem of generators on bikes. Humans don’t like have to put out a extra 50W when starting off moving or having the 50W extract hitting them quickly.

    There are maximisers for wind generators. They are the same as bike ones. Both have the same basic goal allow the item to get moving so power can be extracted.

    Lot of people see the small bike generators and think of old head light generators that were pricks for applying force to prevent moving off since they look the same. Yes the tech for bike generators have moved on.

    Moore’s Law does not exactly apply to power usage. So far every time it allows us to go smaller we find that we can go faster so end up burning the same amount of power. Power usage for mobile phones flat lined about 4 years ago.

  10. oiaohm wrote, “even the most basic generator on a bike to charge usb devices.”

    It’s still better to have a battery and inverter in the circuit otherwise a lot of effort will be wasted. A human can generate 50w-H fairly readily with about the same effort as the few W-H needed to charge a smartphone. The human body is very inefficient as well. The end-result of Moore’s Law will likely be devices that can run off the normal motion of a human agitating a tiny generator consisting of a spherical magnet rolling around in some kind of hollow surrounded by coils or something that runs on ambient light or body heat. Displays are power hogs. Perhaps eventually a smartphone will have some kind of piezo-electric device to permit a snapshot of the screen on demand.

  11. oiaohm says:

    The sad part is if you had even the most basic generator on a bike to charge usb devices. Yes the one without the stand under 150 dollars worth you would have charged phone/tablet more in the same time than people who were queing around the cnn vans. It mounts kinda the same as those old generator lights that were on bikes. So gone out picked up some food and water and other requirements instead of standing around a cnn van not working for own survival and in the process charged the phone/tablet.
    Pedal power to run emergency coms is nothing new by the way. They are quite a compact bit of kit. For us on the road a lot the self stand version requiring no bike is a good safe guard you can recharge sat phones and other com gear even run that gear directly.

    Some of these areas that regularly get cyclones and other nasty class storms really making generators mandatory on push bikes would be a good idea. Since this is a form of power generation that is not weather effected too badly. More likely to save a life than a push bike helmet.

    Serous-ally 15 min trip on a bike can be enough for a phone/tablet to work for the next 4 hours.

    A human is good for 250 Watts per hour on a bike on a stand for about 4 to 5 hours. Does not have to be a highly fit human. So almost as good as the Wind generator. But the bike generator is smaller and you don’t depend on the wind turning up.

    That is 250 watt is only extracting about 1/3 of what a human can do. Average Humans at max about equal 2/3 horse power.

    Yes if you total up the people standing around the cnn van and compare to to the truck engine. There was more horse power standing around in the que than what was in the vans engine.

    The amount of power than can be harvested from humans is quite a lot. Particularly with the new highly power effective tech. So a hour on a push bike is enough to run a 10 watt bulb for the next 24 hours. So 2 hours a day on bike you have basic telecommunications and basic lighting. That 2 hours does not have to be stationary.

    Advantage 2 hours can be done inside if it raining.

  12. oiaohm says:
    There is another option other than solar or wind. Mobile phones and arm based devices don’t need that much power. 1 human power can run a lot.

    Advantage of bicycle power you don’t need to go outside and works when ever the human needs it to.

    1 human is enough to run radios, arm computers, phones and power effective LCD screens. Wind up torches take care of lighting. Heating and storing food is where problems should start.

    1 push bike does have some other advantages. A push bike does not need petrol. Petrol is something that can get a little short after a disaster. So Petrol is better kept for critical things.

    Solar panels and wind generators that were deployed also can be damaged to not operational. Big storms are not nice on solar panels. Most of the push bike generators are very tough. So as long as they have not flown off somewhere they are fairly simple to fix up.

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