Homestead Technology for Disaster Preparedness
Add these dynamic tools to your emergency tool kit — they’ll boost camping trips and come in handy during catastrophes.
December 2017/January 2018
By Liam Kivirist
A growing lineup of technology can help you tackle the challenges of survival in extreme environments, from power outages to homestead disasters to camping out in the wilderness.
At the Consumer Electronics Show this past January in Las Vegas, I discovered BioLite’s CampStove 2; the URB-E Sport electric vehicle; LuminAID’s PackLite Nova USB; and Power Practical’s Luminoodle Light Rope. Since then, I’ve tested other tech that’s designed to upgrade and secure homesteads, such as my family’s homestead in southern Wisconsin, where we operate Inn Serendipity Bed & Breakfast. The tech I tested includes the Solavore Sport Solar Oven, the Blink wireless security camera system, the LuminAID PackLite Max 2-in-1 Phone Charger, and the DJI Phantom 4 Pro+ drone.
“Be prepared” is the motto of the Boy Scouts of America, and on our latest campout at the Blackhawk Memorial County Park near Woodford, Wisconsin, my family and troop put some of the tech gear in our emergency tool kit to the test. As many homesteaders, preppers, and campers know, just because you have the gear doesn’t mean you can deploy it in an emergency. But getting some practice using the gadgets in the field — without the need to refer to instructions or product guides — is essential.
We were also at the park to experience the living history of a pre-1840s re-enactment camp known as the Bloody Lake Rendezvous, itself a stomping ground for those eager to put into practice survival skills, primitive camping, cooking with fire, and tomahawk throwing. Hosted by the Yellowstone Flint & Cap Club, the Bloody Lake Rendezvous is held annually during the first week in May, and we’re there every year. Many other such events occur around the country, during which blacksmithing, trading, and knife-throwing skills are shared freely by enthusiastic campers.
Here’s a roundup and review of some of the tech deployed on this camping trip and at my family’s homestead for disaster preparedness.
Photo by John Ivanko
BioLite CampStove 2
$129.95 at BioLite Energy
You can cook, grill, boil, and charge with the wood-fired BioLite CampStove 2, which generates electricity while boiling water or preparing your camp meal. Best of all, the energy source for the stove is nothing more than sticks and twigs — far easier to find in an emergency or on a campout than many other sources of fuel.
The electricity it generates does two things: First, it powers an internal fan that blows air back into the fire for smokeless flames. This means that when you cook with wood, you’ll burn clean without using any fossil fuels. Second, a USB port on the side of the stove stores the surplus electricity and can recharge small devices.
In less than five minutes, we had our BioLite CampStove 2 fired up and boiling water for our hot cocoa in the morning. With four fan-speed settings, we could control the air circulation better with the internal fan jets. We also had a source for backup power for our smartphones should they die in the woods.
The LED dashboard provides real-time feedback on the fire strength, power output, and fan setting. The stove’s USB FlexLight can provide some light at night too. The CampStove 2 is compact, at 5 by 7.91 inches, and it weighs only 2.06 pounds.
Photo by LuminAID
LuminAID PackLite Nova USB
$19.99 at LuminAID
LuminAID was started by Anna Stork and Andrea Sreshta, architecture students from Columbia University who designed the product in 2010 to assist post-earthquake relief efforts in Haiti and elsewhere. An LED lamp can’t get any lighter, safer, or easier to use than this. You can just clip the 5-ounce deflated light to your bag and hit the road. After about 7 to 10 hours of direct sunlight hitting the small, high-efficiency solar panel on the inflatable light, we were good to go for the night.
The built-in battery holds a charge for about two months — perfect for any emergency tool kit on a homestead or farm. It can also be recharged via USB. To turn it on, just unfold the light, inflate it by blowing it up like you would a small inner tube, and hang it where you need it. This product is durable, waterproof, and buoyant. At the maximum of the three brightness settings, it puts out 75 lumens for about five hours. Plenty.
We attached our lantern to our dining canopy, carried it to the outhouse at night, and hung it from the top of our tent for some late-night reading. The light is much safer than candles or kerosene lanterns.
Photo by Solavore
Solavore Sport Solar Oven
$287 at Solavore
In a homestead emergency, two of the most important elements for survival are food and water. The Solavore Sport Solar Oven can prepare both of these easily without requiring a drop of gas or any electricity — but you will need sunlight. The portable oven is able to reach temperatures of up to 300 degrees Fahrenheit using only sunshine.
If the power lines go down and you’re without power after a severe storm, the oven can be an effective and easy way to prepare your meals after the weather improves. You can then cook fresh produce, meats, and other perishable foods to prevent them from spoiling. The oven can also pasteurize water. Just let the water heat up over several hours, and then use the oven’s water-pasteurization indicator to verify its safety.
Blink Wireless Security Camera System
$169.99 at Blink For Home
Blink’s home security camera system offers an easy, low-cost way to remotely check in on your homestead, even for those who aren’t so tech-savvy. The system is quick to set up and simple to monitor with its Blink Home Monitor app, which is available on iOS and Android for smartphones and tablets.
In just 15 minutes, we had two Blink cameras paired with the Blink Sync Module. Because the cameras are battery-powered, we didn’t have to run any cables from the central unit to the cameras. All we had to do was plug the Sync Module into the wall near our internet router and use the Blink Home Monitor app on our devices to configure the system. If you can get a Wi-Fi signal to your outbuildings, Blink cameras could also be a way to keep an eye on your animals.
After the system is armed, it will take video when it detects motion and alert us on our smartphones. Each Blink camera also has a built-in thermometer that we set to alert us if a room’s temperature goes above or below a certain threshold, providing peace of mind when we’re away in the middle of winter.
We have one Blink camera positioned in our home’s entrance to record the appearance of any intruders. Our second Blink camera pulls multi-duty in the basement, providing an easy way to check in and view our old chest freezer’s activity light to make sure last year’s harvest is still preserved, as well as monitor the LED readout on the inverter for our wind turbine. Blink also makes a Blink XT model that’s waterproof, can be used outdoors, and has night-vision capabilities.
Photo by Power Practical
Power Practical’s Luminoodle Light Rope
$19.99 at Power Practical
At only 4.7 ounces, this waterproof, bright, flexible, USB-powered, 5-foot LED light rope will provide the illumination you need without weighing down your bag. It can be used with any USB power source or a universal battery pack.
During our campout, we used the slider magnets to connect the light to the metal on our pop-up canopy tent for lighting our outdoor kitchen. The Luminoodle can also be attached to camping equipment with universal ties and a utility loop, or tossed inside its nylon bag to use as a camping lantern. Our 5-foot strip provided more than enough light — about 180 lumens. Power Practical also has a 10-foot Luminoodle Light Rope that produces 360 lumens. Just a month after we purchased our light rope, we lost power in a severe storm and the Luminoodle lit the way to our basement.
Photo by URB-E
$899 at URB-E
The URB-E is the world’s most compact electric vehicle. While small, it can be a handy vehicle in and out of an emergency. With a range of up to 20 miles, it’s an ideal last-mile machine for dashing into town to restock supplies or even for taking an emergency trip to the hospital. Having a lightweight, short-range electric vehicle will give you the ability to get out of your driveway even when your regular vehicle can’t.
Unlike a traditional electric scooter, the URB-E Sport folds up into an easily transportable 30-pound, 39 1/2-by-15 1/2-inch package. The URB-E’s gigantic 36-volt 30-cell battery, which allows it to reach its 20-mile range, is also capable of being used as a power source for electronics. If needed, it’s powerful enough to charge laptops too.
Photo by Kaito
Kaito KA550 Radio
$59.99 at Kaito
Yet to be added to my family’s emergency tool kit is a hand-crank or solar-powered radio to stay informed in extreme weather situations or other disasters that force us offline or leave us without power. Kaito produces a whole range of emergency radios ranging in size and features, many outfitted with hand cranks and solar panels to ensure that they can be charged up when the time comes. Kaito’s KA550 is designed to keep the info stream coming after the power goes out, with a hand crank, solar panel system, internal rechargeable battery pack, and can run on AA batteries in a pinch. Beyond regular AM and FM radio, the KA550 also has a built-in flashlight and offers the ability to charge smart devices.
DJI Phantom 4 Pro+ Drone
$1,799 at DJI
Whether you’re caught in severe weather or some other calamity, assessing your situation is a must. Many parts of your farm could be difficult to access because of high water levels, downed trees, or structural damage. The same challenges apply to buildings after emergency events, especially higher stories of outbuildings or roofs that appear to be outwardly damaged and could be structurally questionable. Drones are valuable tools for remotely assessing property damage during the calm after the storm. With many drones supporting live video feeds and flight times of up to half an hour, they offer the ability to check on your animals in a flooded field or capture aerial photos of outbuildings to assess their condition from the safety of your home. No need to risk your own neck.
Drones have come a long way in terms of being easier and safer to fly. Most drones that have GPS and collision-avoidance systems are shockingly stable and easy to fly. Even a novice can, from the safety of their porch, survey and capture footage of their fences, livestock, and buildings.
As a bonus, if calamity does strike, capturing images of damage from a variety of angles in treacherous conditions can be a great asset in getting an assessment for your insurance company to review your claim. Aerial drone photos and videos can allow your insurance company to better understand your damages and notify you sooner regarding which repairs it will cover.
Photo by LuminAID
$39.99 at LuminAID
Solar chargers don’t get much more compact and versatile than the PackLite Max 2-in-1 Phone Charger, the newest inflatable waterproof lantern from LuminAID. After just 12 to 14 hours of sunlight, the PackLite Max 2-in-1 Phone Charger can fully charge most smartphones (or other small electronics) via its internal battery and USB port. It’s the perfect way to provide your phone, emergency radio, or GPS with vital juice when you need it most.
A sunny day is all it takes to charge the battery, and a few puffs of air to inflate the lantern. Like the aforementioned LuminAID PackLite Nova USB, this phone charger is designed to be mobile and easy to charge while clipped to a bag, making it perfect for backpacking or providing emergency off-grid lighting. The PackLite Max 2-in-1 Phone Charger shines much brighter than the PackLite Nova USB, at 150 lumens.