Disaster Devices: Charging Up When Trouble Hits

When disaster strikes, communication can be a lifeline. That's made phone chargers a new addition to the emergency preparedness kit.

Even disaster relief organizations are taking note. Linda Auck, a volunteer with the American Red Cross, was at the CTIA wireless show in Las Vegas this week with the organization's new prototype emergency response vehicle.

Like the vehicles in today's fleet, it has space to conduct interviews and hand out food. Unlike the old vehicles, it has about eight open outlets for dispensing power to tablets and phones, plus a WiFi hotspot that connects to the cellular network.

For individual consumers, there are several new options for staying connected. Companies like Goal Zero have solar charging stations that can provide power for around $150, as long as the sun is out.

When you're in more of a pinch, there are extended batteries from companies like iWalk and Duracell that provide varying amounts of recharge. They typically cost $100 or less, hold a charge for several weeks, and charge a typical smartphone anywhere from once to several times.

A new company, Lilliputian Systems, plans to roll out the "Nectar Pod" later this year—based on solid oxide fuel cell technology, it promises to recharge a smartphone more than 10 times on a $10 cartridge. If it works as advertised, it could be especially useful in emergencies.