5 things that helped me survive a massive 24 hour power outage

My family was among the 367,000 PG&E customers impacted by a massive power outage in the San Francisco Bay Area this week. Strong winds toppled trees and power lines, leaving us without electricity, internet access and heating for exactly 24 hours.

It sucked.

The outage made me realize how great power and internet access are and how crucial they are to modern life. Working from home, hearing from schools and the power company, tuning in with my wife – it was all squeezed by a woefully inadequate cell phone network connection.

But a few things helped me through this difficult period. Some were pretty high tech, but there’s still a place for pre-internet products in your emergency kit. This is where I went.


It was crucial to connect my laptop to my phone to take advantage of the mobile network to get through the power outage. It amazes me how much a person can do with a smartphone these days, but in my case everything seems to be at least twice as slow as with a laptop. For some tasks, such as complex photo editing, you need a laptop. So for me tethering was essential.

Unfortunately, the networks my phones use (I have a Google Pixel 7 Pro and an iPhone 14 Pro) aren’t very fast, and with so many others’ internet access during the outage, I suspect the networks were congested. I remember the crushing feeling when my browser estimated it would take 40 minutes to download a 4.2 MB photo file.

Pro tip: On Android, you can tether with a USB-C cable which can be more reliable than Wi-Fi and will also keep the phone charged. It also works with iPhones and Lightning cables. This approach, of course, is where the term “tether” comes from, but I usually tether with WiFi these days because it’s simpler and more flexible.

I used extreme battery saver mode on my Google Pixel 7 Pro to dramatically reduce power consumption during a power outage.

Screenshot by Stephen Shankland/CNET

Battery saving modes for phones

I love my phones battery saving modes and often use them when I’m at conferences all day, taking a long walk, or not sure when I can charge. I customized my iPhone’s Control Center with the power saving mode switch a long time ago.

I like my Pixel phone’s approach better, where you can set the battery saver mode to turn on automatically when the battery charge reaches a certain percentage. I set it to turn on at 60% but during the power outage I just left it on all the time.

Android takes it a step further with extreme battery saver, which closes all apps except some core apps and the ones you specify. You can launch and use anything, but unless you add it to the exceptions list, extreme battery saver will disable it again. Overnight, my Pixel’s battery charge only dropped 2% during the power outage.

Anker's 535 PowerHouse, a large portable battery, with its front-facing LED light strip turned on

The Anker 535 PowerHouse has a bright LED light on the front, four USB ports and four power plugs.

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Anker 535 PowerHouse battery

The Anker 535 PowerHouse is one of many behemoth batteries that, while expensive, can come in very handy during a power outage. I used it to charge my laptop and phone, to run an LED light, and most importantly to use my broadband modem when I needed my high-speed network. The display helpfully told me my network equipment needed 26 watts of power, which is more than I’d like, but the battery is big enough to last for hours.

The PowerHouse also has its own built-in LED light strip. It’s pretty bright and I would have preferred a dimmer option.

This model comes with conventional plugs, a USB-C port (not enough) and three USB-A ports (too many). If you can, it’s better to charge your devices directly from the USB ports: if you connect a charger to one of the battery’s plugs, you’ll suffer efficiency losses when converting from DC to AC and back.

A flashlight toy with hundreds of glowing fiber optic strands glows in the dark

This fiber optic toy flashlight proved useful during a power outage.

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My child’s frog flashlight and other LED-lit toys

Our kid loves small toys as much as any elementary school kid, and I was thrilled when he realized at night that he’d brought home some LED-lit party favors. I’m not sure what to call them, but they have a glowing cylindrical handle with a brush made of plastic fiberglass strands at one end. They were new products, but they also turned out to be useful flashlights.

My child's frog flashlight has a lever behind its head;  pushing him down opens his mouth and lights up an LED light

My kid’s frog flashlight.

Stephen Shankland/CNET

However, I was happier with another gimmick, the frog flashlight we gave him at REI to try and coax him into camping trips. Its carabiner design allowed me to clip it to my belt loop, and it was great for quick relief before bed.

A candle

Candles are millennia-old technology, and you know what? They still work. More than 10 hours after the power outage and with no idea when it would end, I was eager to save what battery I had left.

I pulled some mushy ice cream from our freezer that wasn’t cold enough, lit a candle from our emergency kit, and ate a late-night dessert.

a candle on top of a can of tomatoes

I dripped some wax on this tomato tin to give this candle a safe, firm place.

Stephen Shankland/CNET

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