Electronics After the SHTF?

There are many ways our consumer electronics could be rendered useless during a SHTF situation. EMP scenarios are popular among preppers, but rain or carelessness will break them just as easily. Let’s assume your equipment survives the disaster and you weren’t careless. How will your tech work properly without reliable electricity or the necessary infrastructure to support them? Let’s review what’s required to operate the devices most of us own and explore a couple dangers from using those devices during a survival situation.

Author’s Note: I considered including electronics with my previous blog titled, Entertainment after SHTF, but decided to dedicate an entire article on the practical application of using our electronics during a survival situation.

Power & Batteries

The most obvious requirement for electronics is… electricity. Depending on the disaster, access to electricity could be cut off and generators may be the go-to plan for a lot of people. However, most generators available on the market require fuel to operate, which might be impossible to find. Even a solar/wind generator with battery bank may not provide enough reliable power.

A lot of electronics are compatible with standard batteries found at most supermarkets. That’s great, but you’ll eventually run out of them and that device will turn into a fancy brick. If you stockpile a “lifetime supply” of batteries and store them in idyllic conditions, those unused batteries can lose their charge or go bad some other way (like leaking).

And if the batteries leak inside a device 😱

Most portable devices have built in rechargeable batteries and a lot of people keep a battery backup for emergencies, but the charge will eventually run out. I probably own one of the best portable solar battery backups you can get on the market, but I won’t rely on it as a regular power source. The battery backup I use while camping, has folding solar panels and stores enough power to charge my phone twice.

I’ve set the battery backup in direct sunlight for an entire day and the charge only increases by 1-2 bars, out of 5[1]. That’s mathematically unsustainable if your phone is on all day, or if your family rations its electronic use and needs to top-off multiple devices.

Rechargeable batteries will eventually die too. Usually, they’ll die a slow and silent death by not holding a charge, but they can go out with a bang if they overheat while charging[2].

Supporting Infrastructure

I think a lot of our devices will power on after a cataclysmic national or global disaster, but probably won’t function properly. I base this prediction on the fact that most modern devices depend on multiple layers of infrastructure to function as expected, all of which is maintained and controlled by greedy corporations. During a SHTF or survival situation, the services we rely on will be cut off if there’s no incentive (money) to keep that infrastructure operational. Here are a few examples.

Mobile Phones

Mobile phones require the following to function:

  1. The device must turn on and be able to send/receive signals.
  2. Cellular towers must be operational and within range[3].
  3. The cellular service provider you subscribe to must be operational to allow access to the network or internet. 
  4. The service or destination website you’re trying to access must be functioning.
  5. You need access to electricity or have some way to recharge the phone’s battery, otherwise you won’t be able to use it in the future.

TV and Radio

The complications related to TV and radio are similar, but not as numerous.

  1. The TV/radio must have access to electricity.
  2. The device must be undamaged and able to receive analog/digital signals via antenna.
  3. Broadcast stations must be operational and in range[4].

Cable/Satellite TV and Home Internet

Cable/Satellite TV and internet services probably won’t work for a couple reasons.

  1. In addition to powering your TV, computer, or other tech, cable/satellite and internet require external devices (cable box/router) to access the service. That’s yet another thing you’ll need to power, which may not be sustainable for small-scale solar and wind generators.
  2. Access to the internet and TV channels requires verifiable service subscriptions. Depending on the company’s service gateway program, you may be forced to stare at an “outage alert” message if the provider’s central office isn’t operating.

Warning about Nationalization

It’s possible the government will nationalize services and allow “free” access to cable/satellite TV and internet[5]. Of course, this depends on the type of disaster and/or the availability of power and related infrastructure. A government could nationalize entertainment services and provide “welfare entertainment” to keep the sheeple happy.

If this were to happen, you should expect extreme censorship related to the type of shows and websites you can view. Obviously, all your viewing and browsing history will be saved and subject to review. The ruling government will probably use that data to determine your loyalty to the state. If a user attempts to access restricted content too often, the government may penalize the household by withholding services… or conduct a gestapo-style nighttime arrest and assign the offender to reeducation camps.

Such oppression happens in China and other totalitarian nations, but thanks to 9/11 and the Patriot Act, even the USA isn’t immune[6].

Warning about Electronic Emissions

Smart devices (especially phones) can be tracked, and probably will be the method of choice to find fugitives or people hiding from internal or external attackers. All modern smartphones and most tablets have GPS built in. The government reports that GPS location services are accurate to within 16 feet[7]. However, a TV documentary I viewed recently claims the accuracy is as good as 3 feet[8]!

If a domestic or foreign entity wants to track and capture a “fugitive” or unregistered (newly-conquered) citizen, all they have to do is ping your phone’s GPS. Even if you turn the GPS off, they can broadcast a manufacturer backdoor code to remotely reactivate it without you knowing.

GPS is the easiest way to track a phone, but the cellular towers can help someone track you too. Our phones constantly ping the nearest tower(s) to ensure the user has the best signal. If someone wanted to get your approximate location, they can do a reverse ping between towers and triangulate your location. It’s not as accurate, but it’s enough to send a search party and find you.

Phones may be the easiest method of tracking someone, but other electronics can broadcast your location too. Smart TVs transmit and receive Wi-Fi signals at all times, even when turned “off”. The Wi-Fi signal can alert anyone within range that someone with power is nearby. This probably won’t be a problem in a city because the signal range will be limited by surrounding structures, and your neighbors will likely be in the same situation as you. However, it’s a dead giveaway in rural areas where a Wi-Fi signal can be detected as far as 300-400 feet.

Specialized equipment exists to locate a broadcasting Wi-Fi signal, but the signal can be tracked down with something as basic as a smartphone[9].

***

No one knows if our tech will work during a survival situation. An EMP can fry our tech, a massive natural disaster (or attack) could destroy the infrastructure needed to use our devices. If a survivalist is fortunate enough to have power and functioning tech, it’s wise to consider the inherent risks before by using those devices…

Is the convenience worth the risk?


[1] Solar Chargers: I bought a simple solar recharger for AA, AAA, C, D -type batteries around 2005 and it still works great, Although, it takes at least 2-3 days to charge AA batteries.

[2] Battery Explosion: I’m not a scientist, so I won’t pretend to completely understand the cause, but the most common reason why rechargeable batteries explode is because of old age. Exploding phones with lithium-ion batteries were all over the news in the early-2010s. According to the expert the news station interviewed, rechargeable battery explosions happen when the internal electrolytes overheat or come into contact with their oppositely charged electrolyte. Charging and depleting the batteries will eventually wear down an internal protective barrier separating the positive and negative electrolytes. Depending on charge, once that barrier is breached, you’ll hear a POP-fizz as the energy is discharged all at once in a jet of flames that can reach temperatures over 1,000°F… in your pocket!

If you like Sci-Fi (like me), that sounds like a matter-antimatter explosion.

[3] Damaged Cellular Towers: There will be low signal if the nearest tower doesn’t have power or is damaged, and your phone has to use a distant tower. There won’t be any signal at all if the entire network is damaged or doesn’t have power. All those damaged or unpowered towers probably won’t be repaired quickly, or at all, during a cataclysmic disaster.

[4] Signal Range: Signal strength and range depends on line-of-sight from the source to the device. The signal can be hindered or degraded by structures or landmarks (mountains, hills, forests). The signal will degrade as it travels through the air itself, so the average maximum range for broadcast signals are:

  • TV & FM radio: 40-60 miles
  • AM radio: 80-100 miles.
  • Satellites may not work, so I’m not counting them in this list.

[5] The Real Owner and Inventor of Services:  It’s well known that our government (DARPA) invented the internet, but it also fronted the bills to create most of the services we enjoy today. The companies you pay to access cable/satellite TV and the internet do not own the technology those services use. The government leases the infrastructure to companies, which in turn charge us for services our taxpayer dollars already paid for.

That’s fucked up 😠

[6] 9/11-Patriot Act Searches: I had a college professor whose home was raided while at work. She came home to a NSA letter posted on her door and all her belongings rifled through. She was flagged for funding terrorism because she gave her children monetary gifts from her retirement or savings accounts yearly. These gifts were the maximum allowed without having to file on income taxes.

Needless to say, she was pissed and our class learned about the dangers of government surveillance.

[7]  GPS.GOV. (2022, March 3). GPS Accuracy. Retrieved from GPS.GOV: https://www.gps.gov/systems/gps/performance/accuracy/#:~:text=GPS%20satellites%20broadcast%20their%20signals,4.9%20m%20(16%20ft.)

[8] 3-16 Feet: GPS has a reliability variance of 3 to 16 feet. To put that in perspective, it’s the difference between someone sitting next to you or standing at the opposite end of the bar. It’d take a blind or nearsighted person to miss you!

[9] Wi-Fi Tracking via Cellphone: To track Wi-Fi using a smartphone, walk toward the estimated signal location and adjust direction based on how the signal gets stronger or weaker.

Entertainment after SHTF

How have you planned for entertainment after the SHTF? It stands to reason that survivors will spend most of the day working to ensure they can survive, but what we do afterward is just as important. Most normal people need something fun or distracting to take their minds off work and the situation they’re in. Without entertainment, morale will drop and you could lose hope, or possibly the will to live.

A major hurricane can easily deprive an entire region or state of internet, cable, and electricity. If civilization collapses and we permanently lose our modern luxuries, families will have to go low-tech to have fun.

Music

Music can lift your spirits in any situation, and listening to it can be as easy as turning on a battery-operated or crank radio. But what if there aren’t any active broadcasts within range? If a civilization-ending disaster were to occur, it may very well be “The Day the Music Died” on the airwaves[1].

Don’t despair, you can still make your own music.

It doesn’t take much skill to strum the strings of a guitar or blow into a harmonica. However, sheet music may be necessary if you’re stuck with a more complicated instrument or want to play specific songs. If you don’t have sheet music, you’ll have to rely on your memory or make it up as you go.

What if you don’t have musical instruments?

You can make music with all sorts of stuff. I once had a hard-covered music book with printed piano keys on the back cover. My 2nd grade music teacher used those keys to show my class that we can create music by tapping those keys with a finger or pencil. If you can make musical sounds from a (new-ish) hard-cover book, you can make: 

  • Maracas – Put some beans/rocks inside a resealable container and shake it.
  • Drums – Flip a pot upside-down and bang on it with a wooden spoon or stick. Striking different parts of the drum will produce a variety of sounds. Use a plastic container to get a deeper hollow boom.
  • Cymbals or bell – A steel lid from a pot looks a lot like a drummer’s cymbals. It can sound like a church or dinner bell too. 
  • Tambourine – String together some pop-tabs and shake to make a slight jangle. 
  • Base-tapping – “Tapping” was all the rage when I was in middle school. I found it annoying at the time, but you can reproduce a drummer’s base and a snare drum (from a marching band). It was done by “tapping” the flat edge of a pen or pencil onto a desk and banging the base of your palm onto the same surface.

I won’t lie to you. These home-made “instruments” will not sound like the originals we’re familiar with, but will produce the same musical notes. If the S really HTF, you’ll have plenty of time to practice and who knows, maybe you can earn food or drinks at a local drinking establishment.

Music may not be an ideal form of entertainment for everyone. It can be an annoying racket if you’re terrible at playing, or are tone-deaf.

I personally think that one man’s music, is a noisy beacon for looters and raiders.

Read a Book

Reading is a great way to pass the time by delving into a fantasy world… one that isn’t as terrible as this one. Most people read silently, which is great if you’re trying to hide from the rest of humanity.

The only drawback to reading is that it requires light. Natural light is present during the hours you’re probably working. Which means you’ll need to use a lamp or flashlight to read at night (which causes eyestrain).

Write

Writing could be another way to pass the time and it provides multiple benefits to the writer. While it can’t truly replace live communication, writing a daily or weekly journal helps satisfy the human need for communication if you’re alone in a bunker. Your journals could teach future historians what life was like during and after the fall of civilization.

If you have an active imagination, you could write stories to keep kids and other adults entertained. This leads me to the next activity…

Tell a Story

Weekly story night could be a new family or community event. Write stories one day and read them aloud the next, or make it up on the fly. Different members of the family/community can take turns making up stories to tell around the campfire or fireplace.

You can use musical instruments to make story night even livelier. The ratta-tap of a drum can bring forth visions of soldiers on a battlefield, or blowing into a harmonica at the right moment can be terrifying in a scary story.

But do you really want to tell horror stories, if you’re living in one?

Physical Activities

Playing sports may be the last thing you want to do if you’ve been laboring in the field all day. You may not be interested, but it’s a great way to keep your children occupied and wear them out while you’re trying to relax. Here’s a few activities your family can play.

Kick Ball

Humanity has been playing sports similar to soccer or “fútbol” for thousands of years and on every continent, including Antarctica (in recent times). The rules follow the same basic format with little variations over the centuries.

I can see how soccer or other kick-the-ball games will be popular after the SHTF. You don’t need any extra equipment to play. All you need is an inflatable ball and your feet, and maybe a landmark to serve as a goal.

Play Catch

If you have a baseball or football (American), you can play catch. All that’s required is a ball and at least 2 people. You can toss the ball to each other and chat about your day.

Hacky Sack

You and your kids can kick, toss, and bat around a hacky sack. If you’re crafty and have sewing tools, you can make a hacky sack in 3 steps.

  1. Cut out the toe-part of a sock (3 inches should be enough).
  2. Fill it with small beans (navy or smaller).
  3. Sew it shut.

Play with Pets

Playing with a pet is not only fun, but the activity helps build a stronger bond between you and the animal.

  • Toss a ball or stick and watch your dog fetch it.
  • Grab a toy or stick and play tug of war.
  • Dangle a string or roll a ball to tease/play with a cat.
  • Whistle or play peekaboo with a parrot.

Even if you’re too tired to play, simply petting the creature can make the worries of the world seem to melt away.

Let’s Talk About Sex Baby[2]

Sex is another form of entertainment, which is as old as time itself. If you do it right, it’s a pleasurable experience for all parties involved. However, unless you regularly participate in “Sexual Olympics”, sex isn’t a long-lasting form of entertainment. According to several online sources, the average duration ranges anywhere from 5-20 minutes. So…

What’s the plan for the rest of the day?

Brutal Entertainment

Our methods of entertainment could devolve into something resembling ancient Roman gladiatorial battles. It’s possible that criminals or undesirables will be forced to entertain us by fighting in a “Thunderdome”[3]. While I don’t personally approve of this form of entertainment, it may be wise for a survivalist to conform to the “norms” of the community and be a spectator.

***

Preppers are good at preparing for the physical aspects of survival, but tend to neglect mental and emotional needs. Entertainment is important because it takes your mind off the everyday struggles and allows your mental battery to recharge. If civilization were to collapse and our modern conveniences were to stop working, families will have to go low-tech and play with board games, cards, dice, puzzles, or balls.

Even bunker-preppers need something fun to do after the hatch is sealed.


[1] Nod to: Don McLean’s, The Day the Music Died.

[2] Nod to: Salt-N-Pepa’s, Let’s Talk About Sex.

[3] Thunderdome: “Thunderdome” is a reference to the gladiatorial arena seen in the movie: Mad Max: Beyond Thunderdome.

Changing Interests Regarding Morning Radio Through the Years 📻

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I climbed into my car this morning and after driving for a few blocks, was surprised the radio was turned on. I paused the audiobook I was listening to (via Bluetooth headphones) and decided to listen to the show during my ride to work. As I drove and listened, I reflected on how my opinion of morning radio shows have changed over the years. I hated morning radio in my teens and young adult years, I loved it in my late 20s, and now I hardly listen to the radio at all.

Teens and early 20s

I used to hate morning radio in my teens and early adult years. No matter which station you tune the radio to, it’s all talk and no music. The whole reason for us young people to listen to the radio is to listen to the hits we love, not to listen to some middle-aged radio personality talk about the news and whatever the celebrities are doing.

Late 20s

And then in my late 20s, I started carpooling to work and the driver listened to the local radio stations. I started to enjoy a morning show called The Roula & Ryan Show on 104 KRBE. On Tuesdays, we’d listened to how people in our region got their revenge on coworkers, neighbors, and even members of their family. I remember speculating about the legality of effectively “poisoning” your lunch to get back at the office food-thief.

It was fun listening to all those insecure or suspicious relationship partners on Thursday morning’s “Roses” segment. Who will the guy send the free dozen, long-stem red roses to? Will it be the girlfriend or wife, or a mistress? Even if the guy sent the roses to the right person, those people have some relationship issues to work out.

My personal favorite “Roses” episode was when the guy sent roses to another woman, and it turned out to be his mother who was suffering from cancer.

The girlfriend was suspicious of her boyfriend because he was always leaving at odd hours. She called his job, but he wasn’t there a few times. When asked where to send the roses, the guy sent them to another woman (I don’t remember her name). The girl started accusing him right away.

“I knew it! I knew it! [All those times you were missing from work was being spent with another woman!]” The guy was speechless and confused by the interruption, and the hosts briefly explained what the show was about. The guy quickly explained that he sent the roses to his mother, who has cancer. His mother was in the car with him, and he put her on speakerphone. The mother’s response was priceless!

She sounded just like “Rose” the company executive from Don’t Tell Mom the Babysitter’s Dead. She said: “Veronica, I am deeply disappointed in you.” She continued by explaining that her son had been taking her to chemo-treatments and helping with various things when she called. She repeated that she was disappointed in her and she didn’t deserve her son.

“Veronica” was silent on her end of the conversation and the hosts apologized to the guy and his mother. The hosts quickly wrapped things up and said the caller should probably try to save her relationship.

We still sometimes quote that poor mother when we catch each other in a disappointing situation.

Mid-30s

Now that I’m in my mid-30s, I have my own car and don’t carpool anymore. I listen to audiobooks, so radio doesn’t have as much of an impact on my life anymore. I can’t even remember when the last time I, intentionally, turned on the radio.

Well, there was that one time I turned it on when I bought my car to program the regional stations which played music I may enjoy. And then I remember tuning it to an Emergency Advisory Radio Station, solely because I saw it on a highway sign and was curious. It was on the AM-bandwidth!

The Future

What will my future entertainment tastes and habits look like in the coming decades? I could rekindle a passion for gossip-mongering radio shows, or I may completely forget the radio exists and continue listening to my various audiobooks. Who knows?

It truly is interesting how tastes and habits change over time.