(Continued from Part 2.)
It’s All in Your Hands
The core component of my field technology system is what most people would call a cell phone or smartphone, but I prefer to call a Mobile Information, Communications and Control System (MICCS), or just mobile device for short. Why not call it a cell phone? – because the cellular network will most likely be one of the first things to go in a TEOTWAWKI scenario. Granted, you could potentially create your own cellular network if you have the money and expertise, but for the purposes of this article I’m going to assume you’re operating without any cellular (and hence, Internet) connectivity. As a result you don’t need to worry about what kind of cellular connectivity your mobile device supports.
You should also consider the availability of GPS post-disaster – it may or may not function, depending on the specific event. Unless something like a CME impacted the GPS satellites directly, GPS signals will most likely continue operating for some period of time post-TEOTWAWKI. Exactly how long is subject to some debate – the older systems required updates from ground stations every few weeks, or the signals would start to drift, reducing their accuracy. The newer satellites are supposed to be able to maintain their precision for a lot longer, so accurate signals may be available for several years after an event. For the purposes of this article I’m going to put GPS in the ‘nice to have but not critical’ category.
Here are the requirements I came up with for my MICCS mobile device:
- Rugged with at least an IP68 rating (or able to be ruggedized by putting it into a case)
- At least 2GB of Random Access Memory (RAM) – 3GB or more is better
- At least 32GB of flash storage (more is better)
- Supports a removable microSD card
- Supports multiple GPS systems (GPS, GLONASS, etc.)
- Minimum of Android version 8 (I know absolutely nothing about Apple devices, so I’m going to focus on Android)
- Supports On-the-Go (OTG) for connecting external USB devices
- Minimum of 3000mAh battery
The device I ultimately settled on is a Ulefone Armor X5 – it met or exceeded all of my requirements, and you can find it for around $100-$150. A slightly less expensive option would be the Ulefone Armor X7, which has less RAM and flash memory; a more expensive option is the Ulefone Armor 3WT which offers a lot more RAM and flash memory, a 10,500mAh battery and a built-in 2W 400MHz-470MHz radio. Blackview and Doogee are other manufacturers that make some decent rugged mobile devices. Note that these tend to be bulkier than most mainstream consumer mobile devices, so you’re probably not going to be carrying it in the back pocket of your skinny jeans. If you have a friend in military procurement and a lot of money, another option is the Samsung S20 Tactical Edition (it’s ‘Proven by operators’, according to Samsung 8-))
If you can’t afford a new device or want to be able to switch your current device from slim to rugged, you may be able to find a rugged case. Seacosmo makes rugged cases for several mainstream devices, and Juggernaut makes rugged cases that are used by the military. (You can also buy them on Amazon — as with other Amazon products, please use any SurvivalBlog Amazon link to start your shopping, to help support the blog.) But you may need to practice your web search techniques to see if anyone makes a rugged case for your specific device.
If there’s no rugged case available for your existing device, you should at least provide some way to protect it from water damage. The simplest way is to just put it inside a ziplock baggie, or you can get a fancier waterproof case. Lanyos makes a decent waterproof case that works with a number of different phones and allows you to use the camera, and companies like Otterbox and Pelican make various rugged waterproof device cases. One potential issue with using an external case is that you may need to remove the phone to access buttons and ports, which can slow things down a lot when you’re trying to deploy it in the field. Some waterproof cases allow you to ‘play through’, which means you can use the touchscreen while it’s in the case. Surprisingly I’ve found that I can use the touchscreen on my current phone while it’s inside a ziplock baggie.
How you carry your mobile device will depend on what type of device you have and how you plan on using it. The simplest solution is to carry it in a pocket or belt pouch, but that means you’re going to need two hands to take it out and use it. I prefer to mount my mobile device either on the inside forearm of my support arm or on a fold-down ‘tray’ if I’m wearing a chest rig (like when I’m playing paintball). For my forearm I use an armband with rubber straps, since my Armor X5 is waterproof and I don’t have to worry about it getting wet or beat-up, but they make waterproof ones that still allow you to use the touchscreen. For a chest rig I use a fold-down tray from Lancer Tactical that I’ve modified to fit my phone, and Juggernaut makes one that works with their cases. You could also use a chest-mounted fold-down admin pouch like the ones from Crye Precision, Tactical Tailor or Savior Equipment. Having it mounted on your forearm or chest allows you to operate your mobile device one-handed.
Depending on how you plan on using your device you may want to consider a larger tablet either in place of a smaller mobile device or to complement it. An 8” tablet has roughly 2.5x the screen area of a 5.5” mobile device, which can make reviewing and sharing things like maps a lot easier, or you can go even bigger with a 10” tablet. One caveat with tablets – for some reason the prices on ruggedized tablets are orders of magnitude higher than phone devices, so I’d recommend just getting a regular tablet and putting it in a rugged case. I’ve used an old aluminum memo-sized storage clipboard as a hard case for an 8.9” tablet.
Here are some additional thoughts on using mobile devices in the field:
- You should always set a PIN for accessing your device in case it ends up in the wrong hands. Fingerprint access won’t work if you’re wearing gloves or your hands are dirty, and facial recognition can be pretty hit-and-miss.
- Speaking of gloves, some devices have a ‘glove’ mode that allows it to sense touches even if you’re wearing gloves. I use Mechanix Wear FastFit gloves, which are touchscreen compatible.
- I keep my device in ‘airplane’ mode and just turn on WiFi or Bluetooth whenever I need them. That tends to significantly increase battery life.
- I always install a screen protector on every mobile device I use. It’s cheap insurance for protecting the most-often damaged part of your device.
- Install a 64GB or larger microSD card in your device, and try to configure all of your applications to save files, photos, recordings, etc. to the card (some apps support it, some don’t). That way if your device dies you’ll still be able to access your critical files on another device.
- Set your device to vibrate or set the alert volume to low, which should allow you to still sense when it’s alerting you without letting everyone for miles know where you are.
- Configure your home screen with just the apps that you use most often and try to minimize the number of screen touches you need to accomplish tasks. For example, I use a WiFi toggle widget on my home screen so I can toggle WiFi on and off with a single touch.
- If you want to get even more efficient take a look at automation apps like Automate and Tasker – you can create a ‘task’ that turns on WiFi, connects directly to an ad-hoc device’s WiFi network and starts the device’s app with only a single touch. If you want to get really fancy you can program NFC tags, attach them to your devices, then just scan the device when you want to use it and the Automate or Tasker apps will automatically configure your device as required.
- Use the device’s auto-brightness feature to adjust the backlight level based on available light. There’s an app called Lux Lite that allows you to fine-tune the auto-brightness to your liking.
- If you’re using the device in low/no light situations, even on a low setting the backlight from the screen will light up your face, making you visible for quite a distance. Use a shemagh, poncho or other large piece of cloth to cover your face and the phone to limit your exposure (just like when using a flashlight to read a map at night).
- Conversely, if you’re trying to use the device in bright sunlight the screen can be washed out and difficult to read. You can try to find some shade or make it with your body, or use a small screen hood to improve readability.
- You can kind of read mobile device screens with IR and light-amplification night vision devices, but it’s not very clear. Thermal vision just shows you a rectangular blob.
(To be continued tomorrow, in Part 4.)