One tech company estimates as many as seven to eight million people in the United States use battery-operated televisions. Those sets will be largely useless when the switchover to digital television is made in February. Safety experts warn that could leave many without an important communication tool in times of emergency.
Few in the Bay Area will ever forget the images from the 1989 Loma Prieta Earthquake. The earthquake destroyed homes, buckled freeways, knocked out power to many people, and it all took place live on national television during the World Series. The quake stunned the Bay Area and with power out, the only way to get important information on television was through a battery-operated set.
"It's vital in terms of conveying information which they need, usually around what the conditions are, where there might be shelters opening up," said Greg Smith with the Bay Area Chapter of the American Red Cross.
But a vast majority of those sets will no longer work beginning in February and that is causing concern.
"Obviously anytime we lose a channel of communications, especially during a disaster, it's not a good thing," said Smith.
So far only a handful of companies have addressed this concern. Radio Shack is selling a battery-operated handheld TV from Accurian for $200.
"There is a new generation of portables that tune into the digital television stations," said Jim Barry with the Consumer Electronics Association.
Barry predicts we will be seeing a lot more battery-operated digital televisions in the future.
"There are no battery-operated converter boxes, but there is a new power pack coming for converter boxes from Winegard, a company that makes antennas," said Barry.
The Winegard battery pack will only work with Winegard converter boxes and only works with TVs with an antenna input. Many battery-operated TVs do not currently have that type of input.
The Red Cross says a must have for everyone's emergency kit is a battery-operated or crank radio. The crank radio works without electricity. You simply power it up by winding it.
"Because that is a means that the Emergency Broadcast System, post-disaster, you can usually pick up on the radio," said Smith.
Accurian battery-operated handheld TV: click here
Winegard battery pack and digital receiver: click here
Red Cross crank radio: click here
Emergency Preparedness Kits: click here
For more information on the DTV transition call: 1-888-CALL-FCC or go to www.dtvanswers.com
Information on the switch to digital television: click here