When You Need Emergency Portable Lighting

Monday Apr 10th 2006 by George Spafford

With more choices of portable lighting available then ever, IT pros don't have to be kept in the dark while on any job.

In my first job out of college I worked in a small company where the IT department was essentially me and my boss. What was so great about it was that we had the opportunity to do everything ranging from pulling network lines, making cables, fixing computers, programming and so on.

One of the challenges we routinely faced was pulling wire through suspended ceilings cluttered with decades of old wire, old ductwork and so on. Part of the challenge was to have enough light to work yet at the same time not have to carry something inordinately bulky. As with many technologies, the world of portable lighting has really advanced.

On occasion I still need to inspect wiring closets and other areas with poor lighting. Rather than carrying around the old penlight or D-cell flashlights, there are some high performance lights out there to select from.

Some IT groups have purchased their own 18-volt drill sets from DeWalt, Ryobi, etc. Not only do these cordless drills come in handy for assembling cabinetry, fastening hangers and so on but many of them come with an 18-volt flashlight or the light can be purchased as an option. These 18-volt utility lights are very useful not only because most have flexible/positional lighting elements, but also because they can run for quite a while on each battery. During a power failure a few years ago, we lit a room using an 18-volt Ryobi light (that had come with a drill we routinely used) for several hours before power returned -- plus we had a spare battery to boot that we could have used if we needed it.

These days, I increasingly have a need for a versatile light that can run for a long time or generate a tremendous amount of wattage. After doing some research, I opted for a Surefire U2 Ultra and purchased it off eBay for $209 + shipping. A colleague of mine had purchased a Surefire a few years ago and the quality of workmanship was remarkable. The U2 is computer-controlled (yes, there is a microprocessor!) and has six light levels, ranging from running at 2 lumens for at least 48 hours up to 100 lumens that can be output for up to an hour depending on the batteries. The LED itself is rated for at least 1,000 hours. Given my amount of usage, I suspect that bulb will last a very, very long time.

The amount of light the 6-inch, 5.7-ounce flashlight can put out on its maximum setting is staggering. Granted this light is very pricey, but it is a remarkable unit. Surefire has many other models you can select from based on your needs and budget.

On a related note, the U2 flashlight uses two 123A lithium batteries. These are $7 if you buy them in a store, but you can buy 12 Surefire brand batteries in a box for $18 off eBay. It is estimated the batteries have a 10-year shelf life so you can afford to stock up. (Note: This also is a very cost-effective way to buy these batteries for other devices that use them.)

I also have two Xenon Cyclops flashlights (model CYC-XCF) that use the 123A batteries and are rated at 80 lumens. To be honest, they work great and are only $30 per pair (yes, per pair) off eBay, new in the original packaging. The only downside I have experienced is that their switches are either on or off. As there isn’t a variable light-output setting, they are pretty bright for close-up work -– almost too bright. Still, for the price they are a great deal and well made.

I used to carry a penlight in my computer bag. Now I carry a small $5-$7 flat Garrity LED unit that has a keyring on it. Garrity calls it their “Super Bright Micro Light.” These lights are surprisingly bright given their tiny size -– approximate 1 inch wide, 2.25 inches long and 1/8 inch thick. I actually clip one unit inside my computer bag, as it is so small I can easily misplace it. If I need to read adapter cards in a pinch, look in a ceiling, dig under a desk or whatever, I can use the little Garrity because I always have it. With the combination of low cost and small size, I keep a few around just in case.

The world of handheld lights has changed a great deal. I must admit that I haven’t looked in earnest for more years than I care to admit and was really surprised at what is out there now. Whether you are looking for lights for disasters, working day-to-day or for the occasional use, there is a tremendous variety to select your solution from.

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