Power struggle: Scouts, Scouters take different approaches to charging devices

At the jamboree, no power outlet remains empty for long.

Everywhere you look — using official AT&T charging stations, orange Summit Bechtel Reserve power arrays (not to be used when raining), outlets inside and outside of shower houses, and solar chargers hanging from backpacks — Scouts and Scouters grab every drop of power for their devices.

It’s no surprise, really, given the age in which we live and the fact the 2013 National Jamboree has lived up to its billing as the most-connected in history.

I found Ryan, an Atlanta Area Council Scout who works on the Aquatics staff, charging his Samsung phone with friends at an orange power station this morning. For Ryan, an empty battery means no way to stay connected with friends and family onsite and off.

“I’m doing it to keep in contact with everyone,” he said. “My family back home likes to hear from me, and I need to get in touch with acquaintances when we want to meet up somewhere.”

Still, there’s a line Ryan draws between using his phone for contact and using it for diversion.

“You see some people plugged into the wall sitting there doing nothing but playing games,” he said. “Don’t be that guy who’s just sitting there with earplugs in all week. Go out and get to know people.”

Charging has been tough, Ryan says, because you have to “find an outlet, sit there for an hour and be OK with that.” That’s why Ryan keeps his phone’s battery around 20 percent most days. He flips the phone to low-power airplane mode and only turns off airplane mode when he needs to make a call.

At future jamborees, Ryan said he’d love to see several manned locations where Scouts and Scouters can take their phones, get a claim check and leave the device in a secure place for a full charge.

Brandon, a Cincinnati Scout from jamboree Troop B225 whose phone was dead when I found him, turns off his LG Lucid when not using it.

“I do turn it on when storms are approaching,” he said. “So I know if someone’s trying to call me back to camp.”

And then there’s Hank, a Scout from jamboree Troop B426 in the Three Fires Council in Illinois. He was sitting with his friend Dustin near a charging station, but I noticed Hank didn’t have a phone plugged in.

“I didn’t bring one,” Hank said. “I wanted to really enjoy the activities instead of charging for hours.”

And how did Hank survive his 13-hour overnight bus ride from Illinois to the Summit without a tablet, gaming device, phone or other battery-powered device?

“I read a book.”

More photos:




Love this photo from Bob Porell. Staying dry while charging!


44 thoughts on “Power struggle: Scouts, Scouters take different approaches to charging devices

  1. Bryan: Perhaps you can help with getting the current and correct official information disseminated. The latest word that I received in Foxtrot Base camp is that Scouts are NOT to plug into the orange power arrays – and we (the staff) are to enforce that policy. Leaving the electrical engineering parts of the discussion aside, I have to admit that photos of a gaggle of youth plugging into devices that are clearly labeled “DANGER HIGH VOLTAGE” may create bigger public affairs issues.

  2. I think Ryan’s suggestions great. A manned charging service with claim tickets would help the boys have even more fun by the minute at Jamboree. I also would think a sizable solar array for each or shared between contingents could help.

    • Julus: I whole heartedly agree that we need more ways to charge electronics devices, especially when viewed from the technological perspective where we have gone from “crawling” to “sprint” without the “walk” and “run” phases. However, even if we were to allow participants to plug into the orange power arrays (currently not permitted), we don’t have the resources to “staff” a 24/7 “coat check”-like process. Off the top of my head Foxtrot alone has at least five orange poser arrays, with 12 hour shifts and no time off, that would add 10 more staffers.

      • We were talking about this very topic at Theodore Naish Scout Reservation while attending Webelos Camp last week. I think it vitally important to stay connected to each other while at camp, and to be able to receive updates about heat alerts, inclement weather, announcements, etc. One of my parents suggested something like gym lockers like you find at school, the skating rink, etc, but with each having its own electric outlet. You put the phone in, and take the key with you while it is charging. Maybe even two scouts could use the same locker, if so equipped. In hind sight, it could house small items, like wallets, cash, ipods, etc. while the Scouts are doing other (more important) things. Having this setup in each area or campsite might be most beneficial, as their own leaders would be nearby to also keep an eye on things. The key fobs could even be the color of each campsite, to make sure that the person is only using his own campsite. Just my thoughts…

        • @James: The problem with the keyed stations was that the Scouts took the keys and held on to them making them essentially an exclusive and personal charging station. The concept is good, it just needs refining.

      • It is not like they are paid staffers. Would National really be against more people coughing up $850/ea?

  3. I understand the need for the scouts to stay connected but hate that they’re spending so much time charging their devices. The good side is that they’re meeting different people at the charging stations. I think future Jamborees need to address the need for power at the campsites so the devices can be charged overnight. The adult leaders are also expected get notices via email and websites and it has been a challenge to stay charged.

    I also don’t like the scouts calling or texting home to their parents. A common youth response to a question about what they’re doing is “nothing” or complaining about waiting in line or something else. In some cases that results in a call or email to the adult leaders.

    • I haven’t heard a complaint my my son this week – it’s been great to get pics and updates from him on what he’s been doing. Plus, he’s been able to share back with his home troop. He’s periodically charging at a plug in station but mostly he’s charging using a battery pack that runs off aa batteries at night.

    • I haven’t heard a complaint or has a “nothing” text. Examples include … “we had eggs today that one of the adults confused for pancakes,” “the challenge was totally worth the 4 hour wait,” and best of all “thx mom I love you.” Priceless.

  4. Somewhat disappointed that this particular need wasn’t fully thought out ahead of time, that sufficient charging stations, locker/claim ticket check-ins (we did have that at 2010 Fort AP Hill Jamboree!!), etc. were not provided for the scouts and staff. With 45,000 people attending, there would be no fewer than 45,000 devices to be charged over the 10-day event. It is 2013 and kids want to stay connected to each other (Tap/Bump-app to grab your new friend’s contact info), use the Jambo App, and moms want nothing more than the quick ‘hi, I’m alive and having fun’. And really, all the Twitter, Facebook and Vine activity is free publicity for BSA…kids encouraging fellow scouts back home to save up for the next Jamboree, cubs to stick-it-out and anticipate the fun and adventure of boy scouting, and great to show the non-scout friends how totally awesome scouting is!! So if power is what that takes, well…come ON, provide more power! Of course they are going to plug into High Voltage stations…really, it’s an open outlet and adults would do the very same thing if that was the only place they saw to juice up the device, rain or shine.

  5. or leave your phones at home. (At the beach yesterday with my kids…soo many people playing on phones, kids left to play alone. stay at home where they can’t wander off.) Our scouts were told no phones at camp. Leave at home or in the car. they did bring ipods. But again , left them in the car. Will it really kill them to unplug for 5 days.

    • Amen!!

      “Somewhat disappointed that this particular need wasn’t fully thought out ahead of time”
      “I understand the need for the scouts to stay connected ”
      “Cell phones are definite need in this day and age. ”

      Food is a need. Water is a need, Cell phone is a luxury. Sorry, it is true. And same for the Scouters!

      And if you turn it off until you need to check messages/make a call, the battery stays charged! You can last a whole week on one charge!

      • I must be doing something wrong with my phone, lol…..the NOTE 2 by Samsung. It doesn’t stay charged more than a day….and I am NOT a texter, and not much of a talker on the phone. At camp this year, I bet I didn’t make 10 phone calls over 7 days and then just to make sure hubby didn’t kill the kiddos (animal kiddos) and fed and watered them (macaw, cats, dogs, and horses). I didn’t text anyone. Played a few games in the evenings alone in my tent. With that minimal usage – I had to charge it every day. So, please, tell me what I’m doing wrong….I would love my phone to stay charged that long with no usage, lol.

        • If Bluetooth is left “on” and/or if you have a weak cell signal (1 bar or less & fluctuating) then your device will drain rapidly.

  6. My son called to tell me that while charging over the past couple of days; he was able to meet and talk with kids from Scotland, South Korea, Australia and Minneapolis etc. The charging station has become a great gathering place for face time for him. With daily storms at the summit; having access to live weather (and how to plan around lightning storms) has been an asset.

  7. The Norwegian National Jamboree has a really cool idea. Take a small rubbermaid type box, place a power strip inside where you can plug in several chargers. Cut a hole so the power strip plug can be plugged into the outlet while the cover is closed. You have a self contained charging unti for several device at once.

  8. Are there economical, individual solar-powered devices that scouts could use? I seem to remember seeing hikers charging their phones from mini solar arrays on their backpacks.

  9. I’m not at the Jambo (but wish I was!), and this article and situation at the Jambo I am watching closely, for I handle all the electrical engineering at my own Council’s two camps. I’ve been seeing the need for charging stations coming for a while now, for during the past several years at our camps, I’ve seen both Scouts and Scouters plug into any and all available outlets whenever they get a chance. I’ve even seen them unplug things already plugged in (such as soda machines) in order to plug their charger in! The inherent danger of outdoor charging stations also concerns me, even though I’m sure at the Jambo, every outdoor outlet is GFI protected. So I am anxious to see how National BSA addresses this need. If and when charging stations get installed at our camps, I’d prefer that they be indoors where it is both safer, and all the devices are more secure. I’d even give them a name: “Reddy Kilowatt Power Station”!!!

      • See my post below about a safer way to do it. At the 2005 Jambo they drove in. Now they pack in.

        But a wet cell auto battery is dangerous to move as it can spill sulfuric acid. Only use sealed deep discharge gel cells or AGM batteries for portable work.

  10. As a ham radio operator, I routinely use solar power for Amateur Radios on Scout outings. Those power needs (typically a budget of 5 Amps per hour of operation)
    are much higher than for cell phones, which only need about 2 Amp Hours for a full charge. But what I use could easily be used to charge a troop’s worth of cell phones at future jamborees.

    It’s important to recognize that solar panels slowly collect power while devices being charged consume power rapidly, so the most effective way is to use the solar panel to constantly charge a larger battery that then can be used to charge the phones, even at night.

    Here’s the system I use, which could easily be used by a Jamboree troop.

    1 A Powerfilm F16-3600 folding solar panel. This 60 watt panel folds to book size, weighs about 4 pounds, and provides about 4 amps of 18 volt power out. Powerfilm panels are used by the US military so they’re pretty rugged. It easily drapes on the south facing side of a tent. This is the most expensive component at a few hundred dollars, but only one would be needed for a troop.

    2. A solar power charge controller. (1 pound) This makes sure that the solar panel doesn’t over charge the battery. I use a Sunlogic Micro M Plus which can be made from plans in the ARRL Radio Amateurs Handbook. Powerfilm also sells ready made controllers to go with their panels. So does Harbor Freight. Cost is i $30 to $70,

    3. For amateur radio use, I use a 25 AH 12 volt gelcell battery, which are typically used to power motorized wheel chairs. However it weighs about 20 pounds. If you don’t need that much capacity, a small 7 AH 12 volt gelcell (about five pounds) may suffice for a number of cellphones and more if you charge some of them during the day and don’t need as much nighttime capacity. The output should be fused with an automotive blade fuse and holder (RadioShack Catalog #: 270-015) The smaller batteries go for about $20.

    4. While I then use a West Mountain Radio RIGrunner 4004 USB for powering my radios and charging my phone, you might just add a number of cigarette lighter sockets, each with a multiple USB charger adapter for the phones. These will cost about $5 per USB outlet.

    By having the charging capability within each troop site, the devices could then be watched by whichever leader has the site duty.

    Gary Wilson, K2GW
    Member, BSA National Radio Scouting Committee

  11. Were there not charging stations / lockers at the 2010 Jamboree? And as a staffer, I had power at my bunk for overnight charging. I understand trying to reduce the power footprint – but balance that with an appropriate message to scouts and scouters about bringing (and charging) their electronics.
    Communicating with home, each other, and from Jambo and relevant apps – we are an electronic world, lets move beyond the “leave them home” and come up with appropriate use and charging plans.

  12. Cell phones are definite need in this day and age. Are boys AND adults going to abuse that by playing games? Sure they are. I was a SM for 4 years. I allowed the boys to bring their ‘toys’ on outings and to camp. HOWEVER, if I caught them playing games during times they should be doing something: building fires, preparing food, hiking, swimming…or in the case of camp – in addition to the above, taking part in camp activities and badges …..THEN THEY LOST THE USE OF THE device for the rest of that day. If it happens twice (at camp) it’s put in my locker and not returned until we leave camp. This generally works pretty good, lol.

    • They are need because we made them a need. We communicated just fine without them, and many troops still do. They are the easy way out. If Scouts need to be back at camp at 4:00 for dinner, have them wear a watch.

      • You’re right. I was a GS all my growing up years, got the equivalent of Eagle and we had NO technology to speak of – just the watch you mentioned – in later years digital watches, lol. Then got involved with BS with my grandson. BUT, just because I did survive without technology before doesn’t mean I want to do that now, lol. As long as they know how to do things without it, I don’t mind them using it, and as long as they know there are limits as to what they can use it for on outings. I’m gonna’ blame it on my age and getting lazy. I want to be able to call them at various locations (aka camp) – not have to go look or send someone to look.

  13. It’s great that the kids can be connected. At the 1960 Jamboree 3,547 scouts died because they had no way to talk to mama every hour, and another 10,000 scouts suffered severe emotional trauma due to the same. God only knows how many families suffered losses at home.
    Photos and journals brought home afterward arrived too late to save many lives of family members who’d died from the strain of not knowing what Johnny was doing at 1:00, 1:07, 1:25, 1:30, 1:32, and 1:39.

    • CG – you’re cracking me up, lol. I never went to jamboree. I’m a female. When I was growing up girls were persona non grata (sp?) in boy scouts. I was a girl scout – went all the way to the GS’s Eagle equivalent. Went to girl scout camp for 2 weeks every year. No cell phones, computers, etc. (60’s).

      HOWEVER, having said all that…times have changed. It seems like evil lurks everywhere in places that we were blessfully naive to in the mid 1900’s. I’m sure it was there, but we didn’t know about it. We see children killing children, parents killing children, children killing parents, and the more unspeakable things people do to each other, bullying to the 9th degree…danger is everywhere.

      I want my kids and my scouts to be able to reach out and ‘touch someone’ in an emergency. So, although, I, like you, grew up without all these luxuries, I’m glad we have them in today’s wacky world.

      • Time have changed: Violent crime rates in the US are their lowest in decades and falling; your fear is irrational and it’s stunting both you and your children.
        No scout ever died in the first 50 years of my troop’s history because he didn’t have a cell phone, and it will continue that way.

        • WOW! Like to insult much? Anti-woman or what?! Should I mention men who abuse women? I suffered that. Irrational fear? I think not. Until you’ve walked a mile in my shoes… you’re opinion means nothing. My children are adults and doing quite well, thank you. Well, yes, I guess I’m stunted at 5′! I’m really working hard at not behaving in the irrational behavior you are attributing to me….without even knowing me.

          BTW: I have no fear for myself. I fear for my family. I’m prior military, and martial arts, as well as BSA/NRA range officer (for 30 plus years) and instructor. So, no…you’re wrong. Please send me the link to the stats you are referring to. I did my master’s in CJ. It was a wakeup call. Maybe you’re still asleep.

        • Then it’s a shame you earned a Masters in Criminal Justice without ever having looked at crime statistics. You can create tables of crime stats using the DoJ’s Uniform Crime Reporting Stats page here: http://www.bjs.gov/ucrdata/Search/Crime/State/StateCrime.cfm (which is info I shouldn’t need to link for a CJ major).
          You can then take those tables, copy/paste them into Excel and create a graph.
          When you do so, you will see that violent crime rates have been falling for 2 decades, and are currently the same as 1970. The murder rate is actually lower than it was in 1960. Aggravated assault is the same as it was in 1977.
          Every category of violent crime has been falling since the mid-1990s. Your reasoning that scouts need to have phones at all times “in our wacky world” because “times have changed” -is- irrational. It has nothing to do with your gender; you’re just wrong and misinformed in spite of your degree and regardless of your gender. And when you spread that irrational fear, you do harm.

        • That said, I think you took my reply personally where no personal insult was intended. If I offended you as a woman, mother, or student be assured you have my best apology.

  14. I did take it personal. you said ‘stunted’. In what world is that nice. More insults on my intelligence. I don’t need stats to tell me that it’s a dangerous world. My town of 3000 NEVER had murders and very little crime. In the last 5 years there have been 7 murders – 3 at one time. So don’t tell me I don’t know. I’m living it. Stats can be skewed any way you want. Did you not take statistics in your undergrad years? I did.

    And aside from all this crap….why on earth are you so dead set against the boys and/or adults having phones? If you read my other post I said that if I caught the boys (I was SM for 4years and ASM for 2 years before that) using it when they shouldn’t it was taken away. YOUR reasoning is irrational.

  15. This is an amazing time for our Scouts to be at ‘camp’.
    I wonder if this would be such an issue if AT&T hadn’t so generously donated the technology to be connected.??it is a great thing too. On the other side. Some summer Scout camps don’t get cell signal and we all survive.
    I suggest we work towards a more ‘green charging’ approach for leaders and Scouts. As a CM I got a small portable solar charger by Solio that works great for my smartphone while camping

    I put out the solar charger during the day. Usually hanging on the tent towards the sun’s path for the day. this could teach the boys a few things too. Then plug in and charge the phone overnight. Simple and no down time.
    Just a thought to a new challenge. We need to use alternate power options from the sun more. Just saying..

  16. I’m at the Jamboree in subcamp Bravo 1 and I can say from experience that the stress of the different rules about charging and charging stations has been a real downer for the Scouts and Scouters. Those “high-voltage” panels have high voltage only in the middle section, and all of the other outlets are clearly marked as 120 volts. In a cynical world I would propose that AT&T, being a corporate sponsor, has exclusive rights to operate charging stations so that every scout and Scouter charging their phone is looking at a phone company logo.

    Scouts in our troops are using their phones appropriately, not calling home to complain. They are able to contact us if they are going to be delayed or need to make a change of plans. The leaders alerts have been crucial in letting us know about impending weather and the ever changing schedule.

    it’s been a very complex situation that is not easily explained in a blog or a quick reply, but it is a situation that I’m sure National will address in coming events.

  17. Our Troop adult leadership went with 2 12volt 20 amp hour batterys….They charged all of the adult and youth leaders phone for the entire time……

    My scout took a 20,000 ma/hour lipo battery pack……charged his phone for the entire jambo…….

    I purchased a couple of the goal zero panels for son to try…..HORRIBLE….returned them to REI….complete junk. An entire day for a 50% charge on a motorola maxx. naw…..

  18. With the merging of smart phone technology we have to understand that for many youth this is their only device. It functions as phone/camera/digital media consumption device, etc etc. In our troop we have a basic rule. If I see you playing games, it is mine. If anyone buy your parents call, don’t answer it. This is something that will continue to grow as mobile carriers expand the places where data signal is available. We are a connected society for better or worse.

    I really like the idea of power charging lockers. I’ve seen those at conventions in Las Vegas before. My preferred method however is a mobile battery pack. I bought one of these a while back http://www.myinnergie.com/productdetail.php?productid=237&languageid=1 and it works with my ipod/ipad/android phone. I can charge my Galaxy S3 up to 4x on this thing and can charge 2 devices at once. I also started carrying this surge protector on longer trips because it lets me share an occupied plug with someone while giving me 2 USBs to charge from too.

    The GoalZero solar packs do work fine but you need clear sun for a long time. I would suggest the models with the battery packs that can absorb charge during the day and then you can plug in the device and charge from the battery pack.

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