During disasters, traditional telephone, mobile phone and internet services are quickly overwhelmed rendering their systems virtually useless.
And if power goes out, these systems will falter along with everything else that operates on electricity. Satellite phones will most often work but are expensive options. You and your family will need alternatives. Citizens Band (CB), yes it still exists, is one option. It has good coverage, 1-15 miles, (depending on the size of the antennae), with home-based versions to more mobile options for vehicles or hand-held walkie-talkies available.
UHF hand-helds for staying in contact with family members over short distances are another option. Yet, when all else fails and the only need is to attract the attention of rescuers then go with a flashlight with signaling function or beacon, a whistle or signal mirror. At the very least, keep a transistor radio on hand. If you cannot reach out due to emergency communication issues, there will be radio alerts telling you where to go to find help.
How an Emergency Radio Can Make a Difference
Emergency radios can shorten the duration of your isolation from society after a disaster by allowing you to get back in contact with authorities quickly. These devices can help you to maintain communications with members of your family and other loved ones. They will also allow you to contact others to coordinate rescue efforts or supply assistance during the early recovery period.
The Best Radio for Emergency Communications
Cell phones are down, systems are overwhelmed, even emergency responders can’t get through to 911 to find out where to go next. If police and fire department communications are swamped, how can you possibly communicate with family members during an emergency? How will you hear about vital news about the disaster in progress? The short answer is radio, the tried and true mode of information delivery and communication for over 70 years. And luckily for the average prepper, a few improvements have been made over the years in the areas of portability, power and transmission range. Here we will explore various options available to you ranging from stationary, home-based units to portables to include in 72 hour bug-out bags.
Emergency Communication Options:
CB (or citizens band) radio, popularized in the late 1960’s and throughout the 70’s, is an effective and affordable means to maintain communication with your family and the outside world during a disaster. CB radios are found for sale secondhand at garage sales, flea markets and on various places online. Buying new is also affordable with vehicle units ranging from $30-$100 and fixed base stations ranging from just over $100 to $350. CB enjoys an effective coverage area of 1-15 miles depending on the size of your antenna and some weather conditions.
Ham, or amateur radio requires a license and operates on the wide RF spectrum allowing the operator to connect with virtually anyone around the world, even into space. Handy, if you happen to know anyone orbiting the Earth. As with CB, ham radios are available, new and used, in base station and portable models at various, prices ranging from $65 to $400 and upwards to $1500. They can and should be practiced with now and then before any disasters to maintain the unit and your personal operating knowledge.
These are the non-CB, UHF family of two-way radios. They are typically of the hand-held, walkie-talkie variety with a range of 1-2 miles depending on the terrain of the area you are in. GMRS do require a license in the US but FRS (Family Radio Service) and traditional walkie-talkies are free for anyone to use. Some of these are available as combination units with GPS, AM/FM radio and NOAA Weather Radio receiving capabilities.
Emergency Solar Radios
This is a one-way device, allowing you to receive transmissions in the FM/AM range and NOAA Weather Radio. Often these radios are powered by both solar and batteries. They are reliable for anyone to stay abreast of the news and information about the emergency. Solar is really going to be the way to go if access to power or batteries is limited.
Hand Crank Radios
Solar is a great option but sometimes the weather does not cooperate and they can drain quicker than you’d prefer. Obviously, nighttime usage is limited unless you have an effective way for storing power collected during the day. For these reasons, some specifically designed “emergency radios” are available with hand cranks for generating a temporary charge for your radio.
Emergency radio communications need to be at the top of your list when preparing for any event. Find the radio that suits your needs and put it in your bug-out bag.
A Note About Batteries
One extremely important point to bear in mind when choosing a communications system (or systems) is that all of the above-mentioned options require electricity. Be sure you plan for their supplies either through power generators or with batteries. If possible choose devices that use the same battery types so you only need to stockpile the one size. Remember, a disaster can last for weeks, months or longer, so think long-term when choosing a communications system and make sure it is durable enough for your needs.
Making a Communications Plan
All the preparation in the world is for nothing, if you don’t have a plan. This holds true for every other aspect of your disaster prep, so why think any differently when it comes to emergency communications? On any given day your family is apart from one another. An emergency will occur at any given moment and most likely that moment will be when everyone is separated. An emergency communications plan and realistic contingencies will provide measures to bring your family together.
Your plan should involve these basics:
- Easy access to emergency contact information.
- Keep immediate family members’ work/cell/home numbers written down and stored somewhere safe.
- Highlight emergency contact numbers in your cell phone.
- Identify an out-of-town contact to leave messages with (long distance calls may go
- through when local area calls will not).
- Instruct all family members in texting as these may get around phone disruptions.
- If unable to get home, identify a secondary safe place to meet.
- Keep charged two-way radios in family members’ car(s) in the event cell phone systems are overwhelmed.
Communicating effectively in times of emergency will reduce stress and allow resources to be spent on survival preparations. Consider the options carefully and choose the communication system or systems that best suit your needs. You and those you love will be glad you did when the worst comes to pass.