Emergency Communications

Posted: December 1, 2014 in Communication, Gear
Tags: , , , , ,
Baofeng UV5R - Ham Radio

Baofeng UV5R – Ham Radio

In an emergency or survival situation communication is paramount.  The ability to receive critical information cannot be over emphasized.  You need to know what is going on around you.  Cell phones are the most amazing communication tools ever made.  We all have them and carry them all the time.  Most of the time a cell phone will save the day.  If your car breaks down you just call a friend or tow truck.  Presto!  Problem solved.  What did we ever do without them?

The problem is that the cell phone system is fairly fragile.  It doesn’t take much to bring it down.  If you have ever been in the slightest hint of a disaster you know what I mean.  Try to make a phone call, it won’t work.  You will hear “all circuits are busy”.  Remember that texting often works when voice doesn’t.  I have experienced this first hand a couple of times.  Texting is much more reliable and takes far less bandwidth.  Katrina survivors reported that voice didn’t work for days to weeks but they were able to have some communication via texting.  Remember to keep your phone on you and charged.  Have a means to charge it in the car, at home and at work.  A dead phone from too much facebook or farmville is worthless.

You need to have alternate methods of communication.  An old-fashioned landline may work if you have one.  I would recommend a couple very basic alternative means of communication.

#1 – AM/FM radio.  This seems antiquated and cute but it has been a major means of communication for over 100 years.  Your emergency radio should be battery powered.  Chances are you may not have power.  In a disaster, emergency, or zombie apocalypse this will be a major avenue to getting news and information.  This little Sony AM/FM radio is cheap and runs on AAs.  This thing is under $15.  I have one of these in each of our bug out bags.  I have nicer Sangean that is digital (easier to tune) and gets better reception.  It sits in my office.  I have tried a couple of the emergency radios with cranks, solar power, etc.  For the most part they are crap.  I would avoid them.  An NOAA radio is also a very handy thing to have around.  Simply, they broadcast the weather.  The above radio will alarm if severe weather is approaching your area.  This could buy you precious time to take shelter.

#2 – TV.  This one is easy for people to understand.  We watch a lot of TV.  The problem is that if the power is out your gorgeous 70 inch plasma TV isn’t going to work.  Your cable and satellite are likely going to be down as well.  You will need those old fashioned rabbit ears to receive TV over the airways.  (They still broadcast local channels this way!  Who would have thought!)  Lucky for us this is a great resource for emergency communication.  Again your are going to need a TV that runs off of batteries.  This portable TV/DVD is an example.  It has a rechargeable battery.  It can be powered and recharged off a cigarette lighter.  I would get a cheap set of rabbit ears to assist in getting a better signal.  You need to set it up and make sure the the channels are programmed in ahead of time.  This is an important point.  Test your emergency gear ahead of time.  Does it work?  Do you have all the equipment you need?  Batteries, connectors, cables, antennas, etc. There is no substitute for a trial run.

You may have noticed that the above two things are only one-way information.  You can receive but cannnot transmit anything.  Want to be able to send and receive?  Welcome to 2-way radio communication.  There are a couple options.

#3 – Ham Radio, aka amateur radio.  This is what I would recommend for 2-way communication.  It is the most powerful and versatile option.  The drawback?  It requires a license to operate a ham radio.  You have to take a test and apply for the license.  The basic license (technician) only takes about 8 hours to study for.  This hand-held radio (Baofeng UV-5R), pictured above, is an amazing $30.  It is incredibly versatile and powerful.  It can even be used as a police scanner for even more information.  A pair of these are far more powerful than any walkie-talkies from radio shack.  I’ll write another post dedicated to amateur radio in the near future.  You can listen to anything on a Ham radio, you just can’t broadcast without a license.

#4 – CB (citizen band) radio.  This is what truckers use.  It is versatile and fairly powerful, but not to the degree HAM radio is.  It does not require a license.  Anyone can use it which is a pro as well as a con.

Portable radios like a pair of Motorolas would be a lot better than nothing.  In my opinion Ham>>CB>>WalkieTalkies>>NOTHING (those >> mean A LOT BETTER!)

#5 – Police scanner.  There are a lot of scanners out there.  These are useful for gathering information from police, fire and EMT departments.  Again, this is only one-way; you cannot talk to them!  A good trunk scanner is pricey ($200-$300) so I use the above Ham radio (Baofen UV5R) for this.

This is a very superficial introduction to emergency communications.  Make sure you have a battery powered AM/FM radio if nothing else.  I also wanted to introduce Ham radio.  I got into Ham radio solely for emergency preparedness.  It is a fantastic resource.  Many areas have what is called a Ham Cram where you take a day long class and take the test at the end of the day.  The test is not very hard and the pass rates are quite high.  One day and you can get your ham radio license!  And you thought Ham radio was just for old men to use whlie they sit in their basement!

There is a wonderful resource by a guy named Steve Harris.  It is www.radios1234.com.  He has a lot more in depth information there with a lot of product links.  He has multiple podcast episodes that he has done with Jack Spirko of The Survival Podcast.  There are hours and hours of podcasts with amazing information available for free.  He also has a couple other websites that are great as well.  I would encourage you to check them out.

  1. nanumcreek says:

    Nice write up. I would add that in the event of an emergency most cities and towns provide updates on the emergency, supplies, and locations to get medical or physical necessities on the most popular AM and or FM stations in that local area. Know what station that is so you are not hunting for it when it is hard to think. Write it in permanent marker on the radio.

    Liked by 2 people

  2. Preppermann says:

    Always great advice to figure things out ahead of time and write them down on or near the device (radio in this case). Stress is going to make everything more difficult both physically and mentally.


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