By March 28, 2012 Read More →

Planning Your Emergency Communication Needs

Of all the different areas in communications to discuss in this column, I believe to be of value, I will start where everyone prepping should start:    a plan.

After many years of working in emergency services, I have learned you need to plan for events ahead of time.You can’t, of course,  plan for every event but you really need to plan for events of high risk.

First,  look at your communication needs and identify what you are trying to accomplish.  If you are not part of a local group and don’t have family or friends close by, then your communication needs are going to be more modest than others.

Step 1:  At the very basic level, you will need an AM/FM radio with shortwave capability with a backup power source.  Your backup power may be as simple as an extra set of batteries or as complex as a solar panel setup.  With this simple set up you will be able to receive alerts from official sources about the current status of the event and, with the addition of the shortwave, you can also listen to news from around the world.

If you have a need to communicate directly with a group, family, or friends during an event, you will need more equipment and knowledge.  There are many things to consider at this next level such as distance you will need to communicate, terrain, obstructions, and antenna choices.  Each of these will drive your choices of equipment to purchase.

Step 2:  If you are just going to communicate in your neighborhood, then probably FRS (Family Radio Services) radios would be fine.  Anything greater than a mile,  and you will need to step up to a radio with more power and better antennas.

Step 3:  The next level would be about two to five miles which a good five watt Walkie Talkie may do the job.  Just remember other factors such as the terrain, buildings, battery power of the radio, and your location play an important part as to how well you are able to communicate.

Step 4:  Another option is to get a license and use GMRS (General Mobile Radio Service) which would enable you to even install your own repeater to further extend your communications.

Step 5:  A popular option, and what I depend on also, is Amateur Radio.  This greatly enhances your options and capabilities.  Of course with amateur radio you will have to study and take a test.

You have to realize with each step up to another level will come increased cost and commitment but also increased capabilities.  In future columns, I plan on covering these options individually to assist you in making informed choices on your radio communication needs.  Timely information in a disaster situation can be very important to you and your family.

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9 Comments on "Planning Your Emergency Communication Needs"

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  1. Inkragetattoo says:

    Any off-the-shelf CB(citizen band) radio can easily be tweaked(tuned/supertuned) and provide ample range for most comm needs. They come in handheld,mobile(auto),or even set up a base station. Linear amps can be found, which in conjunction with proper antenna set-up, increase range (RX/TX) immensly!

    • mandmneal says:

      I agree, Im trying to set up a neighbor hood cb network, but its hard to convince people to buy units while the phones are working and its safe to walk the streets. I am planning on Ham so that I can listen to global news as well as communicate with in the US.

    • Endyr says:

      Don’t forget to say that with CB radio, EVERY Tom Dick and Harry will have one and he channels will be complete chaos when commercial communication dies. Serious about communication? Amateur Radio is the choice, hands down. With band agility (and a heck of alot of it) and the ability to use voice speaech or both when communicating, there really is no better option. Also, bear in mind that any decent Amateur Radio mobile or base rig is also a fantastic shortwave receiver. That is not to say one should not have a cb radio handy. It is always good to have a radio like that to listen to what others are doing wrong.

  2. travelite says:

    I agree with Inkragetattoo. Depending on your location, CB can be an excellent and inexpensive comm. I have sets in each vehicle and one at home with a good antenna. Seven to Ten mile range is pretty common. Many people disregard CB, as did the writer of the article, and many amateur radio ops look down their noses because they associate it with truckers only… that’s one channel out of forty. The days of Smokey and the Bandit are long behind us. It’s time to drop the bias.

    • PeteH says:

      On one hand, Inkragetattoo hits on one of the main reasons CB is disregarded as a valid means of emergency communications and why it’s looked down upon by ham radio operators. He states “Any off-the-shelf CB(citizen band) radio can easily be tweaked(tuned/supertuned) and provide ample range for most comm needs.” The results of this “supertuning” these “tweaks” are radios which broadcast not only on “one channel out of forty” but splatter across the entire band and many megahertz beyond. People who do this are usually also “running power” far beyond the legal limit for CB. The legal limit is four watts. There are MANY people out there transmitting at more than 1000 watts, which means that they’re interfering with communications thousands of miles away. Many of these folks also tend to enjoy exerting their “authority” by “squashing” anyone else trying to use their radios. These people won’t go away if the lights go out. Ham radio operators are trained to adjust and operate their equipment properly. They also have protocols in place for emcomm. In short, the know what to do if the SHTF.
      On the other hand, I’m a ham operator and also have CB in the house and car. The simple fact is that the millions of CB’s gathering dust in garages throughout America will be put to use in a disaster. By all means, look at CB as an “emcomm” solution. Just be aware if its limitations. And if you’re a “tweaker/supertuner,” be aware that you’re words and static are carrying way farther than you think!

  3. Alive14 says:

    Do you operate ham radio? Where do I get started and how much is it to say learn and get and get a cheap but good ham radio? Approximately ya know? Also, did you see doomsday preppers where the old man made the ark? They had something they were talking about some system where they were bouncing their signal off the ionosphere to communicate. What was that tech called, how much is it, and if other people are monitoring it can you? Sorry, I am super interested in this subject lately and haven’t had the time to research it. Thanks.

    • johnny says:

      Yes I do operate ham radio.  The best way to get started is to find a local club, they can tell you of any training sessions and/or test dates.  You dont have to go to a training session to take a test, I just took the test myself, I am impatient myself and didnt want to wait to take the test so I studied myself.  Go to and you will find all the training materials you will need and take practice tests on to know when you are ready for the exam.  Its not a hard test so give it a try.  As to bouncing the signals off the ionosphere, hams do it everyday thats how we talk so far.  

  4. Alive14 says:

    Thanks, I have seriously been wanting to learn (now I have no excuse). One more question, does the initial set up cost much? I moved into a house once where the old man who owned it previously had his antenna left out back. A huge metal structure somewhere in the 30′ range. Was that over kill or just a necessary part of ham radio? The tower is my only physical experience with anything dealing with ham radio.

    • johnny says:

      Well its all in what you want out of ham radio.  If you want to talk on the local repeater a walkie will do and entry level walkie runs anywhere from $100 to $200.  A base radio with radio, antenna, and power supply about $300 to $400.  If you want to talk around the world that starts about $400 to $thousands.  I started out with just a walkie, but with me I wasnt interested in talking locally so I bought a used HF rig with a simple dipole which is just a piece of wire.  HF rigs normally put out 100 watts and antennas for them are from a simple wire dipole to beams.  On just a simple dipole and 100 watts I have talked to Australia, Japan, Antarctica, Greenland, all European countries and a lot of Africa.  You dont have to spend thousands like some do.  I know a guy in our club who bought a used HF rig for $250, a antenna tuner, power supply, and he made his own dipole antenna and has less than $500 in the whole setup.  A hamfest is a great place to find deals on equipment.  Equipment is getting more expensive and I used to buy new but I look for used stuff now.  But again its all in what you want out of ham radio. I know several of the people in the local club who got their license and are quite happy with a walkie to get on the local repeater and have no interest in talking around the world.  If you get a two band walkie and get a handheld beam antenna to go with it you can actually talk on ham radio satellites orbiting the earth.  There is so much to do in the hobby there is something for everyone and it doesnt have to cost a lot.  Get your license and join a local club if you have one near you, they can teach you a lot and help you get setup without costing you a lot of money.  In upcoming columns I will be writing a lot more about ham radio.  As to the antenna, like I said you can string wire in trees or spend a thousand or two on beams that can dwarf most houses.  I upgraded recently to a small beam for about $500 but my dipole cost $30 for the wire and insulators and a balun I bought for $70 so you can do it very inexpensive and have great results.  

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