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.