An often overlooked area of prepping is good communications. I can cover a lot of things here but I want to hit a couple of main topics so I don’t get too lengthy. I want to focus on the basics: cell phones, “walkie talkies”, and HAM radio. Also I’d like to briefly mention a few other things in regards to communications.
Cell phones / Texting / Social Networks
If you have read anything about cell phones during a disaster or just in a crowded area, you know voice calls often do not work. However, if the grid hasn’t gone down in the area you can usually text message even if your voice calls or data connections will not go thru. This of course depends on network traffic and other factors. We are on Verizon here. They currently working on upgrading to the 4G coverage in our area. At times, our towers have been completely down allowing for limited / delayed text messaging, but eventually they are sent and received. The reason for this, is probably due to the small size of text messaging since it is limited to only 160 characters and the towers can store them in their buffers easier, awaiting online connections. I have read of numerous disasters where Twitter and similar social networking sites were used to update others on local relief efforts, and personal safety.
Walkie Talkies (FRS / GRMS Radios)
FRS stands for Family Radio Service and requires no license to operate in the US. GRMS stands for General Radio Mobile Service andcan be used in the US with a license. Only one license is required per household. No test is required but a fee of $85.00 is required and the license is valid for 5 years. Many of the radios available on the market today from Walmart or other retail stores include both types of channels in a shared format. Many of these ‘combined’ radios, with fixed antennas and operate at 1/2 Watt do not require any license to use! These radios are now all the rage, similar to CB radios back in the 70s.
A set of these radios may be obtained for around 30 dollars for a base set. Of course a bit more money will get you some extra features such as: Weather Station Alerts, waterproof/weather resistance, silent/vibrate mode, etc. We bought a pair of radios from Amazon Midland GTX1000VP4. We have not used them extensively, but will in the future. The radios have a good balance of features for the price and better than we could find in any store in our local area.
Here in East Texas, where we live, the land is rolling hills to flat but lots of trees so right now the maximum range we have been able to achieve is about 1.5 miles. We finally decided on these models because of the vibrate/silent call Feature, voice activated mode, the ability to recharge or use regular batteries, etc. This is a model worth checking out. We plan on using these for close-in communications, and know that anything short of an EMP, these radios will still work. They are certainly useful almost anywhere for quick short range communications. Just remember, anyone can chime in and listen to your conversation if they have radios that work on these frequencies, so you might want to develop a code system to avoid attracting unwanted attention.
Ham radio is also called Amateur Radio. According to the ARRL, the Amateur Radio Relay League, over 2 million people are involved in amateur radio worldwide. The origins of Amateur Radio begin with the development of radio itself in the late 19th century, but the service we know of today did not start until the early 20th century.
Ham radio operators use different frequencies, greater power, and different modes of communication, other than voice. Hams send computer data over radios, along with transmitting Morse Code. Morse Code can travel all around the world! With the advent of computers, television, and other related technological developments, Ham Radio has even more communication opportunities.
The variety of Ham radio equipment is quite diverse. They include: small hand-held radios similar to “walkie talkies”, mobile base stations about the size of old CB radios, and larger stationary or base units. Using these and the various radio bands available, a Ham Radio operator can talk to someone on the other side of the world, and even out in space!
A license is required to enjoy the benefits of Ham Radio. Morse code is no longer required for all licenses. You do need to know about some basic electronics, radio frequencies, safety, history, etc… to test successfully. A study guide is available, called the Arrl Ham Radio License Manual and it comes with a Cd loaded with sample tests. You can also find many study guides and testing sites on the web to help you master your first exam.
I am currently studying for my Technician exam (the entry level license). I hope to pass it by the end of 2012. Ham radio operators have been very useful in a number of disasters. Because of the frequencies and radios they broadcast on and their knowledge of radios and procedures, they can reach much further with less power than FRS/GRMS radios discussed above. If you have interest in Ham Radio, there is a club near you that can help you along your way to get licensed and learn more about being a “HAM.” Click here to find a club near you!
Wow! We have talked about a lot already! I’d like to mention a few other things you might want to know about to support your communications needs. A hand crank emergency radio is very handy. I purchased an ETON Red Cross Crank Radio, which runs off solar or hand cranking power, and requires no batteries at all. Additionally, it has a small flashlight, cell phone charger, and receives AM / FM / NOAA Weather bands. This might be a good radio for the bug out bag just in case disaster strikes. I gave mine to my parents because I want to buy a Kaito Emergency Crank Radio because it has the additional Shortwave Band which is a little far reaching to Europe and other places. Lastly, it never hurts to get yourself a good whistle and a mirror for each of your survival kits just in case.
Hopefully, I have given you some great information to get you started in learning more about prepping your communication gear. Feel free to leave comments on this article, and additional tips you might have for your fellow preppers about communications. Thanks for reading and happy prepping!
Craig Johnson, the Nature Nurd (firstname.lastname@example.org)