When the SHTF, ways to communicate in an emergency with your family and your close friends will be a high priority. Communication infrastructure is also the one aspect of the grid that’s all but sure to fail, thanks to the general public’s reliance on digital electronic devices such as phones and computers for our connection.
The first step to planning is to develop an emergency communication plan and tell your family what it is. Even people who feel they are prepared with gear at home and in their car will admit that their kids or their spouse aren’t as clear on the emergency plan as they should be. Tell everyone what the plan is and practice if necessary.
If you, your spouse and your kids are all in separate parts of town when a disaster strikes, it is likely that everyone will be heading in different directions in a panic unless they know what to do. Read our post on creating an emergency communication plan with your family.
Beyond that, here are four ways that you can still keep lines of communication open if the electrical and cell phone grid goes down.
1. Walkie Talkies
Really check the distance capabilities of walkie talkies before you buy them. Most of the limits put forth by manufacturers don’t account for trees and buildings. That said, good two-way radios, or “walkie talkies,” can work well for near distances such as half mile for FRS (Family Radio Service) radios. GMRS (General Mobile Radio Service) devices generally transmit at higher power levels and can expand your reach by a few more miles. Multiple channels are a good feature to investigate. Good versions will also have an emergency button allowing you to transmit an SOS or use Morse code if need be. If your walkie talkies need batteries, keep back-ups at the ready.
2. CB Radio
Depending on who you ask, CB radios are either making a comeback or they’re as dead as 8-track players. Either way, they are useful in an emergency and unlike hams (see below) do not require a license. Complete systems are affordable and pretty simple. They can also operate on your car’s electrical system or a small battery. Range can be up to 15 miles, although smaller antennas will reduce this.
3. Ham Radio
Ham radio operators must take a test and earn a license, however, when the power lines go down and there is no more radio communication, this is a reliable means to communicate. Basic ham radios can be operated with a couple batteries and an antenna. If you’re planning on using ham radio for an emergency, you might be tempted to skip getting the license. Don’t skip it, because the knowledge you gain from taking the test and going through the process will show you how to operate your radio under many conditions.
Why is it called “ham radio?” It’s an old name that originally started as an insult. Now we know that hams, or amateur radio operators, are a key line of communication in emergency situations. Just look into how much ham radio operators helped out during the Hurricane Katrina disaster.
4. Delorme InReach SE Satellite Messenger
Satellite phones use 100% satellite technology rather than cell phone tower connections. This makes them a stable choice for when the grid goes down. However, they need a clear spot to “see” the sky in order to provide the most accurate GPS signal. It is not reliable in a covered are such as deep woods, in a building or a cave, for instance.
We like this sat phone because unlike others, this one can reliably receive messages while others are one-way outgoing only. It does cost more than others, though.
The goTenna is a digital radio and app combo that allows you to use your smartphone to send and receive messages individually and in groups, and share your GPS location even when you don’t have cell service. Download the app and wirelessly pair your iOS or Android device and send texts or share a location while offline.
It can be used to communicate with other nearby people who also have goTenna, anywhere on the planet, according to the product’s literature. It can also openly broadcast to any other goTennas within range. It charges via a micro-USB charging port, which makes it compatible with other hand-crank or solar chargers which charge similarly.
What’s your strategy for how to communicate in an emergency when there’s no infrastructure?