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.

5. goTenna

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?

When the ground starts to shake, a tornado blows through or a line of wildfire sweeps through, your first thought will likely be to call your loved ones and ask how they are or let them know how you are.

When everyone is doing that though, the phone network may be overloaded. There are some strategies for planning out your communication in an emergency that minimize phone calling, both to reduce anxiety and conserve battery usage.

Create a message. 

If family and friends are calling you repeatedly, potentially from all over the country, you may not want to answer the phone and talk each time. Change your greeting message to indicate how you are, what your plan is, and who else they can talk to. For instance, here’s a sample greeting that might cover all these bases:

“Randall here. I’m ok. I’m at work and heading home. I’m keeping my phone turned off to conserve my battery. I’ll be in touch with my Aunt Martha so please get in touch with her to get updates. I’ll update this message if something changes.”

Anyone who calls you will hear this message and be reassured that you are ok, and that you will be in touch when you are able.

Limit non-emergency phone calls.

Reserve cell phone use only for life-threatening or immediately dangerous situations. If everyone in your household knows the emergency plan . . . where to meet, whether to head home or to a relative’s house, which person is getting the kids, etc. . . there may be no need for phone calls in the first place.

If you don’t get through the first time, wait a few seconds before calling again. The Federal Communications Commission (FCC) says immediately redialing can “clog” up the network because the data from the handset that is being sent to the cell tower doesn’t have time to clear before the same data is sent again.

Send text messages when possible.

If you need to communicate with your spouse or children in your immediate area, a text message is more likely to be delivered in a time of true emergency. Texts, also called SMS (short messaging service) work through a network that is “parallel” to the wireless telephone network.

Your emergency contact shouldn’t be your neighbor.

Your neighbors are probably great people. Ready to help you out with loans of tools and rides around town when your car breaks down. They can always be counted on to bring great food to the barbecue or potluck. They may even be trusted enough to watch your kids when you need the help. But, no matter how close to your neighbors you are, they shouldn’t be your emergency contact in the event of a disaster.

Pick someone who doesn’t live on your street, or even in your state.

Your emergency contact in the event of a natural disaster should be someone not in your immediate area, because if there’s a widespread disaster such as earthquake or tornado, nearby people will be affected as well.

The person on your emergency contact list should know that they will be getting calls from all of your family members. When others call the contact, the contact can relay messages without everyone in the family calling back and forth. The emergency contact can also notify others in the less-immediate family to let them know what’s going on, again, without everyone making numerous phone calls.

The idea is that everyone can communicate by making one phone call to the contact. Multiple phone calls will not only wear out the phone’s battery but place a drain on the telephone network system.



If you’re faced with an emergency, your traditional communication sources may not be available. What do you do if you need assistance? Consider using these communication devices to help you communicate with others and get the assistance you need.

1) Cell Phone

Because you probably have your cell phone on you at all times, it should be your first option–as long as you’re in cell phone range. You can use it to contact your friends or family to let them know about the situation.

However, you should never rely solely on your cell phone as your sole method of communication if you’re faced with an emergency situation. In true emergencies, cell phone towers can get tied up due to a dramatic increase in usage and you may be unable to make a call or send a text. Similarly, if you’re out in the wilderness, you may be out of cell phone range and you will need another method of communication.

2) Social Network

These days, nearly everyone is part of a social network. Most people also have smartphones that allow them to access the Internet or use an app. Posting a message on a social media network will let you inform a large number of people about your emergency. Unfortunately, this form of communication only works if you have a smartphone with a data plan or a computer that can connect to the Internet.

3) Two-Way Handheld Radio

Two-way radios, commonly called walkie talkies, are relatively inexpensive communication devices. It is a good idea to carry walkie talkies when you’re traveling with a group to communicate navigation plans or to find each other if someone gets lost. Two-way radios are also useful tools for situations in which you are unable to communicate by cell phone. The communication radius for a two-way radio depends on the type, but they are limited to a maximum radius of about 35 miles.

4) Satellite Phone

Satellite phones are a type of mobile phone that connects to satellites instead of cell phone towers. Satellite phones are expensive, but a satellite phone may save your life if you’re stranded in the wilderness or if you’re faced with a natural disaster. Because satellite phones don’t use local cell networks, they are unlikely to be affected by a drastic increase in cell phone usage.

5) CB Radio

Citizens band radios, commonly called CB radios, are great to have in case of an emergency. They allow people to make contact with others via radio communications, which can be transmitted within an approximately 25-mile radius.

6) Ham Radio

The ham radio has been used during emergencies in the United States for more than a century. There is some skill needed to be able to operate a ham radio, and you must take a test to obtain a license to operate a ham radio. However, many survivalists feel that the ham radio is the most effective communication method in case of a widespread disaster.

Prepare for the worst by knowing your communication abilities. Preparing for an emergency means taking every possible scenario into account, so test and practice using these communication devices regularly.

Preparing for unexpected power outages during winter is important so you’ll be better prepared for those long, cold hours of going without the modern conveniences we’ve all grown accustomed to.

What should you do to better equip yourself in the event that your electricity suddenly goes out?

Stock your home with essentials throughout the whole winter because it’s not just power outages that are likely to happen this time of year. Ice storms, heavy winds, or blizzards emerge as well.

It’s a good idea to have what you need when these circumstances arise. The main things you need to have around is extra food and water. Think of items you can eat that doesn’t require heating, like peanut butter, nuts, granola bars, chips, etc.

Fill at least a few 1 gallon containers full of water so that you have this to keep you and your family hydrated.

Have several flashlights and batteries on hand. Candles pose the threat of fire and aren’t the best source of extra supplies for emergency preparedness. Part of survival is having things that will last …  and candles won’t last that long.

If you don’t have a battery-powered radio, purchase one. When access to a television isn’t an option, a small radio that will keep you informed is a good alternative. You can be apprised of any warnings, evacuation orders, or status updates on power outages.

Lastly, to prepare for an unexpected power outage, buy a car cell phone charger. It’s vital to keep phone fully charged. The phone can be charged by using the cigarette lighter or auxiliary plug in your car as a supplement source of power. Another good tip is to consider having an alternate landline phone for your home, which tends to be unaffected during power outages.

Follow these main tips in emergency preparedness and you’ll be far more comfortable while waiting for the electricity to come back on!