Perhaps my greatest fear in the event of some sort of natural or man-made disaster is the inability to communicate with my family.
My precious metals store is 55 miles from my home. Same for the gun range where I teach.
My wife is closer to home, perhaps 15 miles.
One son lives 15 miles away, the other is 70 miles.
If the SHTF, things can go sideways.
It’s a crazy world out there, and it seems like disaster can strike at any time and at any moment no matter where on this green Earth you are. Over my many years, I’ve seen it myself. I made it through the devastating 1989 Loma Prieta earthquake, the 1991 Oakland Hills Wildfire and the recent Napa earthquake. There have been plenty of times when some unforeseeable event has come to pass, which has left me without the use of my cell phone or even a landline.
It’s a terrifying thing to consider that one day something could happen that would render all of the various methods of communication that we have utterly useless. How can we stay in touch with our loved ones? How can we find each other or find help? How is it possible to keep up to date with events if we’re cut off from all of the forms of communication that we’ve grown to rely upon?
For this reason, I thought it might be worthwhile to talk about some portable methods of communication that you can make use of in an emergency. Hopefully, you’ll never have to get extensive use out of any of these methods, but in the event that the worst comes to pass, you’ll be glad that you have access to one, some, or all of these portable methods of communication.
Old Reliable: The Walkie-Talkie
If you’re anything like me, you probably played with a walkie-talkie a lot as a kid. They’re fun, that’s for sure, but they can also be incredibly useful in an emergency. As with any form of communication, though, they are regulated by the government, so their efficacy for your given situation may or may not be what you’re looking for in the event of an emergency.
There are, in a nutshell, two types of walkie-talkies available on the market today. There are FRS (Family Radio Service) devices and GMRS (General Mobile Radio Service) devices. The first of these devices, the FRS walkie-talkie, is relatively low powered. It’s only allowed to operate at a maximum of .5 watts, which means that it has an effective range of only a few hundred feet. This makes it perfect for personal use, but it won’t be effective for long-range communication.
The GMRS device, on the other hand, can only operate at up to 5 watts, which gives it much greater range. However, one needs to be a licensed radio operator in order to use one. That being said, those regulations aren’t strictly enforced, so you might be able to get away with using one.
There are also dual-use FRS/GMRS devices. This is what I personally own. Why? The FRS channels 1-7 are able to be broadcast at higher strengths than the typical FRS power limits. And no government license is required. I have gotten 2 miles of communication distance in hilly terrain. In flat, desert or plains terrain, I would expect higher communications distances.
CB Radio: A Longer Range Communication Option
You’ve probably heard of CB Radios before, but do you know what the CB stands for? It stands for Citizens Band, which refers to the radio frequencies that have been allotted for citizen’s use by the FCC. Unlike the GRMS walkie-talkie, which requires one to be licensed for its use, anyone can use a CB radio right off of the shelf. Their range will depend on a few different factors – like the surrounding geography – but in general you can expect to get anywhere from 1 to 5 miles out of a portable device, as many transmit in the GRMS power range of 4 watts.
If you’re interested in using one of these devices for emergency communication, there are a few things you should know. Most importantly, the FCC limits station-to-station communication to five minutes in duration. This is to guard against congestion on the narrow bands allotted to CB communication. And, as part of the possibility for congestion and interference, you’ll want to be selective about which bands you choose to operate on.
This is a great option for your car, truck or other vehicle. You have a secondary means of communications with you at all times. Some are wholly portable, but most are dual powered – battery and “cig lighter” plug in. The semi-permanent ones also allow you to have a portable – and removable – antenna that only needs to be deployed during emergencies if you wish. Many models come with a hands-free microphone as well.
This is now on my “to do” list.
Ham Radio: The Communication Option with the Longest Distance
If, in an emergency, having communication on a global scale is important to you, then you may want to look into ham radios. In the United States alone, there are close to a quarter of a million ham radio operators, with many more operating across the globe.
There are both dedicated and portable ham radio models, and their capabilities vary widely. Choosing which one is right for you will depend on the space you have available and the investment that you’re willing to make.
Because this method of communication makes use of a variety of different frequencies, you will have to get licensed and trained if you’re interested. However getting this licensing and training is very straightforward, and a portable ham radio can be incredibly inexpensive to purchase.
With it, you’ll be able to communicate with many of the other ham radio operators in the United States and throughout the world.
Ham operators are an incredibly valuable communications device to have in the event of wide-spread emergencies. During Hurricane Katrina, Ham operators assisted local rescue teams in locating and saving many victims of the event.
A detailed guide to becoming a Ham Operator is included in the September 2014 Independence Report that is available to Premium Members.