One of the most underrated aspects of preparedness is communications. I am not going to write a 5,000 word primer on all forms of communications that are useful when we go Zombieland, but I want to throw out some of the main options for your consideration.
I’m going to split these into two categories: Receive only, and Transmit/Receive.
Receivers are great for keeping informed. Let’s run over some of the major options for dedicated receivers.
Just about every household in America has at least one AM/FM radio, and most cars also have working radios. While these may not be completely useful during some disasters, for the most part they’ll be a good source of information.
You should identify news stations ahead of time and make sure that you’ve either memorized them or have a cheat sheet written down for them. If the Emergency Alert System is working, you’ll hear it on just about every station, but you’ll want to know where to hear real news as well.
Weather Radio will provide you with specific weather related information straight from the National Weather Service. This can be very useful and will help you understand what’s going on during a natural disaster. You’ll also hear EAS broadcasts on weather radio, which is an added bonus.
The big problem is that you need a special tuner to get weather radio. However, there are receivers available just about anywhere that have AM/FM and Weather bands covered. I highly recommend having at least one.
Short Wave Radio
This is critically important, and important enough to cover in a completely separate post, so I’m not going to cover it here. Just wanted to include it here for to be complete.
Less useful as they once were, scanners can help you hear what’s going on around you. Beware though, many of the things you’ll hear will be unverifiable and could be completely inaccurate. Take whatever you hear with a grain of salt.
Now let’s talk about some of the methods for enabling bidirectional communication. You’ll want to talk to other people at some point, even if you’re just talking amongst yourselves.
A good old fashioned land line can withstand a tremendous amount of punishment. Having one around is a good idea. But honestly, I don’t have one because our provider uses fiber optic lines. So be careful, even if you think you have one, you might not!
Another problem with phones (land line or cellular) is that in most disaster scenarios they will initially be swamped with people trying to make calls. You will NOT be able to get through to anyone. So just kick back and be patient.
Rudy’s Bonus Tip: Use text messaging if you can’t call through. Text messages ride empty space in the communications between your cell phone and the cellular towers. Since they’re low bandwidth, they’ll often get through just fine when a regular call can’t. So if you don’t know how to text, find a middle schooler near you who can teach you how!
Family Radio Service (FRS)
Family Radio Service is your childhoold walkie talkie on crack. It runs on the FM band, and doesn’t suffer the kind of interference you get with a CB radio or the older walkie talkies. FRS transmitters are limited to 0.5 watts, so they just don’t get a ton of range.
You can usually find fairly inexpensive FRS radios at sporting goods stores. Many of them claim to have 30-40 mile ranges, but my practical experience says a few miles at BEST and you should plan on no more than a half a mile or so. You’ll want to test these out in your area to be sure.
General Mobile Radio Service (GMRS)
This is similar to FRS, but you have to have a license and you can use higher power transmitters. You can transmit up to 50 watts with a GMRS transmitter. Unfortunately without good antennas this doesn’t turn into significantly improved range.
If you want to try it out, someone in the family has to have a license. $85 and a piece of paper will get it for you, no exam required. So basically it’s nothing more than a tax in disguise. Go figure.
You can even get hybrid FRS/GMRS radios, which some people like. Me? I stick with FRS around the local area.
Everyone knows what a CB radio is. Lots of people have them around, and you can find a good CB radio at most swap meets or flea markets. EBay is another good source.
If you want a CB, you’ll need to get a good antenna. CB signals don’t propagate all that great with a hand-held radio with a smaller antenna. Please invest in a good aftermarket antenna if you want to make this part of your communications plan.
Rudy’s Tip: CB channel 9 is reserved for emergencies. Monitoring it during an event could provide you with good insights into what’s going on around you.
Multi-Use Radio Service (MURS)
I haven’t done much with MURS, though it seems pretty promising. It’s an unlicensed radio service where you can operate two way radios at up to 2 watts. I don’t know a whole heck of alot about this, but I want to learn more.
MURS range is about 3-4 miles in reasonably open terrain, with 1-2 miles in suburban areas. As with before, you should test in your own area.
One thing I like about MURS is that you can buy MURS enabled sensors that can provide security alerts. You can get magnetic sensors for use in your driveway or infrared motion detectors to keep an eye on other things. These sensors will transmit back to a base station so you can get an alert if something is going on that you need to know about.
MURS is definitely on my list of things to add to my preps. You should consider it as well.
Long Range Communications
I’ll talk about longer range communications in a future post. Thanks again for reading, and feel free to ask me any questions you may have about communicating when it counts!