The Tools and Information Preppers Need for Emergency Communications

The Organic Prepper – by Anonymous 411

In the role of Information Specialist of a prepper group you may or may not also be the Communications Specialist (radio operator) of the group. Either way, you will likely have input as to the tools and information should be gathered for emergency communications means.

During a disaster, you need to stay abreast of the events going on around you. In a weather emergency, such as a hurricane, tornado watch or warning, or winter storm, you need an NOAA weather radio or a radio capable of receiving NOAA weather broadcasts. 

In addition, you should have an AM and FM radio to pick up local stations for news and additional weather reports. You may also need a radio to communicate your need for help. In an SHTF situation, you could need two-way radios for self-protection against possible bands of looters in your area. In this scenario, you would use two-way radios for tactical communications to protect yourself, your family, and your neighbors. In addition, you will need to know what is going on in the rest of the country and world. You need to know if and/or when help is coming.

Your local radio and TV stations may or may not be operating. Your satellite receiver may not be working or the satellite itself may not be working, buy you need to be prepared in case they are working. If your power is out, which it likely will be in a SHTF situation, you will need batteries charged by solar power.

Many amateur radios and all short wave radios can listen to short wave broadcasts from both the U. S. and the world. Here is a List of Short Wave Radio Broadcasters.

Why listen for news?

You need to know exactly what disaster has happened, just how bad is it, how extensive the damage is, and whether danger coming toward you or not. Will there be additional disasters and if so what kind and when? Do you need to evacuate, when and why and what will you need most?

Once you buy a radio you need to set it up with the correct type of antenna and use it. You need to learn what all the buttons, switches and dials are for. Operating your radio is a skill just like all other disaster preparedness skills, and you need to practice.

You need to know what stations on what frequencies and what time of day (in your time zone) the stations will be operating and when news broadcasts will be. This includes AM stations, FM stations, and shortwave stations. As enjoyable as music is you really can’t afford to use up your battery power listening to music.

You need the news. You should also learn to discern the difference between honest news and fake news i.e. political propaganda. Propaganda may help your morale but it won’t tell you when you personally are in physical danger and that is what you most need to know. If you are part of a group you have a responsibility to provide honest news to the group leaders and members.

Your communications for information options include the AM and FM broadcast radio stations, TV local broadcast and satellite channels, shortwave radio listening, amateur radio, and print media such as newspapers, if any and satellite internet.

Your scouting patrols may choose to question refugees about what they have seen regarding damage, roadblocks, forces (military, police, mobs, warlords/brigands, etc.) It’s a good idea to mark those locations on an erasable map.

Radios come in two types. We’ll discuss them below.

Receivers for Emergency Communications

These radios only receive information, like the radio in your car.

AM and FM Radios

These radios are typically battery powered and the best option is solar charged batteries. While I don’t have any specific recommendations, radios by Grundig are well made and have a good track record.

Solar Power Radios and Hand Crank Radios

Emergency radios are available that operate on solar power and by a hand crank. Solar power radios work by charging the radios internal batteries. Hand crank radios store the hand crank energy in an internal flywheel, which powers an internal generator. These hand cranked radios only operate a few minutes between cranking.

Short Wave Radio Receivers

Short wave receivers are available that receive practically all of the useful radio spectrum. These radios receive from 100 kHz, well below the AM broadcast band, to 30 mHz, 60 mHz, 1000 mHz (1 gHz), and up to 2.5gHz. These radios usually do NOT receive trunked systems (police and other agency response radios) so you would need a police scanner for these types of communications.

These broad band radio receivers are fairly expensive and price varies by the highest frequency they receive. These receivers cover the short-wave frequencies, HF, VHF, UHF frequencies, some or all of the useful amateur radio frequencies. These radios are frequently used to listen to distant radio stations from around the world such as the BBC. Cell phone frequencies are blocked on radios sold in the United States except for some government agencies.

Police Scanners

Police and many other government agencies and private companies such as utility companies (power, natural gas, telephone, etc.) use two-way radio communications. Many older radio systems used by these agencies operate in the AM mode. These radio communications can be received by many short-wave radios. There are many frequency ranges used and a HF radio (high frequency), VHF radio (very high frequency), or UHF radio (ultra high frequency) radio receiver may be required.

In addition, newer radio systems use special modes called trunking. To listen to these radio transmissions you will need a scanner capable of receiving trunking systems and these radios are usually called police scanners. Books listing the frequencies for most agencies and companies using these radio systems are no longer being published, however, this website may be helpful.

Transceivers for Emergency Communications

Next, we have two-way radios, with which you can both transmit and receive communications.

Amateur Radio (Ham Radio)

Amateur radio, also known as ham radio, has been around since radio was invented. Amateur radios are owned by private individuals for their personal conversations and cannot be used for commercial use or for broadcasting. These two-way radios cover many different bands or portions of the radio spectrum. Here’s a list of frequencies used by Amateur Radio Operators

Amateur radios come in all sizes from desktop models to portables that can be installed in your car and to hand held (called handy talkies or HTs) some of which are smaller than your cell phone. If you had to walk for many miles or many days an HT could possibly get you in touch with other hams that could help you along your way.

With the proper equipment and software, email may be sent and received via amateur radio. There are many add-on devices and other digital modes available. There are numerous amateur radio clubs and conventions, called hamfests, available. There is a tradition among ham radio operators to help those new to the hobby, just ask at the club meetings.

Amateur radio operators are required to be licensed to transmit and you will be asked for your FCC assigned call sign when you purchase a ham radio transmitter or transceiver. In the U.S., Morse code is no longer required for any amateur radio license. Amateur radio licenses are available in three different levels, in the U.S.

  • The first level is the Technician class license.
  • The second level is the General class license.
  • The top level is Amateur Extra class license.

For each of these licenses, a test is required and tests are administered by authorized local ham radio operators. For the General class license, you must first pass the Technician class test in addition to the General class license test. Likewise, for the Amateur Extra class license, you must first pass the Technician class test and the General class test in addition to the Amateur Extra class license test. Study guides are available for all these tests including the complete multiple choice question pool for each test.

The Amateur Radio Relay League ARRL ) is the national association in the United States for ham radio. The ARRL in conjunction with federal, state, and local government agencies, the U.S. military, and organizations like the American Red Cross and the Salvation Army have organized several groups to provide emergency communications in the United States. These different groups are organized into radio nets using assigned frequencies. Books are available containing these assigned frequencies and the techniques used by these groups.

The radio knowledge gained by studying for and passing an Amateur Radio license will serve you well in any disaster situation. The Morse code test is no longer required. I strongly recommend you get an Amateur Radio license. I did.

(Here’s another article about ham radio.)

FRS, GMRS, and MURS Radios

Family Radio Service (FRS) are the small hand held radios that are readily available in most electronics stores and some drug stores today. These FRS radios are two-way radios that you can use to communicate from house to house or up the block. These are low power (1/2 watt) radios that operate on batteries and are for short range use. FRS radios do not require a license to operate. General Mobile Radio Service(GMRS) and Multi-Use Radio Service   (MURS) radios are higher powered (5 watts) than FRS radios and are primarily for business use. GMRS requires an FCC license to operate, but MURS does not. There is no test required for the license, just an application. GMRS radios are limited to a few miles range.

CB Radio

Citizen Band radios are available in mobile radios for your car or truck, base stations for your house and in hand held or walkie-talkie models. CB radios are limited to a maximum of 5 watts power output and therefore have a limited range of a few miles. CB radios operate in two modes, AM and Single Side Band ( SSB ). Single side band is a mode where only one half of the radio wave is used; therefore, there is an upper single sideband and a lower single side band. If you purchase a CB radio for emergency use you should get one that operates on both AM and single sideband.

In some parts of the country, there are organized groups that monitor CB channels 9 and 11 for emergency traffic. One such group is called REACT. In some areas, local police and sheriff’s offices may monitor these CB channels.

These organizations could be a good source of information

Another good thing to do is to look for Emergency Communications Organizations. If you are already connected to these organizations, it will aid you in getting information during an emergency.

  • Amateur Radio Emergency Service ( ARES ) ARES is a group of ham radio operators sponsored by the ARRL to work with Federal Emergency Management Agency ( FEMA ), state and local government agencies, the American Red Cross, the Salvation Army, and the National Weather Service ( NWS ) in emergency communications.
  • Radio Amateur Civil Emergency Service ( RACES ) RACES is a group of ham radio operators that work with state and local agencies in emergency communications. Originally RACES was to operate as an integral part of the Civil Defense organization, but that has changed over the years.
  • Military Affiliate Radio Service ( MARS ) MARS is a Department of Defense-sponsored auxiliary communication program. MARS typically provides communication of personal messages to and from military personnel and their families.
  • Salvation Army Team Emergency Radio Network ( SATERN ) SATERN is a group of ham radio operators that work with the Salvation Army in emergency communications.
  • National Traffic System ( NTS ) The NTS is an organized system consisting of local, regional, and national radio nets operating on a regular basis to pass messages (traffic). In time of emergency when regular communication systems may be unavailable, NTS will pass emergency messages via amateur radio. Contact a local ham radio operator to send an emergency message.
  • Radio Emergency Associated Communications Teams ( REACT ) REACT is a national emergency communications group whose members include CB radio operators, hams and others including GMRS, FRS, and MURS operators. Organized similar to ARES, REACT offers a broader range of services.

Emergency Warning Systems

  • Emergency Alert System – EAS – ( Broadcast Radio & TV ) The EAS relies on local broadcast radio and TV stations to relay emergency alert messages from federal, state, and local authorities to the general public. These messages can pertain to immediate public threat to public safety including: enemy attack, storm warnings, earthquake alerts, and wildfires.
  • Wireless Emergency Alerts sends emergency information direct to smartphones. In some cases this information may be identical to information transmitted by the EAS system.
  • All Hazards NOAA Weather Radio ( NWR ) This is the system that sends messages to your weather radio.

Other articles in the Information Specialist series

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