Disasters are unexpected. Imagine setting out for work on a typical weekday when it strikes, right out of nowhere. Chaos erupts. You and your family members are scattered all over the city--- how do you reach them? How will you all get to safety?
Emergency communication is often overlooked, even by seasoned preppers. Some of us assume that in a crisis, we and our loved ones can just rush out of the door with our bug out bags, slum it out in the wilderness for a couple of days, or live off the grid until said crisis abates.
We might not even know where our loved ones are when disaster hits, which is why we must never disregard the importance of communication.
Importance of Communication During Emergencies
The UN Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs considers communication as a form of aid, just like food and water. When lines are open, people get access to vital information. This allows first responders to be dispatched to the area faster and lets authorities make informed decisions.
Unfortunately, during disasters, communication lines are usually the first things to go down.
During the 9/11 attack, for example, New York's 911 call centers received no less than 55,000 calls. This mass call event flooded networks beyond their capacity and rendered them virtually useless at the time. You don’t want to be in that situation. As a prepper, you must be equipped with alternative comm options, which are as follows:
Wait-- didn't you just say phone lines will be down during an emergency? Yes, but smartphones these days can do way more than just make calls. During the 2013 Boston Marathon Bombing, mobile network providers advised their users to refrain from making non-urgent calls and to use text instead. Text messages take less bandwidth than calls; your message can still get through even when the networks are bogged down.
You can also use your phone to access the internet to make contact. Mobile apps like Skype, WhatsApp, and Facetime allow you to make calls using the internet. Social media can also lend a hand during emergencies. Facebook has a feature that enables users to mark themselves safe during an incident while Google Person Finder serves as a useful bulletin board for people searching for missing loved ones. Twitter is also a fast way to spread news and updates regarding a certain event.
So what if the phone lines and the internet both go down? Are we well and truly done for? Not quite yet. Preppers can turn to satellite phones for communication. Sat phones don't need cellular networks to function. Instead, they connect directly to satellites which allow the caller to reach anyone in the planet at any time. These are especially helpful when you're located in a remote area where there is no cellular coverage.
What usually stops people from getting a sat phone is the hefty price tag. These phones can range from $500-$1,300, depending on their specs. They also need wide open spaces to function, so, if for example you’re trapped inside a building, you can’t use them to call out for help. Backpacker Magazine discusses these pros and cons pretty well in this article.
However, since sat phones have helped injured or stranded people get in touch with emergency responders to come to their aid countless times, we think that the benefits clearly outweigh its drawbacks. If you can afford it, get it. Better be prepared than sorry.
Make sure you pack along a fully charged power bank so you don’t run out of battery.
Walkie-talkies were all the rage for kids back in the day. And yes, you can also use these for emergency communication. Walkie talkies or two-way radios are relatively cheap and can work even when the comm grids are down. And as Outdoor Life points out, the newer models now have features like interference elimination, weather alerts, hands-free operations, and an SOS signal.
Like any other communication device, two-way radios have their limitations: their batteries run out, they need favorable conditions to function and their range can't reach past a few kilometers. But don’t count this tool out just yet. Many first responders like firemen, policemen, and emergency medical providers use two-way radios day-to-day. In a SHTF situation, this gadget may just save your life, so always keep a pair in your emergency kit or bug out bag.
Ham radios are a godsend in times of crisis. These amateur radios have withstood the test of time and ever-changing technology. They are, to this day, considered vital communication tools. Check out any survival forum; almost any of them will say that a ham radio is the most reliable mode of communication during an emergency or crisis.
In fact, many search and rescue groups use ham radios. You can use ham radios to scan emergency radio frequencies and check on the status of the disaster. Because most emergency responders are tuning in as well, you can reach them faster. Operating ham radios require a license. You can check how to get one here. Graywolf Survival gives a very detailed explanation on frequencies and how you can use them in this article.
An electromagnetic pulse (EMP) is a phenomenon most preppers don’t want to encounter. These pulses caused by solar flares or nuclear detonations can seriously damage your electronic devices. A Faraday cage is not a communication device. What it does is it protects these devices from electromagnetic energy. There are a lot of varieties available in the market; some even come in the form of resealable bags for easy storage. You can also try to make your own here.
Factors to Consider When Choosing Your Communication Tool
Now that we've listed out the comms choices available, choosing gets a bit easier. But you do still have a few things to consider before buying. You can't exactly get everything and hope for the best now.
When choosing what to get, taking these factors into account will help you narrow down your choices:
Relying on a smartphone in an area that you know hardly gets any signal will not be any help to you. Sure, sometimes we never know where we're going to be when disaster strikes but thinking about the places you frequent daily. Doing this will help you figure out what communication tools you can use in that area.
Availability and Attainability
Another thing to think about is how easily you can get your chosen communication tool in your area. Is it readily available, and can you get spare parts without a problem? It's important to ask these questions before disasters hit so you can prepare adequately. You don't want to be owning an expensive radio that breaks down right before a storm hits, with spare parts to repair only available five cities over.
Local Communication vs. Long Range Communication
Another factor to consider is whether you'll be using it for local communication or long-range communication. If you're part of a local prepper or survival group in your area, you'll want to have dedicated walkie-talkies. Meanwhile, if you're going to reach out over longer distances when disaster hits, you'll want to look into ham radios.
Never underestimate the importance of communication, especially during emergencies. As a prepper, you must equip yourself with a variety of communication devices. Teach yourself and your family members how to use these devices efficiently. Don't forget to list down important phone numbers beforehand. Keep your batteries charged and have a concrete plan of action that includes designated meeting places and out-of-town contacts. Remember, open lines enable faster response from authorities, efficient evacuations and ultimately, survival.
What other communication devices would you use in case of emergencies? Let us know in the comments below!