7 Tips for Communicating When All Hell Breaks Loose

Electricity is like air. We take it totally for granted and become distressed quickly if deprived of its presence.
Even those of us who are not technologically adept are electricity junkies. Pretty much everything we do requires electricity or electrically charged batteries. It can be a dangerous addiction if you haven’t thought through how to function if electricity suddenly becomes unreliable or other factors intervene.
downed Powerlines
If we ever have to go cold turkey and manage without power most of us would quickly become too hot, too cold, unsecure, and – perhaps worst of all – out of contact.
The electrical grid in America is very delicate. A single attack – or even a major solar event – causing an electromagnetic pulse (EMP) could shut down the American power grid. An EMP pulse could also fry the electronic guts of electronic devices everywhere. And then there are other random events such as union boss strikes, bankrupt state governments, hurricanes, or earthquakes – each of which could seriously mess with the power supply.
And know this: cell phones service can crash in emergencies – particularly when everyone is trying to make calls.
On September 11, 2001, Lee Bellinger, our founder was in the nation’s capital at the Capital Yacht Club across the Potomac River from the Pentagon. The hard phone line he had installed as a backup in his boat slip left him with one of the few remaining working phones, and Pentagon workers streaming across the bridge soon learned of this. Before he even knew it, there was a long line waiting to use his phone – busied by Pentagon staffers calling loved ones to let them know they had survived the plane strike.

During a Catastrophic Emergency,
You’ll Need to Know How to Communicate with Others

With the power out, you’ll start to feel isolated pretty quickly. But during an emergency, it will be more important than ever to stay in touch with those around you. Fortunately you can still communicate if you make sure you have the right tools.
  1. First: check if it’s just the power. Sometimes the power will go out, but the phones still work (calls are not delivered over the power lines). If you have a land line, you’ll find your set of cordless phones won’t work, but a good old-fashioned hardwired phone will when plugged directly into the phone jack. Keep one in your emergency kit.
  2. A good shortwave radio, with the ability to pick up weak signals, is a must. These can intercept shortwave signals from very long distances, even internationally, and are a great source of news.
  3. If you live inland, you could get a broadcast radio with marine-band capabilities. Marine band is typically used by boaters, who tend to be located near major oceans and lakes. If you live elsewhere you get a virtually private channel you can use to communicate with friends and family. Marine-band channels are broadcast between 156 and 158 MHz, and 160 and 162 MHz.
  4. Amateur radio operators, called “radio hams,” can broadcast on many different radio frequencies. Getting the FCC license to do this involves advance planning, as you’ll have to pass a test. All the information you need is contained on a CD that can be ordered from the American Radio Relay League (www.arrl.org). The test will be administered at your local ARRL chapter. If you pass, you can start broadcasting as a radio ham on limited frequencies. It’s a great way to gather news, as radio hams take their responsibilities very seriously and back up emergency services whenever communications are disrupted. Transceivers can be fixed or mobile and are available at Radio Shack, and at websites such as www.hamradio.com.
  5. Citizens’ Band radio (also known as CB radio) is used primarily by truckers and police to communicate with each other. You can pick one up at Radio Shack for as low as $30 and install it in your car. (You can get hand-held, portable CB’s too.) Unlike amateur radio, you won’t need an FCC license to operate a CB radio. CB radio consists of 40 channels at the 27 MHz frequency, but maximum range of these devices is generally only several miles.
  • Channel 19 is used by truckers as a so-called “travelers’ channel.” The most important thing to rememeber is it’s constantly monitored by police.
  • Channel 9 is considered the universal American broadcast channel, and the police are always listening.
  • Certain CB radio channels are also used by the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration to broadcast emergency information about inclement weather.
  • A cell phone isn’t always a safe bet during an emergency. In some extreme circumstances, such as an EMP attack, your cell phone network might be down completely. But if your cell works, use it. Make sure you have a service provider with good coverage throughout the country, like AT&T or Verizon and have a phone charger that will work on your car. You may wish to consider a Cellboost disposable product which gives you an extra hour of power when no other source is available (cellboost.com) or purchase a Sidewinder portable cell phone charger (about $20), which is a hand-cranked power source. You just keep turning the handle. It’s not fun, but it’s a low-tech solution that makes your fancy phone work again!
  • Here’s a tip you should keep in mind: Deactivated cell phones that no longer have service plans can still dial 911. Another person’s cell phone that you might find on the sidewalk can still dial 911 – even if it is password protected, you won’t have to enter the code.
  1. Finally, a laptop computer can come in handy. If you can get an internet connection via WiFi, broadband, or a satellite uplink, you can communicate through e-mail and check the web for timely information or instant message friends and family. If you have Skype or an IP phone service, you can call or video chat.
Bottom line: We urge you to take stock of your personal situation and ensure you have contingency plans if your conventional communication channels are disrupted. Doing so is “Self Reliance 101.”