7 Ways to Communicate in an Emergency

Communication During a Catastrophic Emergency

A cell phone isn’t always a safe bet in an emergency. In some extreme circumstances, such as an EMP attack, cell phone networks might be down completely. But if your cell phone works, use it.

You might consider a cell phone battery extender. Disposable and reusable versions exist. These products aim to give you an extra hour or so of power when other other source is available. Check BestBuy, Wal-Mart, and Amazon.com to explore a variety of options. The Sidewinder portable cell phone charger costs about $20, and produces power by hand-crank, ensuring you can always recharge your phone.

When the power goes out, if you can’t use your cell phone, you’ll start to feel isolated pretty quickly. But during an emergency, it’s more important than ever to stay in touch with those you love, and those around you. Fortunately, you will still be able to communicate if you have secured the right tools ahead of time.

  • First, check to make see if only the power is out. Sometimes, the power goes out, but the phone lines still work (calls are not delivered over power lines). If you have a land line, you’ll find your cordless phones won’t work, but a good old-fashioned hardwired phone will when plugged directly into the phone jack. Keep a hardwired phone in your emergency kit just in case.
  • Keep in mind, most deactivated cell phones, even if they no longer are connected to a service plan, will dial 9-1-1. In an emergency, even if you find another person’s cell phone, or an older model you haven’t used in awhile, you may still be able to call for help.
  • A good shortwave radio, with the ability to pick up weak signals is a must. These radios can intercept shortwave signals from long distances, sometimes even internationally. They’re a great source for news.
  • If you live inland, get a broadcast radio with marine-band capability. Marine band is typically used by boaters, who tend to be located near major bodies of water, such as oceans or lakes. If you live far from major bodies of water, but have a radio with marine band capability, you’ll get a nearly private channel you can use to communicate with your friends and family. Marine band channels are broadcast between 156 and 158 MHz, and 160 and 162 MHz.
  • Amateur radio operators, called “radio hams” can broadcast on many different radio frequencies. Getting the required FCC license to become an amateur radio operator involves advanced planning. You’ll have to pass a test. You can get all of the information you need by ordering a CD 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. Radio hams take their responsibilities very seriously, and back up emergency services whenever communications are disrupted. There are fixed transceivers and mobile ones. You can find them at Radio Shack, or www.hamradio.com.
  • Citizens Band radio (also known as CB radio) is used primarily by truckers and police officers to communicate. You can pick up a CB radio at Radio Shack for as low as $40 and install it in your car. (You can even get a portable, hand-held CB radio.) Unlike amateur radio, you don’t need an FCC license to operate a CB. CB radio consists of 40 channels at the 27 MHz frequency, but the maximum range of these devices is usually only a few miles.

    • Channel 19 is used by truckers and is nicknamed “The Traveler’s Channel.” It’s important to note that the police monitor the traffic on this channel.
    • 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 good rule for determining the distance your CB radio will carry a signal is one mill per watt. Most CB radios today are 4 watts, which would give you roughly 4 miles of coverage. Just remember, CB radios are meant to be used outside. If you try to use one in your home or in your car without an external antenna, you won’t get a very strong signal.
  • Finally, a laptop computer could come in handy. If you can get an internet connection via Wi-Fi, broadband, or satellite uplink, you can communicate through e-mail and chekc the web for timely news and information. You can instant message friends and family. If you have Skype or an IP phone service, you can call or video chat. You can also use your laptop for storing copies of important scanned documents, credit cards, passports or other important information you may be forced to leave behind in an emergency.

The Bottom Line

You need to take stock of your own communications options now. Ensure you and your loved ones have a contingency plan in case conventional communication channels are disrupted. This is an essential part of emergency preparedness, and an important step on your path to becoming ready for anything.

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