Some people claim that with how reliable cellular networks have become, two-way radios are no longer useful even in a dire emergency. If you’ve ever visited an area ravaged by an earthquake or hurricane, then you know that nothing could be further from the truth. Authorities often advise people in these situations not to make calls or send SMS messages even if they’re able to get a signal since the lines can get busy real fast.
Even land-line telephones can suffer from this sort of problem, but with infrastructure being poor in many areas it can be hard to find one anyway. Nevertheless, even the most primitive 11-meter Citizens Band (CB) radio running off of a repurposed battery can work flawlessly in this sort of situation. Emergency communications, also known as EmComm, thrive on ready access to two-way radio equipment.
Being able to receive broadcasts is important too, especially when it comes to weather reports and information about relief operations. If you’re looking for something to stay in touch when the SHTF, then you’ll have plenty of options to choose from so stay tuned for an overview.
Download our CB Channels Information PDF sheet here.
Over-the-road truckers and people who work on large farms are among the largest users of CB radios, but since there’s no license needed to transmit anyone can use them. All radios made for sale in the United States since 1977 offer 40 channels. This means you shouldn’t have to worry about finding a clear place to communicate even when things get hairy.
CB technology is very widespread, so official EmComm organizations will often turn to it before other services. Since it’s based in the 11-meter band, you’ll have to deal with a bit of static and some larger antennas. In exchange, though, you’ll be able to talk with people for many miles around regardless of conditions. Look for units that offer both SSB and AM modes to increase your range even further.
FRS & GMRS
Family Radio Service (FRS) and General Mobile Radio Service (GMRS) units allow you to communicate over a number of UHF channels. The services are very similar, and radios designed to work with either service usually come with some form of sub-audible squelch system to cut out transmissions from other parties. This is particularly useful when several damage control teams are working to clean up after a disaster.
While GMRS operators have to hold a license, there isn’t any examination required to do so. Members of your immediate family can share your license privileges and use GMRS equipment without getting certified themselves. FRS equipment doesn’t require any license to operate. You might want to keep equipment tuned for either service around at all times since it can provide relatively static-free operation at a moment’s notice.
GMRS rigs put out up to five watts of power while FRS ones are restricted to 500-milliwatts at most. This gives GMRS equipment a much better range. Both services offer users 22 different voice channels.
Maritime & First Responder VHF Bands
If you’re in an area with navigable waterways, then you might want to invest in a VHF ship-to-shore radio. While a license is required to transmit on any of the maritime mobile bands, all US citizens are permitted to listen without holding any kind of certificate. While some channels are designated free for passing general messages, some are solely used to transmit pertinent information and distress signals.
Even if you live in an inland area away from rivers and lakes, you should still consider investing in a solid scanner that can receive signals from land-based mobile first responders. You may be able to receive reports from police, fire and medical services before they become available to the general public.
NOAA Weather Radios
Federal authorities operate a series of transmitting stations under the auspices of National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA), and these stations provide broadcasts featuring local weather reports that are much more up-to-date than those delivered through nearly any other means. With nearly 430 stations spread out over the 50 states plus most of the country’s insular areas, the odds are that you’re located close to at least one of these. Over 95 percent of the population is.
NOAA broadcasts are commercial-free and operate continuously. Weather stations might also carry special instructions about situations unrelated to forecasts if there’s a serious geological or industrial disaster in their service area. If you don’t already have one, then look for a radio with onboard Specific Area Message Encoding (SAME) technology.
Pushing the SAME button will give you the option of plugging in your local geographical region so you only hear important alerts regarding your immediate area. You can then leave the radio on in the background without getting interrupted all the time.
Amateur (HAM) Radio
A large chunk of the electromagnetic spectrum was carved out for amateur radio operators, and some of the most preeminent EmComm services in the country use them as their primary way to stay in touch even when other options are available. Radio amateurs are required to pass one of three written exams to prove their technical acumen, but the FCC no longer requires them to learn Morse. Study materials are available online, and there are testing locations scattered throughout the country if you’re interested in getting your certificate.
Ham operators, as they’re sometimes called, have assembled a network of land-based repeater stations as well as orbital satellites that can provide static-free communication over a large area. You’d only need small VHF or UHF handheld radios to take advantage of this network and frequencies are published in directories to make using it even easier.