Emergency Communications

In the event of an environmental emergency/disaster or serious civil unrest activity, cell phones, telephone land lines and even satellite communications may not be available. What are your options to summon help or stay in touch? What are your options if you do not want to attract attention but need to communicate within your own group?

It is recommended that each vehicle and Go-Bag has at least one functional Portable 2-Way Radio and AM/FM/Weather Band Radio (either wind-up or with functional batteries).

Your Emergency Plan MUST be shared with every member of your family/team (printed and on a USB drive for each member)
The Plan must be Practiced by every member with every other member
Everyone must know how to respond to any of the "what if" scenarios
How to get in touch with one another when an emergency happens when you are apart
Places to meet even if you can't communicate with one another at the moment of the emergency
List of friends/family who can coordinate communications or a destination to gather

I don't memorize phone numbers because they are conveniently stored on my phone. Well, if my phone is on the fritz, my personal phonebook may not be available. On a periodic basis, I export my contacts from my phone to an electronic (computer) file on a flash drive and, on a more infrequent basis, I print that list and put it in my safe, just in case my phone AND flash drive vanish or die. Don't rely only on an electronic personal phonebook. Have a printed copy of phone numbers and addresses of family, friends and important contacts.

Recharging Electronics:
Have methods of recharging/powering your communications electronics. Solar charging devices are the most reliable because they do not rely on public electrical power to generate power.

Protecting Electronics:
An electromagnetic pulse (EMP) could render radios (and other electrical equipment) useless. Storing radio(s), batteries and other electronics in a metal container (Faraday Cage) may prevent EMP damage. Note that the electronics must not be in direct contact with the container's metal interior.

AM/FM/Weather Band Radio:
Staying in touch with the outside world can be accomplished with this simple tool. Staying informed of events and weather conditions helps with planning and can boost morale. Actually communicating with others will require one or more of the following tools or skills.

Air vs Infrastructure:
In a serious environmental or civil unrest event, the communications infrastructure (telephone cables, satellites, or cell towers) may be down or congested. It is more likely to summon help or stay in contact with family, friends or authorities with any type of Portable 2-Way Radio that uses air waves and not the communications infrastructure.

Expired Cell Phones:
Even expired cell phones may be able call 911. Just keep them charged. No SIM card is necessary.

Internet & Mobile Hotspot:
Recently I cut my cable internet in favor of a larger data plan on my smart phone for the flexibility of having internet access at my remote cabin or permanent home. I found myself spending less time at the cabin (than I liked) and getting a bit anxious when I couldn't access the internet. This was, actually, a re-visit for me. I had previously tried this when data plans were not as robust and the amount of available data was very small compared to today's offerings. Understand that the phone and Provider's Data Plan must have the Hotspot capability. Inquire of the provider before taking the plunge. There are some other things I have learned about this arrangement that I will try to share here:
Many ask why I just don't keep my home internet and the increased data plan. As one who continues to pursue a "conserver lifestyle", it just goes against the grain and you just have to be in my shoes to understand. The "P4T Minimalist Living page" may help explain.
How to Turn Your Phone Into a Wi-Fi Hotspot

Satellite Telephone:
A satellite telephone, or satphone, is a type of mobile phone that connects to other phones or the telephone network by radio through orbiting satellites instead of terrestrial cell sites, as cellphones do.

Portable 2-Way Radio:
Having a set, or several sets, of portable 2-way radios may be the only way to contact emergency services (police, fire, ambulance) or stay in touch with family and friends.

CB (Citizen Band) Radio:
Police and Fire Departments frequently monitor the local CB Radio Emergency channel (9). Channel 9 was issued by the FCC for emergency communication and is still scanned by US agencies, such as police, rescue for medical emergencies, accidents, vehicle breakdowns, and lost motorists. Channel 19 is the unofficial trucker information channel. Beyond entertainment purposes (for which many are well acquainted) trucker chatter can be lifesaving. These CB-type Portable 2-Way Radio can be as simple as a small walkie-talkie (found in your local department store) or a more complex vehicle or home console.

To stay in touch with family and friends, do not use channels 9 or 19 but a pre-designated channel/frequency known only to your personal contacts. Because CB radio channels can be used by anyone with a CB radio, you will need to distinguish your contacts from other radio frequency users. Pre-designated radio names (handles or call signs) should be assigned to each of your contacts and all of you should know the radio names of all other parties in your group.

HAM Radio:
Generally, CB radios are good for only a few miles (at the most) depending on your equipment, batteries and geographical terrain. For long-distance and long term communications, Amateur radios (also called ham radios) are the option. Setup properly, Ham Radios can be used to communicate around the world using repeaters that are setup by multiple Ham radio operators. FCC licensing is required but can be easily acquired.

HAM Radio:
The Baofeng UV-5R Hand-Held 2-Way Radio is the P4T-Recommended hand-held, programmable, flexible, HAM, CB, Weather Channel, Police/Fire Scanner, multi-functional and affordable radio for everyday and emergency use. Using the free CHIRP software, this radio can be programmed for monitoring emergency and weather channels and for communicating over "family" and HAM frequencies. YouTube is packed with videos on its use, functions and programming with the CHIRP software. Don't let its capabilities fool or scare you. With all of the available online help, it's not difficult to program and make this your goto communications device for family and emergency team. There are also many accessories available for this popular radio.

This is the "When, Where, and How" to make radio contact with each other for SHTF. It's a Radio Schedule (SKED) communications equivalent of a Rally Point or Disaster Meet-Up Plan.
  • Turn on your radio every 3 hours for at least 3 minutes on Channel 3 (CB-3, FRS-3, or MURS-3, hams use 146.520 MHz FM Simplex [No PL]).
  • When? At the "top of the hour", each 3 hours: Noon, 3pm, 6pm, 9pm, Midnight, 3am, 6am, 9am.
  • Listen for at least 3 minutes (or longer depending on your available battery power) for someone who may be trying to reach you or may need help or to check in (if expected).
    1. Easy for everyone to remember the "Rule of Three".
    2. Conserves precious battery life for walkie talkies.
    3. Gets everyone on the air at the same time.
    4. Sets a schedule of 8 times per day to call each other.
    5. Avoids impractical hourly schedules that can be a burden in real-life scenarios.
    6. Enables the use of short transmissions for optimum success and security.
    7. Three hours between contacts is enough time to rest in a survival situation.
    8. The average person can walk 8 miles in 3 hours, the practical distance limit of handheld radios over average terrain.
Printed Instructions and Frequencies

Emergency Response Scanner:
Having an Emergency Response Personnel (Police, Fire, Ambulance) Scanner device or Smartphone App will allow you to listen in on what your local emergency services are up to. There are plenty of free apps and websites that can keep you informed when something is going down in your area; an excellent resource to remain informed and safe from danger. If you hear sirens or see emergency vehicles speeding around flip on your scanner to see if there is an emergency that could potentially affect you. Learn the local Radio Codes that Emergency Response Personnel use to identify specific actions and situations.
Related Video

Text, Email and Social Media:
Don't reject the possibility that these options may still function as they, usually, operate differently than telephone and cell phone systems. Instead of a phone call, use text or email. Instead of your data plan, find a WiFi access point. Instead of a cell phone, try to locate a computer.

One of the simplest alternative methods of communication could be email. Even if phone lines are jammed (busy signal), cable, fiber, T1 or satellite systems may still be able to transmit a simple/basic email message to loved ones in an emergency.

War Driving:
Wardriving refers to the act of locating open Wi-Fi hot spots while driving in a car. The goal of wardriving is to document and map hotspots, and generally involves software specifically designed for wardriving. Wardriving is also known as access point mapping.

Graffiti / Hobo Chalk Talk:
The Hobo Hieroglyphs: Their Secret Symbols, Explained
Hobo Slang

Don't forget the lowly whistle. Everyone should always carry one. For close-quarter communications, whistles are better than yelling. The sound of a whistle carries better through the air, for greater distances, and uses less physical energy. Yelling can injure the throat and uses much more physical energy. Within a group, develop unique whistle signals to communicate for different activities or alerts.

Developed and used by cultures living in forested areas, drums served as an early form of long-distance communication, and were used during ceremonial and religious functions. The simple banging together of sticks can be used as a method of communication or signaling for help.

In most cases, smoke or fire will draw attention to an emergency situation, especially to emergency response aircraft, watercraft and land search personnel. Smoke usually works best during the day while fire is better to use at night.

Go Fly a Kite or Balloon:
Getting a kite or [hot air] balloon into the air will attract attention.

Flares and Light Sticks:
Most watercraft, aircraft and sporting goods stores carry these to signal for help.

Landscape Signals:
Use sand or tree branches to form gigantic "SOS" or "HELP" letters on the ground.

Rule of 3:
"Three-In-A-Row" is the universal sign of distress (needing help). Three shots, three flags, three "Xs". Anything of three that is distinct (out of place) from normal surroundings will draw attention.

Encryption / Code:
By definition, encryption is the process of converting information or data into a code, especially to prevent unauthorized access. It can be incorporated in any type of communication to mask the true meaning and can be as simple as converting letters to numbers (A=1, Z=26, etc.) or as complex as a computer generated security algorithm. Graffiti / Hobo Chalk Talk might be considered a form of encryption or "coded language". In my younger days, my parents would use "pig latin" to talk to one another about stuff they didn't want us kids to know what they were saying. Eventually, we picked it up. Sometimes just learning and using another language can mask a conversation around those who don't know the language. During World War 2, Navajo indians were used by the US military to transmit information using their native language so the Japanese could not understand. A very fine movie (WindTalkers) was made about them, staring Nicolas Cage. For practical purposes, any "code" used should be clearly understandable to all those who want to "secretly" communicate.

Family Language:
Create some sort of secret language for your own family or group, preferably more than one. Work towards having coded messages that can be communicated visually, verbally, or audibly.

Sign Language:
This is, mostly, used for the deaf but can be used to communicate covertly when internal communication is preferred over alerting someone outside a group or signaling for help. Contrary to popular belief, sign language is not a universal language. Like spoken languages, sign languages around the world are different. According to the World Federation of the Deaf, there are more than 70 million deaf people worldwide. More than 80% of them live in developing countries. Collectively, they use more than 300 different sign languages. The two most recognized forms of sign language are Gestuno and American Sign Language.

Military Tactical Hand Signals:
There are situations when not speaking a word means survival and success. Tactical hand signals can do just that. If you ever find yourself in the position to protect your land or to make a military-style advance, you will be more appreciative of silence than ever before in your life. Going undetected can earn you precious seconds that save lives and apprehend intruders. Even whispers and radios are too loud in some instances, and silent communication is an essential tool used by successful operations. There are several common hand signals that you’ll want to learn and practice with your family for effective silent communication. Use these links to start researching how to learn tactical hand signals.
12 Tactical Hand Signals You Should Know
How to use hand and arm signals (visual signaling) to communicate silently
Images of Military Tactical Hand Signals
Military Hand and Arm Signals Flashcards

We don't see this around much anymore, but that is precisely why you should learn it! For many, many years, "taking shorthand" was commonplace in offices where one person would dictate a memo, note, or some other document while another person jotted it down, word for word, in shorthand.
Beginner's Handbook to Learn Shorthand

A mirror is a simple, effective means of communication and signaling for help. Anything that can reflect light has the potential of getting attention when properly used, even the broken headlight of a vehicle. Before it is necessary to use, practice to determine the best reflective capability and position.

Internationally-Recognized Forms of Non-Verbal Languages

Making Ink:
Many types of plant material can be made into ink. For this project, smash about 1/2 cup of pokeberries (poisonous) in a cooking container. Add just enough water to cover the smashed pokeberries. Slowly bring to a boil then remove from the heat. Add 1 teaspoon of salt and 1 teaspoon of vinegar (if available). Simmer for 15 minutes. Stir to mix well while simmering. Filter the liquid into a storage container that can be sealed. Use a large feather as a pen for writing.
[Ink Making Video]

Related Information/Links:
A Prepper's Guide to Communicating in an Emergency
4 Secret Languages That Will Allow You to Communicate Anywhere
Communicate Covertly and Hide Secret Messages in Plain Sight with Steganography
Ham Radio Training (register)
Ham Radio Exam Preparation (sample tests)
Staying in Contact When SHTF
What Will Happen When the Phone Lines Go Down?
Emergency Communications 101
SHTF Communication Methods to Save Your Life
Battery-Less Devices