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).

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 Phone:
Even expired cell phones may be able call 911. Just keep them charged.

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.

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.

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.

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.

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.

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.

Morse Code:
This international method of communication is still in use today used with audible or visual devices.

Flag Semaphore:
Semaphores were adopted and widely used (with hand-held flags) in the maritime world in the 19th century. It is still used at sea and is acceptable for emergency communication in daylight or using lighted wands instead of flags, at night.

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.

Related Information/Links:
Battery-Less Devices
4 Secret Languages That Will Allow You to Communicate Anywhere
Ham Radio Training (register)
Ham Radio Exam Preparation (sample tests)
Beginner’s Handbook to Learn Shorthand
Staying in Contact When SHTF
What Will Happen When the Phone Lines Go Down?
Emergency Communications 101
SHTF Communication Methods to Save Your Life