The ability to obtain information and communicate with family and the outside world when cell phones and the internet are unavailable is important to you during a disaster. There are several emergency communication options that are inexpensive and easy to use. With Shortwave, you can listen to distress broadcasts, speak locally, and even communicate around the world. Getting the equipment you need to stay connected in an emergency is relatively inexpensive and easy.
Information as a resource
One of the best things you can do to help yourself in a disaster situation is to learn how to gather as much information as possible. Before you need to call for help, you want reliable information about the situation. In the event of disasters or even temporary power outages due to bad weather, the shortwave radio connection is your friend. There are mutliple reasons for this.
Reason # 1: A lot of good information is available on shortwave
The first reason shortwave is useful is because the emergency management communication system is based on shortwave technologies. Short wave is far-reaching and reliable. Much of the shortwave infrastructure is specifically not available for commercial use and is reserved for private radio experiments and emergency broadcasts. Most of these devices are purposely designed to work when commercial radio cannot. Shortwave is used almost exclusively in the areas of emergency management, police, fire brigade, emergency medicine (ambulance) and the private sector such as gas and electricity companies. In many cases it is amateur radio operators who get the first situation reports out after a disaster and call for help.
Reason # 2: Shortwave is inexpensive and effective for emergency communications
The second is that short wave communication devices are available and relatively inexpensive. You can find inexpensive radios that will listen, speak locally, or speak around the world. No license is required for the “Listen and Local” types. A HAM license is required for the worldwide radio devices. Ham licenses are inexpensive and not difficult to come by.
Reason # 3: Most shortwave radios are designed for use in disaster situations
The third reason is that most shortwave radios operate on batteries or 12 volts (like a car battery). This means that shortwave radios can still work in the event of a power failure. AM / FM radios also use batteries, but the radio stations are often connected to the network. When power outages are widespread, these stations can go off the air.
Weather radios and shortwave receivers
If all you want to do is listen, the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration / National Weather Service (NOAA / NWS) weather radios and shortwave marine receivers are perfect choices. They don’t need a license to operate and can be very inexpensive.
Hearing a shortwave receiver takes some getting used to. You have to learn the tricks your great grandparents were well known to when they used to tune their radios. With a little practice, you can just as easily find stations and “follow the signals”. It pays to familiarize yourself with shortwave broadcasts and discover their benefits for emergency communications.
Transceivers (transmission receivers) can both transmit and receive. These are fascinating machines that differ greatly in price, communication range and complexity. Some less powerful, short range radios are inexpensive, easy to use, and do not require special training or licensing. Other radios are extremely complex, very expensive, and require special training and licenses to operate. Between these two extremes are radio options to meet all family-community communication needs. All you have to do is decide what capacity you need to meet your needs.
It is important to understand that the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) requires that these different types of radio equipment be used only within the controlled output power and assigned frequency ranges. Using a radio outside of these assigned parameters may result in FCC fines and penalties. If you are licensed and break the rules, you will lose all license rights that you have. The best recommendation I can give you is to decide what type of communication capacity you need, study which radios meet this requirement, get the right training and license to use the equipment effectively. Take the time to learn and follow the FCC rules.
There are many transceiver options
All transceivers operate within certain parameters, but their range can be improved in two ways. First, more output power needs to be used, which is not always legal. Second is using a better antenna, which is always legal. Because radios are manufactured with different power settings and frequency functions, reference is often made to their intended use. This is why you hear names like “Wetterradio” and “HAM-Radio”.
The government has assigned specific frequencies (channels) and frequency ranges (bands) to different types of radio equipment depending on the power output. On the less powerful levels, you do not need a license to operate the radios. Do this at higher power levels.
- MURS radios (Multi-Use Radio Service): 5 channels for walkie-talky radios with low power consumption (2 watts) and a range of 1 to 2 miles, 8 with the correct antenna. No license is required to use these radios.
- Family Radio Service (FRS) radios: 14 channels for low power walkie-talky radios (5 watts) with a range of 2 to 8 miles, 20 with the correct antenna. No license is required to use these radios.
- GMRS radios (General Mobile Radio Service): 14 channels and 8 repeater channels for walkie-talkies with medium power (5 watts) and vehicle-mounted high-performance radios (50 watts). The range at 5 watts is 10 to 16 miles, 40 with the right antenna. The range at 50 watts is 10 to 35 miles, 50+ with the right antenna. If the atmospheric conditions are good, greater distances are possible. A license (without test) is required to use these radios due to their higher performance.
- Citizens Band Radios (CB) Radios: 40 channels for walkie-talky and vehicle radios with low power (4 watts) and a range of 3 to 10 miles, 20 with the right antenna. If the atmospheric conditions are good, greater distances are possible. No license is required to use these radios.
Amateur radio offers a whole new world of communication possibilities. The government provides 13 bands with hundreds of frequencies. You need a HAM license to operate these radios. 2 meter transceivers offer a range of up to 40 km on their own and much further with local repeaters (privately owned, open access, repeater stations). With the right antenna configuration, 6 meters and more will take you through the USA and around the globe. Amateur radio frequencies use the shifting shortwave frequencies, and you need to learn how to “randomize” the signals. Many HAM transceivers have multiple bandwidth functions.
Community emergency communication
All of these two-way transceiver radios provide the ability to establish an informal emergency radio network (NET) in your community. An inexpensive and easy to use radio in a home can provide effective emergency communication when the community network is active and monitored on a base transceiver. Check-in and messaging schedules can be set up. This is common in the open ocean sailing community around the world.
The bottom line
One of the first victims of a disaster will be communication. Web access and cable transmission are often the least permanent forms of communication. The mobile phone infrastructure (cell towers) can be deactivated, damaged or destroyed. When the power goes out, cell phones will last a day or two without charging. Commercial radio stations (AM / FM) may not be operating.
What will work are the state emergency transmitters. These include the emergency call system and the national weather services. These are specially designed for durability and function even under the worst conditions. Emergency weather radios are specially designed to receive these signals. A good weather radio is a must for even the simplest disaster plan.
Having your own transceivers, walkie-talkies, CBs, government radios, or hamsters can help bridge the communication gap when cell and landline communications are not working. To do this, you need to know how to use the devices and what frequencies to use. However, these skills are easy to learn. By giving yourself additional communication options in the form of shortwave devices, you can keep up to date with important information and make sure you can keep in touch with family and friends.
Do you have experience with radio receivers and transmitters? Let us know what worked for you in the comments below.
Further information on practical preparation can be found at – Disaster Relief SMARTBook 3 – Disaster Preparedness, 2nd edition, his newest book, Practical Preparedness, was published in June 2020 and is available in our online grit store.
Kyle is also a speaker for the Mother Earth News Fair Online. Learn more and register today to watch his workshop video.
PREPPER’S COMMUNICATIONS MANUAL
This book is the ultimate guide to purchasing, assembling, and using life-saving emergency communication systems. It contains detailed information on the operation of amateur radios, walkie-talkies, shortwave radios, and Citizens Band (CB) radios. When a disaster strikes, calls, texts, and emails don’t work. After September 11th, Hurricane Katrina and Hurricane Sandy, cell phones became unusable when transmission towers were destroyed and networks were overloaded. It is important to have an alternative way to reach family and loved ones during these critical moments. Learn the best tips, tricks, and expert secrets in this guide to help you survive when phones and the internet go down. This title is available at Our business or by phone at 866-803-7096.