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Communications in a Disaster

During a disaster communications always takes a hit, sometimes it’s a blip that quickly resolves itself; other times it can cripple a community. Cell phones fail, land lines get cut, cable goes out and even public safety radios can cease to work when they are needed most. Most modern forms of communications are tied to technology that is reliant on the internet, power or other critical forms of infrastructure. When those systems fail, we need to have an alternative means of communication.

There are several alternatives that are available depending on your budget and individual circumstances. We’ll take a brief look at just a few of the most common options.

  • Amateur radio (HAM radio) – When all else fails amateur radio still works. Ham radio operators are considered a critical component in many federal, state and local emergency plans. Ham radio provides many different communications options, from short range down the street to across the country; which isn’t reliant on the web or normal infrastructure. Ham radios come in all shapes and sizes, from tiny little handhelds with limited range to desktop units with 100ft antennas that can talk from Maine to California without problems.
  • Family Radio Service Radios (FRS) – These cheaply available radios can be found at most any of the big box stores. While cheap and easy to use, these radios have a very limited range and offer no real privacy in your communications. FRS radios are ideal for small families to communicate around their home or property; but for disasters it’s not the best option available. Average range of FRS radios will vary from half a mile to 3 miles depending on factors like terrain and obstructions.
  • Citizen Bands Radio (CB) – CB radio has long been a staple form of communications for over the road truck drivers and other folks who need a quick and easy means to communicate for short distances. CB radios aren’t as common in today’s world as they were in years past, but you can still find them relatively inexpensively at truck stops and some of the big box stores in most areas. CB’s are limited in range, much the same as the FRS radios; however, there are occasions that a CB can allow communications over several miles.

There are many, many other options out there to help you communicate in a disaster; the method is important but having a plan is even more critical. No matter what method you use to communicate, you need to make sure those you plan to communicate with; know you will be doing so.