It’s hard enough to explain to modern kids that, just a few years ago, all a cellphone could do was make calls. Just imagine how they’d react if they knew that it isn’t even that long since, if you were out somewhere and wanted to call home, you had to find a payphone and drop some change in the slot. As for phoning someone when they weren’t at home, forget it. It’s amazing how quickly we’ve got used to being able to contact anyone at any time.
Well, when the SHTF you can forget all that. In a major disaster, cell phones won’t keep working for long. A nuclear EMP would wreck the whole infrastructure in a few seconds; a less violent event might leave them running for a few days, until essential maintenance didn’t get done or the power went off. Soon enough, though, cell phones and the internet would be a thing of the past.
Unfortunately, being unable to communicate with people in an emergency situation isn’t really where you want to be. Keeping in touch with family and fellow preppers when there’s a crisis going on is a lot more important than most of the stuff we tweet or post in everyday life. In fact, being able to talk to them could be a matter of life and death.
Luckily, good old-fashioned radios don’t need all the complicated infrastructure that cell phones do. As long as you have a functioning radio and enough power to run it, you can stay in touch with anyone else who can dial in the same frequency.
Obviously the “functioning” part is important – a dead radio isn’t going to be any use to you. That means your emergency radios need to be in EMP-proof storage. Just taking the batteries out will give them some protection – it means they’re totally powered down and the exposed power circuits are broken – but if you really want them to be safe you should keep them in a Faraday cage. If you find them useful in daily life (they’re great for hunting, or staying in touch with home when you’re working outdoors) get a second set and store those in the Faraday cage. It’s vital that you have at least one set of radios that will survive an EMP. If your everyday ones survive the crisis too, great; you have spares.
That leaves the question of what kind of radios to get. You have three main options here: Amateur (“ham”) radio, Citizen’s Band or handheld VHF. Amateur radio is the most flexible, because there’s such a wide range of sets with different capabilities; if you have an HF radio, for example, the right antenna setup will let you talk to anywhere in the world. CB and handhelds operate in the VHF wavebands and are pretty much limited to line of sight, but you can still get a range of over 20 miles from the right set. It doesn’t have to be expensive either. You can pick up a set of four handheld radios for under $40; they’re basic, but you should get over two miles out of them – and for many people that’s enough. Less than $100 will get you a pair of much more sophisticated Motorola handhelds, with a range of up to 35 miles.
Where to buy
If you’re looking for handheld radios it’s hard to beat Amazon. They have a very wide range, and there’s something to suit any budget. If you don’t have a lot to spend on radios then Amazon is definitely going to be your best option – you can get an affordable multi-pack of basic but functional radios. One big advantage of getting a multipack is that you can be sure all the radios will talk to each other; if you mix different brands- and sometimes even different models – you might find that their preset channels don’t match up. Unfortunately, most handhelds (especially budget ones) will only work on their preset channels; you can’t tune in the frequency manually.
Another benefit is that, if you have several identical radios, you can switch accessories between them. If one radio fails just cannibalize it – take the battery, antenna, earpieces, charger and anything else removable, and use them as spares for the rest of the set. Radio multipacks on Amazon start at two handsets and go up from there. You can get twenty 16-channel radios, each with a rechargeable battery, charger and earpiece, for $500 – or less than half that if you catch it on sale. That’s enough to connect your whole neighborhood.
If you’re buying more sophisticated radios on Amazon it’s worth checking out the manufacturer’s site to get more technical details. For example, if you know the frequencies of its channels you can tell if it will work with your other equipment.
You can also get CB radios – both handhelds and base stations – on Amazon, and the prices are usually pretty good. For base stations check the power requirements; unless you plan to fit it in a vehicle you’ll need to make sure it can be connected to your post-disaster power supply.
Unless you know your way around radios, however, it might be better to get a CB or ham set at a specialist radio store. That way you’ll be able to tell them exactly what you need – especially the antenna. Getting the right antenna is incredibly important for a base station or ham set; it can increase your range by a factor of ten or more.
If you know what you need, and want a highly capable ham set, Ham Radio Outlet has an immense range of gear. They stock everything from antenna brackets and microphone cables up to military-grade multimode radios. Remember that a ham radio can be dialed in to any frequency within its range, so if you know the channel frequencies for your handheld sets it can talk to them.
Radio comms give you an immense advantage during a crisis. If you have a ham set you’ll probably already have a network of contacts when the SHTF; if not you can quickly build one, by simply scanning frequencies to see who’s still talking. Remember to use OPSEC when talking – don’t broadcast to the world where you are and how much food you have stockpiled, because someone might come along to take it – but being in touch is very useful. You can ask advice, share information about rioting, fires or fallout, and arrange to support each other if anyone comes under attack from looters. A good radio is a real survival multiplier, so it isn’t something you can afford to be without.
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