Can you or any of your family members imagine a world without instant communications? Without cell phones, text messages, satellite or cable news? Without the internet? Well, my assumption is that if you’re reading this blog, you’re at least curious about what you should be doing to prepare for a WTSHTF (When The S%*t Hits The Fan, for the uninitiated) event, and having a plan which takes into account the two important types of emergency communications is an important part of those preparations.
In my earlier posts, I covered many of the ways the electrical grid and with it nearly all means of electronic communication and news dissemination can be shut down. Local TV and radio stations can probably continue to run for a few days or even weeks with back-up power generation, but in a true disaster situation, additional fuel for their generators, which requires it to be trucked in will probably not arrive before they run out of their stored fuel and fall silent. The government might be able to establish some sort of emergency radio broadcast system in the absence of local AM/FM stations, but you still need equipment to tune it in in the absence of electricity – and hence, the necessity of an Emergency Communication Plan or ECP.
“Ok, fine. I need an ECP. But what were those two important types of emergency communications you mentioned earlier?”
Oh yeah, one of those would be Outside World Communications, like news (both local and world news) and weather or .gov announcements and the other would be Group Communications, like neighborhood watch communication or the ability to alert you neighbor or other family members of an important bit of news or approaching danger. Let’s talk about Outside World Communications first.
1. Outside World Communications
Having lived through two major hurricanes in So. Florida (Andrew -’92 and Wilma -’05), I know a thing or two about how isolated you can feel when the television stations have gone silent and the electrical grid is a tangled, sparking mess of downed power poles, smoldering transformers and arcing wires. News was at a premium during both of those events. Imagine now that instead of a hurricane (a predictable storm whose path is known days in advance) causing the grid-down situation, it was a pandemic influenza, or terrorist attack, or a cyber-terrorism event aimed at our vulnerable electrical power generating and distributing infrastructure. The suddenness with which electrical means of news and information distribution would simply disappear would be stunning. All normal means of obtaining that desperately needed information will have ceased operation.
The best way to avoid total information blackout is to have a battery powered short wave radio and either enough batteries to run it for weeks and even months, or the ability to recharge a set of rechargeable batteries using solar power. [For more info on Solar Power, see my previous blog post on Perimeter Security.] A battery powered short wave receiver will allow you to tune into both domestic and world sources of news and information in the absence of local electrical power.
On the right, is a picture of one such radio, a C Crane and Co Pocket SW Radio. It’s one I’ve used for years and love it. There are other brands available, though like Sony, Grundig, and even Radio Shack. As stated, a SW radio is great for filling in missing information about the ‘big picture’ like world or national news, or even local news via AM/FM bands, but there are other important sources of information your SW radio is probably not capable of receiving like Police, Fire and EMT transmissions. One can gain valuable information about the state of lawlessness or peace in your neighborhood by monitoring these frequencies – which, by the way, is perfectly legal to do. If you believe, like I do, that monitoring Police, Fire, and EMT radio traffic could be a valuable source of information during emergencies, then you should look to purchase a Police Band scanner like the Uniden Trunktracker IV pictured on the left next to my Ham Band 2-Meter walkie-talkie (more on that later). Unlike less expensive police scanners, a ‘trunking’ scanner allows you to follow communications on modern trunked frequencies. Again, there are several brands of ‘trunking’ scanners; Bearcat, Radio Shack, and Uniden all make decent trunking models.
Rounding out the devices needed to keep you informed of what’s happening in the ‘outside world’, is a weather radio. But not just any weather radio. You should look for one with a feature called SAME, or Specific Area Message Encoding. SAME weather radios can be programmed with your postal code and thereby be able to receive emergency information aimed at your local area like the location of local water or food distribution centers, etc, in addition to their normal function of keeping you informed of severe weather in your area. A photo of the SAME Weather Radio in use at the PP house appears below in the next section.