In the second season of one of my favorite television shows, "Jericho", there was a perfect illustration of what can happen if reliable communication does not exist (I recommend you renting this two-season series or at least catching some of it on hulu.com). While communication is the last aspect of the Principles of Preparedness, this doesn’t mean it’s insignificant in any way. In fact, there’s a lot of danger, panic, relying on misinformation and chaos that can arise, all from the lack of communication.
When the earthquake occurred in Haiti, the first thing that concerned anyone who knew anyone in that area was “were they alright?” So much so that working phone lines were maxed out for as many as 5 days after the event. This made for difficult circumstances not just for family and friends trying to check on their loved ones, but also hindered the coordination efforts for relief and recovery. Having the foresight to ensure quality Communication Preparedness now while there’s so many options will certainly allay a whole lot of heartache and stress later. I can think of very few times that were less stressful than when my husband was traveling abroad and I had no way of getting a hold of him for 36 hours. So, what should we do to prepare in this regard? There are actually a lot of considerations that we can tackle one at a time. For starters, let’s presume that even in the midst of a act of Mother Nature, standard phone lines will still be viable. I, for one, have a single dedicated land-line, and I highly recommend that everyone else does as well—with a NON cordless phone attached to it. Electricity may be interrupted, but a traditional telephone line is still viable in some of the most catastrophic of circumstances. You can easily get a land line with no frills such as call-waiting, caller-ID, etc. for as low as $10 a month. I’d call that a worthwhile substitution for a single trip through a drive-thru. Best part is, the ringer is off and I never have to worry about answering an incoming call. It exists for one reason and one reason only; and that is for emergencies. This is smart for so many reasons aside from the wrath of Mother Nature such as an ill-timed home invasion when you’re cell phone has run out of battery strength, cellular interference, electrical interruption, etc. One other thing I would recommend is that you ensure your family members also have a dedicated land-line and I would certainly provide those you care about with your “just in case” phone number. Another thing you may want to consider is Skype. When cell phone towers are down, Skype can still be operational, even via your cellular telephone. You can actually get Skype FREE for all Skype to Skype calls. Otherwise, plans begin as low as 9 cents a minute. Again, spread the knowledge of this type of option to your family members. Communication is obviously useless if no one that you care about and want to check on has access to communication means. Next is the use of amateur band radios. It’s interesting to note that a respectable crisis which would be severe enough to interrupt traditional communication is more likely to create a dearth of operational knowledge of HAM radios as opposed to just a shortage of the necessary equipment. So if you’re on a restrictive budget, I recommend prioritizing getting the knowledge and education FIRST on how to operate a HAM radio and then when circumstances permit, invest in the equipment for greater independence. I also recommend investing in long-range walkie-talkies. I’ve found several brands that will work as far apart as 3-5 miles—easily sufficient for recreational communication and invaluable in a time of crisis. Learning Morse Code, mirror signaling, etc. isn’t just for those ambitious young Boy Scouts. I personally believe it has a lot of merit today for those “just in case” scenarios. Remember during the recovery efforts in Haiti, one of the survivors was found primarily because of their ability to at least signal “S.O.S.?” I asked a classroom of 10 years olds the other day what Morse Code was and NONE of them knew! I think that Morse Code also has its place for encrypted communication—as there are very few persons who have a working knowledge of it today. (Fortunately, most official rescue workers are trained in Morse Code though.) Along the lines of concealed communication I highly recommend that a truly prepared person learn shorthand writing, American Sign Language, and a foreign language as well. Yes, in a perfectly prepared world I do recommend learning ALL three (I’m still working on the sign language). In terms of which foreign language to master, I specifically recommend learning Spanish, Chinese, and/or Russian. I personally believe that a working knowledge of these languages may be lifesaving some time in the future. Having books on hand which provide resource information on these languages/communication methods is also recommended. Let’s say that your family is knowledgeable with sign language, but as the persons in your home may increase due to catastrophic circumstances, you may find it important that they, too are educated in your preferred alternative communications. By all means DO stock up on traditional communication tools such as writing instruments and paper. When the “back to school” sales take place each year, inevitably I end up getting a whole lot of paper, pens, and pencils for no out of pocket costs—thank you, coupons! These items go into their respective four-gallon square buckets ready for a “just in case” scenario. I also can’t help but think how valuable such items will be in an environment in which traditional communication is hampered or eliminated—not just for their communication uses but also for education purposes in an electricity-free society. Any by the way, be sure to remember a pencil sharpener. Yes, you could use a knife in a pinch, but since pencil sharpeners are sooo stinking affordable, why not make things easy on yourself and have one on hand? Having some small chalkboards and chalk may also come in handy too. Oh, did I mention that I was able to buy a bunch of “invisible ink” pens from a dollar store several years ago. I have no idea how long they will last, but the thought that I might be able to use something like that is fun for me. I could write another article just on “secret communications” but I’m afraid that unless you could actually hear my tone of voice, you’d think I was a nut job. *grin* Finally, I think a lot of folks overlook the fact that good physical strength may be necessary for effective communication as well. A hundred years ago paper and pencil weren’t as critical as a good horse, but that may very well change if we encounter a serious communication interruption in this century. Getting critical information to key individuals may be a matter of having the legs and appropriate equipment to hoof it from one location to another. In light of this communication aspect, I strongly recommend that you make plans NOW as to how you will initially communicate with the individuals in your life that you care about and/or plan to connect with in the event of a crisis.