Ten Principles of Preparedness: #10 Communication

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.

Reference: Ten Principles of Preparedness




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MS. Bishop,

A CB radio with an extra long range antenna, I believe is called "Trunking" (the kind the FCC doesn't like) may be useful also as HAM radios can be expensive. The CBs can be operated using a twelve volt car battery with an inverter I was told. Also golf cart batteries are the best 12 volts to have in your collection as they are deeper cycle and longer lasting. Golf cart batteries can be charged during the day with solar panels and be used at night for lighting with efficient LED lamps. As for the FCC, the last thing they will be worried about is some guy with too long of a range CB antenna.

Another thing about ham radio

Another thing about ham radio is that unless you are licensed you probably can't buy one anyway unless you know a private party who wants to sell. They also however will run on battery power as you describe above.

Not true. You can buy

Not true. You can buy whatever ham radio you want without a license. You break the law only when you use it to transmit without a license. You can still listen to transmissions without any restrictions.

A long antenna will just

A long antenna will just extend the range. Trunking is a type of radio system; multiple channels shared by different groups of users and controlled by a computer (typically trunked 800mhz public safety)

Wrong. Antenna length is

Wrong. Antenna length is determined by the frequency you want to transmit on. Lengthening or shortening an antenna can and will actually DEGRADE performance. Some CB antennas are shorter than other, but that's because they have a coil either in the base or in the middle (the fat lump you see) that makes up the difference. Some antennas are more efficient that others, but that's due to design, quality of build, etc., not the length. The only things you can do to a given antenna to improve its performance is get it higher above the ground, or improve its position (e.g. away from trees, buildings, etc., all of which absorb the transmitted signal to some degree).

To more be accurate,

To more be accurate, technically speaking, antenna length is determined by the wavelength (more usually some fraction of it, such as quarter-wavelength) of the frequency you wish to transmit/receive on (frequency is directly proportional to wavelength).

You can get longer range by using a longer antenna, to a degree, as long as you understand wavelength.

If you're using a quarter-wavelength antenna and you swap it out for a full-wavelength antenna, assuming same technical specifications otherwise (e.g. quality, tuning, SWR, grounding, etc) then the full-wavelength antenna will give you a little longer range than the quarter-wavelength.

If you're just trying to add a couple feet to a CB antenna, then no it isn't going to do you any good, and will usually affect your range negatively.

During the floods in St. George Utah several years ago, the cell towers went down because the solar powered chargers couldn't keep the batteries powered up due to the increase cell phone usage from emergency services that entered the area. Ham radio operators from Vegas were contacted to relay messages for these emergency relief groups and also set up ecomm in areas where there were dead zones. It took relief agencies several days to set up their comm channels. Until those ecomm trailers arrived, ham radio served it's purpose.

After Katrina, all the government agencies decided to go the way of satellite phones...so when the Haiti earthquake hit, the initial emergency agencies moving into the country log-jammed the satellite phone frequencies to the point no one could use them in those first few weeks.

A friend of mine was down their serving as a interpreter for a medical-relief organization and took his ham radio---he said that no one was on the air there because the government.

As Kellene says in this article--
When it comes to communications--multiple ways to communicate in your quiver will seem to be the best thing to have.

Great article!

I have been wanting to learn Morse Code since I got my amateur radio license in 2006. A local group of hams is going to be giving some lessons soon, so I'll finally be able to get this accomplished.

Radio shack has/had a little hand held VHF. Great weather channel and you can talk short range. I think the idea is don't get locked into any mindset/ only this idea works. Make many layers of communication. It maybe only a CB or Ham operator can get through. Do you have a ham operator on hand? Do you have a CB? a cell phone? the internet or land line phone you can use. A contact point outside of a disater area for family? Phone lines sometimes work better on calling to a non-disater area and looping calls.
You can key a mike and transmit Morse code. No one monitors Morse code any more it was killed I believe in 2001-2003. By the US feds. Just keying a mike can transmit Morse code.

Yeah, one more thing that I

Yeah, one more thing that I would highly suggest is getting long range walkie talkies for each member of the house. This makes it much easier to keep in communication with eachother, especially if you are in a relatively close range to eachother.

I would add that I have a

I would add that I have a cell tower/shack on my work property that is a main hub tower for Verizon. It has a diesel generator that starts every Monday morning & runs for an hour. That type along with the solar cell towers & ham repeaters with solar would be good bet in an emergency.
The best little radio right now for prepping is the Baofeng UV5R. It's a 5 watt handheld(walkie talkie) that is mostly a ham radio but also recieves & transmits on ham VHF & UHF bands, FM broadcast band recieve, police, weather, & Family Radio Service bands so it talks to the little cheap handie talkies everyone has. It has a lithium ion battery that stays charged six months & lasts several days on recieve. These are available on Amazon & E-bay for less than $40ea or $52ea with a double size battery. Remember that it's perfectly legal for anyone to buy ham radios & listen (not transmit) without any license. Transmitting requires a licence under normal circumstances but in an emergency anyone is allowed to transmit without a licence. These little handhelds do more than the ones costing $300-$500. Morse code is not dead but the FCC dropped requirements to be tested on it for licensing.

"in an emergency anyone is

"in an emergency anyone is allowed to transmit without a licence."

Not true - the FCC takes a very narrow view of an emergency - it is purely for "life and death" emergencies "where no means of other communication is available."

You need an appropriate license depending on the 'service' you are transmitting on - ie marine license for marine frequencies, Amateur license of amateur frequencies, GMRS license for GMRS frequencies, MARS license for MARS frequencies, etc

Some basic Amateur hand helds with VHF & UHF frequencies, with a clamshell for AA batteries can be found for $100.

The entry level "Technician" class license is easily self study (do a search for "Amateur Radio Technician study guide" to find free study material. In some areas tests are free, otherwise its around $14 and license is good for 10 years. Go to ARRL.net to search for places for tests.

Yes, glad you made that point

Yes, glad you made that point. "Emergency" is very narrowly defined. Also, just because society/government falls apart, and nobody will care if you have you license or not, that's not a good reason not to get one. Getting license helps you to know how to operate your equipment if nothing else. Plus you'll get to know a great group of people, and may be able to help in smaller-scale disasters when emergency communications help is needed. I'll say it again, get license and learn what you're doing. A ham radio is like any other piece of survival equipment. You should know how it works and should have used it repeatedly BEFORE a problem occurs.

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