There are two main purposes for emergency communications. One is to find and to receive critical information. The other purpose is to have the ability to contact those whom you wish to reach. For the first purpose, one needs only equipment capable of receiving one-way communications. Examples are AM/FM radios and scanners, and these and other methods were discussed in last week’s post. The second purpose requires different types of equipment able to perform back-and-forth interactions…i.e. two-way communications.
There are many forms of two-way communications. I am willing to bet that you are within arm’s reach of one right now. Landline phones, cellular phones, and the internet are all familiar methods. However, not all forms are equal in emergency scenarios. Depending on the circumstances, some methods may work well, while others may be rendered completely useless. In short, there are pros and cons to each.
In the tables below, several methods of two-way communications are compared and contrasted. Included are the following: landline phones, cell phones, satellite phones, internet and email, FRS, GMRS, MURS, CB radio, and amateur radio. These are not all the options available, but this should give you a good sampling of what methods of two-way communications are available.
As illustrated above, there are many options available for two-way communications. You must weigh the pros and cons of each before settling on which method(s) you will plan to use. As you do so, carefully consider what time, training and other resources you are willing to invest. Also, you will need to be mindful of the willingness and abilities of those with whom you wish to communicate. Such considerations may narrow what options you may wish to use. Whatever you choose, all methods need to be practiced, and the preps for each should be organized into some form of an emergency communications plan. Some methods will require more practice than others. However, keep in mind that those methods which require more effort to learn are typically the most useful. This is especially true for amateur radio, for it is by far the most complete and versatile form of emergency communications. Being a ham myself, I can tell you that its benefits far outweigh the investments in time and money. In any case, you must be committed to learn well whatever communication method(s) you choose. Otherwise, you may not be able to make contacts effectively.
In summary, here is what you should consider when preparing for two-way communications:
- Do not depend solely on one form of two-way communications, especially your cell phone. Make sure you have at least one back-up method in case of signal outages, power issues, range limits, etc.
- The more methods you have, the better. (I personally employ several in my emergency communications plan.) This will increase your likelihood of making successful contacts.
- Plan to use methods that would cover the distances that you would need to reach in order to be able to communicate with whom you need to contact. Some forms of two-way communications just work locally, while others can reach worldwide.
- Evaluate what investments of time and money you are willing to make. If you are not willing to learn the skills necessary to use a specific method, then perhaps other options would be better for you.
- Consider the abilities and the willingness of those you need to reach. Make adaptations to your plan to have methods that would make contact with everyone possible. For example, I have family members who will probably never become hams, but I can plan to use amateur radio to contact them by autopatch (accessing the telephone systems by radio) or by radio email.
- Have some form of back-up power as part of your plan. That way, if the power grid was disrupted, you would have other alternatives to be able to run your communications equipment.
- Have an emergency communications plan. That is discussed at length here.
- Practice, practice, practice. Emergency communications is a skill just like other facets of prepping.
It should be obvious to anyone interested in preparedness why there is a need for emergency communications. In any crisis, there is an urgent need to be able to receive and to send critical information. Without those abilities, one would be seriously handicapped in their ability to make correct decisions, and it is no exaggeration to say that your survival could depend on it. So what is the last word on emergency communications? It needs to be a prominent part of your preparedness plans.