There are many methods of disaster communications. It’s a complicated subject, so in this article we’ll just cover some of the basics. After most disasters, the power is going to be out and phone lines/cell phone towers will be overwhelmed. But if you prepare ahead of time, you’ll be able to communicate with your friends and family.
What if the power is out?
If you don’t have a generator, most modern phones won’t work. Some of the younger readers might not know this, but phones used to work fine when the power was out. Phone companies have a battery system and backup generators to supply your phone with power even during extended outages. Unfortunately most modern phones, with their answering machines and cordless capabilities, need to be plugged into an outlet. I recommend finding an old push button or rotary phone. You can find them for less than $10 at most discount and dollar stores.
If you don’t have that kind of phone, your cell phone will last for a little while (if you can get through to anyone), and you can use your car charger until you run out of gas or your car battery dies. But what then? I would order an Etón Self-Powered Charger. These use solar power and have a weather radio, a flashlight, and a USB cell phone charger. They work great and are only about $30. They even come in a variety of colors. Note: Make sure your cell phone can charge with a USB cord.
What if the phone lines are jammed?
It is usually easier to call out of a disaster area than to contact someone within a disaster area. Because of this, it’s a good idea to have a contact outside your city or state. However, if things are bad you probably won’t be able to get a single call through. In that case, there are some other things you can do:
- Before a disaster, you and your family should agree on a meeting place. Make sure it is near a landmark that will be recognizable even after an earthquake, flood, hurricane, terrorist attack, tornado, etc. You should agree on some local bulletin boards where you can leave messages. Check the local grocery stores, libraries, and other public locations and decide which ones to use. You’ll need multiple sites because they might not all survive whatever disaster strikes your area.
- One-way communication is also critical in an urban survival scenario. I already mentioned the solar powered Etón Charger. But if you’re not interested in that, you might want to consider a good hand crank radio. It’s best if it picks up AM, FM and NOAA weather forecasts. This will be invaluable during a disaster as you will be able to get warnings and/or instructions from the authorities.
- Buy some walkie talkies. The best ones can cost over $200, but if money is tight, I recommend the Motorola MH230R two-way radio. They’re less than $50 and have a range of over 10 miles. They also have 22 channels and over 100 privacy codes. Practice using them while you still can. If the worst happens, you’ll be glad you have them.
Again, make sure you and your family have a plan in place and are familiar with your equipment ahead of time. Having the ability to communicate long distance during a disaster can mean the difference between life and death.