Alternative Communication

Communicating in an Emergency


Americans are very fortunate, but the sad truth is we tend to take many of our modern conveniences for granted, especially telephones, computers and the internet, and the multitude of hand held communication devices that have been introduced to the public in recent years.  So what happens in an emergency if your normal means of communication are cut off?  How do you communicate to your family and friends that you’re okay?  How do you stay abreast of disaster recovery operations, or the magnitude or scope of a disaster if communications are no longer available to you?


Having an evacuation and communication plan, and making sure everyone knows where to go in case of an emergency, can be the key to protecting your home and family.  You should consider a variety of issues when developing your Family Emergency Communication Plan:

How family members will communicate their safety if separated


This can be done by designating a communication coordinator.  An emergency can knock out telephone and cell service, so it’s important to have a communication coordinator who can receive and relay messages between family members. Choose someone out of your area whose phone service is less likely to be disrupted, and give that person cell phone, office numbers, and email addresses for everyone in the family. Each family member should carry the coordinator’s contact info, too.   Program it into your cell phone address book and label  it “ICE”—in case of emergency. If you’re disabled, an emergency responder will search your phone for ICE contacts. 


Providing emergency communication information with each family member

· You can ready your family for an unforeseen medical emergency by printing and distributing emergency contact cards to every member of your family:

· First, you will need to gather information about your family members. Compile this data in a detailed list AND transfer this information to your emergency contact cards.

· Some key areas to cover in your research are conditions and allergies, emergency contact names and phone numbers, and physician contact information. When you list medical conditions, make sure to list any allergies your family might have to medication.   All medical conditions that you are aware of should be noted. 

· Emergency contact information should include names, phone numbers and addresses. List at least three reliable contacts for each family member. Remember to include alternate or cell phone numbers for each contact on the list. 

· It is a good idea to list out-of-town relatives or friends, as well as local contacts. 

· After collecting the emergency information from your family, produce your cards.


The American Red Cross and Med IDs provide free, ready-made, printable emergency contact cards.  Transfer the emergency data you gathered to the cards. 


If you prefer, you can create your own emergency contact cards with any word-processing program. If you choose       the self-made cards, make sure you include all of the information your family would need in the event of a medical emergency.  Print the emergency contact cards on heavier-stock paper. If possible, laminate the cards so your family can hang on to them for a while.   You can purchase card-stock paper at any office-supply store. Most of these stores also offer laminating services for a nominal fee.


Pick a date every year to review the emergency contact cards. Glance at the information to make sure none of the contact names, numbers or other essential details have changed. Print out new cards for your extended family as often as needed.


Communication within your family shelter / retreat

You might want to consider indoor or outdoor intercoms for communication within the boundaries of your retreat    for routine and emergency notification.


Communication with your neighbors

Neighbors helping neighbors can save lives and property. Meet with your neighbors to plan how you can work together after a disaster until help arrives. If you’re a member of a neighborhood organization, such as a home association or crime watch group, introduce emergency preparedness as a new activity.


You should consider talking with neighbors and getting them involved in you communications plan. The use of radios will help you with communication around your neighborhood in the event of an emergency.


These radios are relatively inexpensive and easy to obtain and operate. In the event of a major disaster, commercial communications such as telephone lines and cellular towers can and will be disrupted. As with every part of your emergency plan, practice using the radios and make sure that everyone in your home knows where they are and how to use them. Consider purchasing radios that can supply their own power and also keep a supply of batteries available.


If you are interested in establishing long distance communications with others during a major disaster you may want to consider becoming a licensed Amateur Radio Operator. With amateur radio you can communicate locally with other licensed operators as well as world wide. You can find out more about amateur radio and how to use it in emergency situations here.


Receiving emergency communications from the outside world

If electricity is out, emergency communications from the outside world can be eliminated.  Although the Internet is designed to be high resilient (a carryover from its original design as a US military network), it cannot expect to survive a grid-down situation. The best that we could hope for in those circumstances is a combination voice and data packet network, via High Frequency (HF) shortwave. (Perhaps the Army Aviator or one of our other readers that are senior ham operator would care to chime in on how a quasi-Internet could be piecemealed together using packet modems and HF ham gear.


At a minimum, to gather local, regional, and international intelligence, weather data, accurate time of day, and to maintain overall situational awareness you should own at least two radios, neither of which need be very expensive:


             1.) A general coverage AM/FM/shortwave receiver.

             2.) A VHF police/marine/aircraft/weather band scanner


Alternative Means of Emergency Communications


Home telephones—  Cordless required electrical power at your home to work. “Old Style” standard phone will   work even after a power outage if the phone lines are intact. Internet Phone Called Voice-Over-Internet-Protocol (VOIP), this system uses your High-speed internet connection for phone service. If you have a satellite internet connection, and a home-based source of electrical power, you could still have phone service even with a large regional electrical power outage.


Cell Phones—  Cell phones rely on cell phone towers that are powered from the power grid. When electricity fails in your area, cell phones may not be able to connect to a working cell tower. When the electrical power fails, you have two re-charging options:


             • Chargers that use your car electrical systems

             • Chargers that are connected to small solar PV pads


Satellite Telephone—A satellite telephone is a battery powered mobile phone that uses a radio connection directly to orbiting communications satellites which re-broadcast your call to either a land based phone center or to another sat-phone. Ideally, as long as the batteries in your sat-phone are charged, you can talk to anyone in the world who has a phone, regardless of the status of the electrical system in your area if they have electrical power in their area or a charged sat-phone.


Walkie-Talkies— There are two types of walkie-talkies available to the public. The first is a low-powered standard band, hand held unit and the second is the more powerful “commercial band” system used by businesses.     Before you purchase a set of radios, consider all the possible options and accessories so you get exactly what you    need.


Citizen Band Radios - There are three types of CB radio transceivers:


                          • Vehicle mounted

                          • Home base stations

                          • Hand-Held


CB radios generally have a much longer range than walkie-talkies. CBs are limited to no more than 12 watts of power, cheaper units do not have this transmitting power. CBs can be expected to have a 2 to 6 mile range depending on the power and antenna system.   CBs designed for the export market are not limited by current Federal restrictions since they are not used in the U.S. Commercially available CBs are limited to 40 channels and 4 watts of power for AM and 12 watts for single-side-band frequencies. Most are capable of nearly 20 watts AM and 40 watts side band.


Single Side Band Radios - A side band radio eliminates the carrier wave and one of the side bands so that all the transmitting power is used in the narrower side band signal. There are two side bands; upper side band (USB) and the lower side band (LSB). CBs designed to use single side band have 80 channels in addition to the “normal” 40 AM channels.


Antennas  - Always use an antenna that is rated above the wattage of your radios so your system is not limited by the antenna design. Antennas also need to be “tuned” to match the radio to which it is connected.  Base station antennas have two designs; the vertical and the beam.  The vertical element performs best in local communication situations while the beam design is better for longer distances.


A beam antenna is mounted on a motor that allows the operator to rotate the antenna by means of a control box.      The purpose of rotating the antenna is to “focus” the antenna to get the best signal strength for both transmitting and receiving in a specific direction.


Ham Radios  - Federal license is required. Ham radio systems are much more expensive than even the best CB system. Advantage of the Ham radio system is the world-wide reach.


Global Position System Receivers— GPS receivers are used in vehicles and hand-held models by many hikers. They are basically just an electronic location finder. The only drawback to GPS receivers is that in time of war the government could change the satellite control settings such that only military receivers would be accurate.


NOAA Radio Receivers— The National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) is responsible for monitoring severe weather, such as tornadoes and hurricanes. NOAA maintains a separate weather warning radio system from commercial radio systems.


Radio Scanners - Radio scanners, commonly known as “police scanners” can be used to monitor local emergency response unit communication.


Internet Communication—If you have internet access by satellite receiver and have a source of power for your receiver, your internet access will not be affected by local power outages as would cable or phone line internet connections.


Wireless Access  - Most laptops now come with wireless network hardware that can connect to wireless networks if you know the access codes. Additionally, service companies like Verizon offer a Wi-Fi plan that allows you to access their systems from longer distances.


Wi-FI Hotspots  - Wi-Fi Hotspots are small locally transmitted networks at places such as coffee houses, hotels, libraries and businesses. You can even tap into someone’s home wireless system if they have not enabled the security settings.


Wi-Fi Hotspot Finders—Small “Wi-Fi” finders can locate operating wireless networks as you drive or walk around that will allow you to connect to the internet with your laptop computer.


Television  - During a long-term, wide geographic power outage, cable TV and Over-the-Air broadcasts may be interrupted when their electrical backup systems run out of fuel or battery power. Having a home electrical generation capability, whether solar or gas powered, will allow you to continue to receive TV broadcasts if you use a satellite receiver system. For about $200 you can buy small hand-held TV receivers that use internal batteries. During a survival situation, these are nice to have in that they are light weight, portable and can be easily recharged from a vehicles electrical system

Communication Resources

             Ham Radio Call Signs



Amateur Radio Emergency Communications Training Manual

Communications Checklist


[   ]        Portable radio with batteries 
             AM/FM portable radio. Short Wave 

             reception is best, digital and analog 


[   ]        TV (battery operated, also with 
             AC is     better)  analog and digital 
             signal    capable 
[   ]           Device Batteries and Spares, fully 

[   ]           Battery Charging Units (House and



[   ]           Solar battery charger


[   ]           Cell Phone and charger for cell phone              including a 12 volt charger and extra              batteries


[   ]           Satellite Phone


[   ]           Windup Emergency radio


[   ]           CB radio/scanner and Base Station              System


[   ]           Walkie Talkies (0-5 miles) to transmit              and receive with extra batteries


[   ]           Ham Radio / Transmitter


[   ]           Take ham radio technicians exam


[   ]           Plans and equipment for making

             expedient antennas


[   ]           Radio and computer manuals and

             backup disks

[   ]           Internet access


[   ]           Pocket list of contact numbers for

             family, friends, team members (see

             also Information and Plans)


[   ]           Long distance phone calling card

             that doesn’t expire


[   ]           Pocket list of frequencies (see also

             Information and Plans)


[   ]           USB drive containing pocket computer              system (OS, files, programs, PGP, etc.)


[   ]           USB drive containing your data files


[   ]           Door Intercom for communicating

             with people outside your door, while              staying safe inside


[   ]           Other



Ham and Amateur Radio
Batteries and backup systems
Two way radios