Communications in Emergencies
During emergencies or disasters most electrically operated communication devices shut down. They need power to operate, but with a little preparation, most communication devices can come alive when they are needed most. Solar panels or small wind generators generate power, batteries store power, and inverters will power or charge the 120v AC communication devices. 12v DC equipment operate directly off of battery power. Though not readily available, small 12v DC or solar operated flashlight battery chargers have great value during extended power outages.
Amateur Radio, CB, Wi-Fi, Shortwave, VHF & other forms of Communications
Types of Communications:
In the 50's the invention of the transistor radio was heralded as a revolution in communications. When it comes to emergencies the problem is, most of us do not have one of these things available with fresh batteries. During the East Coast power outage in 2003 the news media picked up on a fellow who had one and took it outside for his neighbors to listen. This event actually got national news coverage because most people in the blackout had no battery powered radios to keep informed. Unbelievably sad, but true. Most radio and television stations have back-up generators to transmit emergency communications - but we need the minimal equipment to hear it! I have used a small solar operated flashlight/radio for years without ever buying batteries.
There's nothing amateur about amateur radio! If you are not a HAM operator, get to know one in your area. You can usually find them by the various types of antennas in their yard. During virtually every disaster HAM operators are very active providing emergency commmunications. During Hurricane Katrina 500 amateur radio enthusiasts were providing about the only emergency communications service in the Gulf. Here's an ARRL announcement about Hurricane Rita. Check out ARRL for more information about this great hobby and important service. You need a special FCC license to operate these radios, and there are various levels of participation. Larger back-up power is needed as most of this equipment uses more power to transmit long distances. Shortwave receiver radios can listen in on local police/fire department frequencies as well as communications world-wide. These receiver radios are available to everyone, but try to get the largest and highest quality one you can afford, unless it goes in your mobility "bug-out" bag.
Boy Scouts learn morse code, mirror signals, hand signals and other forms of short to medium distance communications. It might be a good idea to learn a few of these methods.
When the power is out our computers will be out too. No email, no internet access. All aspects of the internet run on electrical power, including our computers. Even if we use a lap-top with batteries, there probably won't be any internet to log on to. Enter Solar Powered Wi-Fi! A community in Colorado is investing in a local solar operated wi-fi system just in case the power goes out. About time!
Of course we know that in a power outage cell phone towers are out too, but not all. During the aftermath of Hurricane Katrina many residents stuck in attics used their cell phones to call for help. The batteries didn't last too long so some means of charging the batteries should be addressed.This popular essential device could save your life if proper preparations are made.
Most walkie-talkie devices are short/medium range (2-15 miles). These are good if everyone in your group or family has one and a plan is in place for frequency use. Batteries are needed so a way to charge flashlight batteries should be devised.
CB's have a longer range and most of us don't use them any more. Too much cussing and horsing around on the air-waves. Here's where de-regulation killed the popular use of them. Most truckers have CB's because they are invaluable for the road. Most CB's operate directly off 12 volts so a solar powered low voltage system is ideal.
Technology changes daily. During local or regional power outages the satellites still are doing their thing out in space. If you have a device that operates on a satellite signal, then chances are it will work during a power outage, providing you have back-up power to operate it here on earth.
If you don't want to transmit information on these special radio frequencies, you can listen in for important information by scanning the police, fire department and emergency responder frequencies in your area. Scanners need the local frequencies to be programmed in the radio, but this is a simple procedure. Small battery operated hand-held scanners, 12v DC and 120v AC scanners are available at your local Radio Shack or Electronics dealer.
More about Emergency Communications:
Popular Communications - This magazine regularly discusses many aspects of emergency communications. Available on larger magazine racks or by subscription.
The ARRL Emergency Communications Handbook - ARRL publishes several books on the topic.
Emergency Power for Radio Communications - Discusses how your radios stay "hot" during power outages. Includes info on solar power.
Guide to Emergency Survival Communications
Communications for Survival and Self-Reliance
Amateur Radio Today video download with Walter Cronkite (70meg)
When Trouble Strikes (scroll down page) great info!
Small television sets are available with 12v DC or flashlight battery operation. They are available in color or black-and-white, readily available and many are inexpensive.
ARRL: Emergency Communications
AREC: Home Page
Solar backpacks to provide power for communications
Flexible solar panels to charge devices.