In an emergency, it’s essential that you have multiple means of communicating with others. A cell phone may be your go-to option, but having access to handheld radio or satellite phones as alternate and backup communication methods could prove essential in keeping people safe and sound.
Amateur radio operators provide vital relief during grid failures or when cell networks become overwhelmed – filling any gaps that exist with their service.
Ham radio is an increasingly popular hobby, and an integral component of emergency communications planning. Hams have long understood its vital importance during times of disaster; FEMA and Red Cross frequently depend on local Hams as a vital form of community outreach during emergencies.
Ham radio operators (Hams) can legally transmit on multiple frequencies, including emergency broadcast and local emergency responder frequencies. Hams can even contact astronauts on the International Space Station as well as locations worldwide using this complex technology – making a useful addition to the survival toolbox of preppers who seek new skillsets to add their survival toolkits.
Whoever wishes to obtain a Ham radio license must pass an exam and select their own personalized call sign. There are three levels or classes of Ham radio licenses; Technician class license is an entry-level option requiring less study and experience than General and Extra classes which offer more technical challenges.
Ham radios are extremely portable and feature digital modes of transmission, making them an excellent choice for amateur use. Hams typically utilize repeaters – antenna systems designed to amplify and rebroadcast signals – on mountains or tall buildings in order to extend their range; repeaters also enable satellite communications in remote areas. Some experienced hams also create their own audio equipment by building touring systems for acts like The Who and Peter Frampton at Heil Sound in Fairview Heights Illinois while working for major manufacturers such as Icom and Yaesu; others work at major manufacturers’ headquarters while gatherings known as “hamfests” where traders and buyers/sellers meet in order to trade/sell their gear!
CB radios are portable communication devices capable of transmitting and receiving on one of 40 CB channels available at 27 MHz. Users must share these frequencies, and as part of CB etiquette it’s expected they listen before speaking out loud. Users also use call signs with either prefixes or suffixes attached that identify themselves to other users utilizing the CB channels.
CB radios were originally utilized by truck drivers to communicate road conditions and provide speed trap information to each other. Today, CBs remain popular choices among both truckers and other users who require short-range communications – as well as being effective emergency communications tools should other forms fail.
Most CB radios feature a microphone and speaker that enable users to communicate. Certain models feature digital displays which display channel information as well as other pertinent details, while others feature rotary controls that make navigating through all 40 channels easy. Some models also include an emergency channel designated as channel 9 that may come in handy during emergencies or traveler assistance situations.
CB radios can also broadcast NOAA weather alerts, identified by an audible tone. Some models can even connect to a PA system for use as an external loudspeaker system for speech communication with others. Other features include frequency counter, emergency alarm and power-off capability.
Some models come equipped with a push-to-talk button that activates the transmitter when pressed, making CB radios ideal for vehicles. Others may come equipped with noise-canceling microphones to enhance audio quality; most CB radios also include an indicator tone (called a “roger beep”) when someone unkeys their microphone to let other users know they have finished speaking.
FRS radios are what most laypeople associate with walkie talkies. You can often find these radios for sale at big box stores and online retailers without an FCC license to operate; typically small, rugged units that come ready to use right out of the box. Although GMRS models provide more features, FRS models still make reliable group communication possible without needing an official license from FCC.
Like their GMRS counterparts, FRS radios can be found throughout North America and many other nations – although regulations vary depending on where you use it. For instance, in Canada a two-way FRS certified for use in the US must also receive approval by Industry Canada before being allowed into use there to meet local regulations.
Maximum FRS power levels for channels 1-7 and 15-22 is two watts; 500 milliwatts can be applied for channels 8-14. FRS radios tend to have much lower bandwidth than their GMRS counterparts, making them more prone to noise and interference; it may therefore be preferable to stick with one channel until something that can be understood clearly is heard on that frequency.
FRS radios should ideally be kept within line of sight for maximum effectiveness, meaning you should be able to communicate easily with those across the street if both parties are outdoors, though communication may become more challenging if obstacles such as buildings or trees exist between you.
Most FRS radios feature a button that, when pressed, sends out an emergency distress call. Other FRS radios within range will then alert with distress signals as well and repeat this call until someone answers. Some FRS radios allow users to set custom channel names so that all parties involved know which channel they’re communicating on.
If you require more power than the FRS radios offer, then General Mobile Radio Service could be right for you. This licensed system operates on similar frequencies but allows up to 5W transmission on some channels and repeaters; additionally GMRS licensees may use occasional digital data bursts such as GPS data or text messages.
Your local Federal Communications Commission (FCC) offers General Mobile Radio Service Radio Licenses that cost $35 and last 10 years; there is no exam necessary. You can learn more about the application process and fees at their website.
GMRS radios boast more power than FRS models, with up to 50 watts on certain channels. Furthermore, these radios can operate repeaters that extend range by as much as 20 miles; duplex mode operation makes this even possible!
Some GMRS radios come equipped with built-in repeaters, while most can connect to external repeaters that you install in your home or vehicle. Repeters increase range significantly while providing access to distant locations.
Be mindful that GMRS radios are unencrypted and open, meaning anyone listening can hear what you are saying even with your privacy code active. Eavesdroppers must be within range listening on the same channel in order for this issue to arise.
GMRS radio may be more suitable if your goal is communication among friends and family during recreational activities than Ham radio, due to its higher range and access to multiple modes.
MURS Radio, also known as License Free Two-Way Radio Service (LFTRS), provides five channels on VHF business band that are accessible without requiring a license from any US citizen to transmit them. MURS is designed as a simple voice and data radio service for personal, family, and business communications; particularly helpful in remote areas with limited cell phone coverage – ideal for hunting, fishing, hiking, camping, etc.
Before selecting the MURS radio that’s best suited to your needs, make sure that it’s certified by the FCC for use with MURS. Also make sure it only transmits five channels from MURS; some radios offer more bands beyond MURS that may require additional licensing to operate properly.
An important consideration when purchasing a MURS radio is communication range. While low power ‘bubble pack’ MURS radios from department stores claim communication ranges of 20-35 miles, these distances may not be realistic unless on an unobstructed mountaintop. When selecting your radio model, look for models which allow transmission of up to 2 watts and consider getting several units so as to provide enough frequency diversity to cover all your needs.
For an exceptional MURS radio, look no further than the Motorola MURS-V1. It meets Part 95J certification and features five MURS channels that are easy to setup and use – perfect for business or individual users alike. Preprogrammed MURS frequencies make changing channels easy; plus there’s even an optional privacy tone feature, ideal for sensitive conversations.