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Survival Radio: What Will Work

In any type of disaster (Hurricane, Earthquake, Economic Collapse, Nuclear War, EMP Blast/Solar Event, etc) your typical means of communications (Mobile Phones, Land Lines, Internet) will most likely be severed or severely impaired.  Now is the time to start your Survival Communications Plan.

I know from reading about past disasters and being in the middle of 9/11 myself that whenEmergency-Communications-Survival-Radio-Bug-Out-Bag disaster strikes, using your mobile phone (which we are all so heavily dependent on) can be a frustrating experience to say the least.  If you have ever tried to dial out and received the message “All Circuits Are Busy” then you know what I am talking about.

The question that a lot of us have not answered is how are we going to communicate with our loved ones and friends when all traditional communications will be at best unreliable or at worst nonexistent.  This is especially important in an Urban Survival situation.  The Emergency Communication question is one that seems to get very little attention and is wide open to speculation.


A small group trying to survive in hard times (which, depending from your viewpoint seems to be inevitable), will need to have a plan to communicate with each other as well as some form of back up plan.  Aside from smoke signals, there are modern options to consider for Survivalists and Preppers.  The three most readily available are GMRS or FRS radios, CB radios, and Ham radio.

GMRS/FRS: These survival radios are good for short distances with little terrain interference. Used as pagers/communicators inside a building or a camp, GMRS/FRS radios offer low-cost & convenience. Small and easy to carry, GMRS/FRS radio family biggest drawback is their range and their battery life.  Some of the manufacturers report that these survival radios will work up to 35 miles, but that is 35 miles over a flat surface with no interference.  Once you start putting trees, hills, houses, etc in the way the range drops dramatically.  While fine as a short range group communications tool, they lack the ability of medium or long range communications.

CB radios: Around for several years as an offshoot of Ham Radio, CB does not require a Survival-Communicationslicense and unlike amateur radio, it may be used for business as well as personal communications.  Enjoying a boom in the mid-seventies and are readily available today, CB radios are still the main short range communications choice for truckers and some of my red neck friends.   You can find CB’s fairly cheaply at yard sales, craigslist, ebay and flea markets.  Mandated by regulation as a low power device, the range on these radios is much greater when combined with a signal amplifier, or “Linear” Amp.  It is not advocated using a linear amp, however for the most part, enforcement of the restrictions are few and often only when an illegal stations signal interferes with other communication methods.  Long distance communication is possible when atmospheric conditions permit.  CB radios come in many different forms, ranging from legal 40 channel/4 watt models, to a grey-area type of “export radio”, that skirts legality by being built for ham radio use, but are easily modified for the CB band. Operating within the 10-12 Meter HF Band, CB radios need a longer antenna than UHF/VHF GMRS/FRS radios.

Ham or Amateur Radio: Offers the farthest operating range, and broadest array of emergency-communications-ham-radio-survival-empcommunication modes, from voice communication, to text, photo, video, and digital telemetry.  Requiring a license to operate, ham radio is well organized and self regulated.
Ham radio is fairly cheap to get started in as there are many used radio bargains around.  New ham radios cost run from hundreds to several thousands of dollars, but with frugal shopping one can set up a rather nice base station and talk all around the world.
Some of the best ham antennas are homemade, simple to conceal, wire antennas strung between trees.  This type set up is very portable if need be, and can be setup almost anyplace.  Mobile ham radio setups that are available that can talk all over the world.

Things to Consider

Text Messaging: It has been reported that during Hurricane Katrina, the only reliable way toEmergency-Communications-Urban-Unrest communicate was by Text Messaging.  This is a good piece of information to know if you are caught off guard in the next crisis.  While everyone else is desperately trying to call, you might be able to get your messages through via text.  I would recommend to plan as if Text Messaging will not work and if the crisis spills into multiple weeks you can bet that the service will no longer work at some point but this is still good information to know.

EMP Blast/Solar Event Considerations (Electromagnetic Pulse): Because we are talking aboutSurvival-knife-survival-radio electronics and two of the scenarios which many people plan for is an EMP type blast or the more likely scenario, a Solar Storm Event like the one that took place in 1859 (Carrington Event).  Because these threats are very real, you should try to store your critical electronics in a protective case.  One of the ways you can protect yourself from this scenario is by storing your survival radios and critical electronics in a Faraday cage.  While we are not going to go into “How to Build a Faraday Cage” in this article, I can assure you that there are a lot of examples out there on the web and youtube.

When selecting GMRS/FRS radios radios buy only models that will run on 12 volt DC power or rechargeable nickel metal hydride (NiMH) battery packs that can be recharged from your retreat’s 12 VDC power system without having to use an inverter.  Also look for the models that can also run on AA or AAA batteries as a back up.  As a secondary purchasing goal, buy spare radios of each type if you can afford them.  Keep your spares in sealed metal boxes (that are grounded)  to protect them from EMP.  If you live in a far inland region, I recommend buying two or more 12 VDC marine band radios.  These frequencies will probably not be monitored in your region, leaving you an essentially private band to use. (But never assume that any two-way radio communications are secure!)

Choosing a way to communicate outside normal everyday methods can be a daunting task. So much of it not only depends on your needs but how you can apply your limited resources.  The return on your investment is inconsequential as long as your ability to get your message heard at a critical time by the people you are trying to reach.

A good book to get you started on Emergency Preparedness is “Making the Best of Basics” by James Talmage Stevens

This article was a collaboration between David M. Hill Sr. of The American Preparedness Radio Network and The SurvivalCache Team

You can find out more about The American Preparedness Radio Network at

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