Much has been written about amateur radio and why it’s the preferred communications medium for survivalists. I get it and have an amateur radio license. It’s used to provide emergency communications for my community but I also get that it’s not for everyone. Everybody has a set of needs determined by their specific pattern of life, abilities, training, age, mission, location, and many other factors. It’s important to understand the available options, especially for survival instructors, consultants and practitioners. We need to diagnose before we prescribe in all areas, including this one.
Have you hung around a bunch of hams? Get too many of them in one place and that would drive most folks flat nuts. I’m one of them and can still barely stand it!
NOAA All Hazards Weather Radios
Weather radios receive warnings about severe weather and other hazards up to 40 miles from NOAA transmitters. Some GMRS and commercial radios come with weather radio features or can be programmed with weather radio frequencies. These are the seven channels in the VHF band, every .250 MHz from 162.400 to 162.550. Weather radios only receive information but are very useful to warn the public about hazards.
NOAA All Hazards Weather Radios
There are two types of weather radios. The less useful of the two are the standard NOAA All Hazards radios. Only NOAA weather radios featuring Same Area Message Encoder (SAME) technology are programmable. SAME enables the user to program the radio to only alert them about severe weather hazards that occur in the county programmed. NOAA weather radios may have other features that manufacturers add as they see fit, but not all-weather radios are created equal. To get the features you want, you must verify them one by one or buy a NOAA Public Alert™ certified radio.
NOAA Public Alert™ Certified All Hazards Weather Radios
A weather radio must meet listed requirements to earn the NOAA Public Alert™ certification. These radios run from $30 to $200 and probably already own one if you live in tornado country. Many preppers who live in other parts of the country don’t understand their capabilities or why every prepper should own at least one.
Features of Public Alert™ Certified Devices
- Tone Alarm – The National Weather Service sends a tone alarm before most warning and watch messages are broadcast. This tone will turn on radios equipped with tone alarm even if they’re turned off to ensure that you get important alerts. Without this feature, users tend to sleep through important warnings.
- SAME Technology – As explained above.
- Selectable Alerting of Events – Whereas SAME technology only allows you to select a county, Selectable Alerting of Events allows the user to turn off alarms for events that they don’t need to hear about. For example, if they live 30 miles inland and don’t care about coastal flooding.
- Battery Backup – Power failures are common in emergencies.
- External Antenna Jack – Can greatly improve reception.
- External Device Jack – This jack can drive strobes or pillow shakers so it’s useful for users with special needs.
Citizen’s Band Radio Service (CBRS)
CB radio uses 40 license free channels in the 27MHz range. Average range of rigs is typically 1-6 miles depending on typical factors affecting radio communications. If conditions are right, CBs can communicate much further. The FCC had a rule that prohibited CB users from contacting others more than 150 miles away. That rule went away under some changes in 2017.
CB radio still sees wide use on the road as many truckers and motorists use them. Any communication method that puts you in touch with others is a useful one. The fact that CB radios are license free means that there are a lot of them out there. Plus, your name doesn’t have to go into the federal database to legally use one.
General Mobile Radio Service (GMRS)/Family Radio Service (FRS)
GMRS/FRS is a little confusing to many consumers because bubble pack radios sold in stores operate on both systems. GMRS requires a license whereas FRS doesn’t. Many users don’t understand where the FRS channels end and GMRS channels begin. Combine that with the millions and millions of radios sold. Kids everywhere are yammering away on GMRS channels at all hours which makes enforcement an impossible chore.
The FCC finally made revisions in 2017. You can read about that on Wikipedia, so no reason to repeat it here.
GMRS – GMRS Radios may use 5 watts on 7 channels, 0.5 watts on 7 more channels, and 50 watts on repeater channels. This gives GMRS some serious range. Licenses are $70, good for 10 years, extend to immediate family, and no test is required. You just pay the fee and get a license.
In areas with low population density, GMRS radios like the Baofeng® GMRS V-1 ($55) are one of the best radio options outside of amateur radio. They can legally be used for MURS channels, can receive NOAA weather radio channels, and scan 2 meter and 70cm bands. At this point, a ham always says, “Why would anyone buy one when they can get an amateur radio that does everything it does and more for less money?”.
- To Stay Legal – If you have family members who aren’t licensed and probably never will be, this option has better range than any other legal
- The License Applies to the Whole Family – $70 over ten years divided by the number of kids, grandkids, parents, and grandparents isn’t such a bad deal.
- To Not Be a Nuisance – The part 95 rules largely exist to keep users from becoming a nuisance. How could that happen? By giving a powerful radio to someone who doesn’t understand the rules or how to use it. Bubble pack radios are simple to use. So is the GMRS V-1 after it’s been programmed. I can give it to someone who isn’t a ham without worrying they’ll get me a huge fine.
FRS – Power restrictions for FRS radios went from 0.5 watts to 2 watts under the new rules, making them more useful. FRS radios use license free channels in the UHF band.
Multi-user Radio Service (MURS)
MURS is a system that includes five license free channels on 151 MHz & 154 MHz. Operating MURS radios doesn’t involve the privacy considerations that come along with FCC licensing. Radio transmitters are restricted to 2 watts. Anything goes with antennas so long as combined tower/antenna height doesn’t exceed 60 feet and they have a lot more to do with range than transmission power. MURS channels support both voice and data so there are some amazing products with serious survival applications that operate using MURS radios. This makes MURS a natural for tactical security communications for retreats. If you use Dakota Alert MURS motion sensor transmitters, then you already use MURS radios. These babies are great for ranches and retreats because their sensors operate on batteries, are easily hidden, and can transmit up to 2 miles from the sensor to a base station or handheld. They’re great for camp security too!
Other Two-way Radios
- Marine Radio – Limited utility. I only use them to communicate with other boaters on the water but they work fine in this role.
- Air Band Radio – Essentially the same deal as above, but for aircraft.
- Commercial Radio – Require commercial licensing and aren’t for private use.
There isn’t room to include a complete guide here, and it would be outdated within 6 months or so anyways. With burner phones, one must spend some money. Buy a prepaid phone with cash, preferably from a private individual. Then buy some minutes and set it up using a temporary email and/or ghost address. If it doesn’t work how you like, buy another one. Tracfone® has a prepaid card for $80 and the minutes don’t expire for a year.
Survival Uses for Prepaid Phones
- Self Defense Pack – You need more than just a firearm to defend yourself or your home. You also need a blowout kit (yeah, there is a good chance you could get shot), a less lethal option, spare mags, a knife, ID, a CCW, and … a cell phone to dial 9-1-1 that the cops may take with them as evidence. So, when you hear that bump in the night, don’t go scrambling to scrape everything together and making a racket rummaging through drawers in the dark. Strap that pack on and do what you have to do, knowing you have the necessary tools.
- Drop Phone – There are situations where a certain type of individual may think he saw you filming or on your phone and decide to take the phone as evidence. Turn off your encrypted main phone and use a little sleight of hand to make it disappear. Let him take the burner.
- Hideout Survival/Self-Recovery Phone – Some of us are at risk of being illegally restrained, taken hostage, or prisoner for one reason or another. They’ll take your weapon, knife, wallet, radio, and cell phone. They cannot take what they cannot find. There are wee little cell phones on the market in credit card and other tiny form factors that are easily hidden on one’s person.
- Burner Phone – Yes, another use for a prepaid cell phone is as a burner phone! Even if you cannot imagine needing a burner phone, it never hurts to have backup communications. It also gives you the ability to communicate with another person on a trusted phone.
Satellite Phones, Messengers and Wireless Access Points
Satellite phones and messengers can work almost anywhere on the planet. They don’t work well in slot canyons or beneath the canopy of a rainforest. Plans are also somewhat expensive but sometimes it’s nice to be able to call friends or home from almost anywhere on the planet.
Satellite Messengers – The latest messengers function as Personal Locator Beacons (PLBs). You press a button and it sends your position to a constellation of satellites. If you need rescue, it sends your message and position to a GEOS International Emergency Response Center. You can then communicate with them to coordinate rescue.
Just keep in mind that pressing that button will only do good if there is someone to come get you. Many countries don’t have money for a lot of search and rescue resources. The awesome thing about satellite messengers is that you can email or text a friend via satellite. Most people need a hand with self-recovery a hundred times for every one time they need to be rescued. There are times you don’t want a giant bill that could come with rescue. Know who would respond before you press that button and what the consequences will be.
GoTenna® & Beartooth®
GoTenna® and Beartooth® are kind of like a radio + GPS that your cell phone can use to send encrypted text messages, data, location sharing, and voice. At least this is the case for Beartooth®. They do this without the need for cell towers to be functioning, and can also charge your cellphone in a pinch. The survival applications here are obvious. We all carry around powerful computers in our pockets. Why not have them keep working if the grid goes down?
Mesh Networking – GoTenna® also has a more powerful mesh network product out now that creates a robust, off-grid, peer-to-peer mesh network.
- Encrypted 1-to-1 & Group Chat
- Text, GPS, Topo Maps
- Delivery Confirmation
- Point to Point Range
- Automated Channel & Interference Management
What communication medium to choose for you and your family can seem overwhelming as there are a ton of choices. After reading this article, know that some simple options can be very effective. The long and the short of it is that no prepper should be without a Public Alert™ certified NOAA All Hazards Radio. Keep in mind that the CB radio is a great resource and still widely used by motorists and truckers. Must have security equipment can operate on the MURS. GMRS radios are easily accessible and important for families. Every survivalist should have a prepaid phone in their home defense waist pack. It also may come in handy for other applications. The latest satellite messengers give users the functionality of a Personal Locator Beacon (PLB). It also has the added ability to contact friends, family, or local contacts. Sometimes you just need a ride, parts, or supplies instead of a full-on rescue. These simple communications systems will cover your needs if you don’t want to get as complicated as the ham radio.