Disaster Communications: Reaching Help During an Emergency

Most of us take calling for help for granted. The average American no longer relies on making it to a landline, instead of carrying a cellular phone with them 24/7. Help is as simple as dialing 911. Unfortunately when disaster strikes it may not be that simple. Cellular service can be disrupted and remaining services can quickly be overwhelmed. So how do you plan on calling for help if disaster strikes?

The recent hurricanes in Texas, Florida and Puerto Rico showed us just how vulnerable our communications network is. In some areas using your smartphone was simply not an option – towers were destroyed along with everything else. Those who could get a signal found the networks were overwhelmed by not only that assistance but also friends and family across the country trying to get updates. Although some social media sites and smartphone apps were suggested as alternatives to phone calls each relies on the overall network being up and running as well as someone else using the same program who can receive your message. Very few emergency agencies have the time and personnel available to monitor such programs or apps and often post their own messages cautioning against such means of reporting emergencies.

As a society we have grown accustomed to instant communication and when that is not possible panic ensues. If you have prepared for your own disaster survival it is vital that you include a secondary form of communications, one which will allow you to reach not only other members of your party but rescue officials as well. Here we will address some of the more readily available options as well as their Pros and Cons.

1. Pay phones- yes, I know it sounds silly but a pay phone may actually be the easiest backup lifeline available to you. Unlike your cellular phone, these are landlines, meaning they rarely rely on a tower for service. Plus, since so few people actually use landlines anymore, it is less likely they network will be overwhelmed. However, there are disadvantages. First, there are very few working pay phones still in service. Those that are working are generally in large public areas and not accessible to remote users. Second, accessing a pay phone will often require you to leave your home or other areas of safety to use it. Not only will you expose yourself to potential hazards it is unlikely you will be able to stay nearby and use it for regular communications.

2. Satellite Phones- you’ve all seen them in the movie and some of you have probably used them but few Americans own a satellite phone. Again, although they rely on a network or is satellite not tower based and unlikely to be taken out by a natural disaster. However, these units are not as reliable as Hollywood would make you believe. Not only are they limited by terrain, overhead vegetation and being inside they are not always able to connect to the satellite needed. The biggest deterrent for the prepped, someone who will only be using this phone is an emergency, is the cost. Hand units can cost upwards of $1000 and plans run approximately $2 per minute. The features mean that although a satellite phone is a viable secondary form of communications it is one best suited for those who have a regular need for one, due to overseas travel for example, but cost prohibitive for many others.

3. CB Radios – Citizen Band Radios, or CBs, were once common place in commercial vehicle, passenger cars, and even homes. When I was growing up almost everyone I knew had one and it was a regular means of communication while traveling. Like landlines, the CB radio was eventually replaced by modern technology and they are now used in a limited capacity. Although they are easy to use, dependable and have a decent range it is their lack of current popularity which limits their usability during emergencies. While they would be an effective means of keeping in touch with your family or group of friends you would be limited to those within range who also have a receiver. Some government agencies still maintain CB channels during disasters but the large civilian network is largely silent.


4. Amateur Radios- Amateur, or HAM, radios are one of the oddities of modern communication. Unlike CBs, landlines, and payphones they have survived the advances in technology which had largely killed many other systems. Although they are not widely used for day to day communication by the population at large there remains a very large and very active group of HAM radios enthusiasts who maintain the network globally. Not only do the majority of emergency management agencies maintain HAM networks during disasters many government agencies, including the military, still rely on the system as an emergency backup to more modern systems. Have a HAM radios system does require some investment for equipment, although handheld units are available which not only reduce cost but also allows for a more portable system. You also need a license to operate a HAM radio, but the requirements have lessened and with a little training and study this should not be a problem either.

If you are someone who wants to be prepared for when disaster strike you home communication is vital. As the recent hurricanes showed riding it out on your own, even with all the supplies necessary, sometimes becomes pointless. When the time comes to call for assistance communication will make the difference and hopefully, this will help you make the right choice for your situation.

Disclaimer: The content in this article is the opinion of the writer and does not necessarily reflect the policies or opinions of US Patriot Tactical.

Tom Burrell

Tom enlisted in the US Marine Corps Reserves in 1987. Following service in Desert Storm, he transitioned to active duty with the US Coast Guard. In 1997 he left the USCG to pursue a position in conservation & maritime law enforcement. Tom is currently a Captain and he oversees several programs, including his agency investigation unit. He is also a training instructor in several areas including firearms, defensive tactics and first aid/CPR. In 2006 Tom received his Associate’s Degree in Criminal Justice from Harrisburg Area Community College and in 2010 a Bachelor’s Degree from Penn State University.
Tom Burrell

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