Communication Devices for Emergencies
Landlines: While not as common as they once were, landlines are useful if you are sheltering-in-place. Landlines don’t require electricity to work unless they are the ones that have portable hand units, as the base stations are plugged into electricity. Older phones that plug in directly to a wall jack will continue to work unless the actual phone line is damaged. If you have a phone unit that has a portable hand set, keep an older (non-electric) phone that plugs into a phone jack to use during a power failure.
Cell phones: Cell service is still not available in many rural locations. Cell phones may or may not work depending on whether or not the towers have been damaged. It is easy for the system to become overwhelmed so during an emergency your calls should be limited to emergency contacts.
Internet-capable Devices: Cell phones with data plans, pads, tablets and computers. Emergency information is posted on government and emergency broadcast websites. Generally, you can sign up with your local government Emergency Operations so that emergency warning messages are sent directly to your phone. Apps are available for many emergency situations. Social media can be a very good way of staying in touch with family. These pieces of technology may not work if cell towers are affected and Wi-Fi is not always accessible in rural areas.
Satellite Phone: Commonly referred to as Sat-phones, these are very popular with people who live and work in remote areas as they will work almost anywhere in the world as long as there is clear access to the sky. However, they are expensive to purchase and use.
Satellite Emergency Notification Devices (SEND): SEND units work off satellite networks, and allow you to send pre-selected text messages along with your GPS location. This is a very useful device if you are in any emergency situation where you are cut off, unable to reach help or need rescue. Many people who live, work and recreate in the wilderness use this type of emergency communication. They are cheaper than Satellite phones but don’t allow you to speak with someone. A SPOT specifically works with the Globalstar satellite network. Garmin has inReach devices that work with the Iridium satellite network.
Personal Locator Beacons (PLB): Emits a distress signal that is picked up by satellite. Often used by back country skiers or snowmobilers who may be involved in avalanches but can be used by anyone outside of regular cell service.
Radios: Emergency Alerts, Weather Alerts & Forecasts, Evacuation Alerts & Orders, Updates, etc. are still broadcast over radios, sometimes on dedicated channels. There are units that are available with extras such as a flashlight and USB charging ports. Some are multi-chargeable; plug-in AC, solar DC and hand crank DC. In your vehicle you have a choice between AM/FM radios and Sirrius/XM radios, both of which are linked to the Emergency Alert System (EAS). Short wave radios are no longer as popular as they once were but still work with mostly amateur broadcasting stations.
Amateur (Ham) Radio: These radios allow amateur radio operators to connect with each other, however they require training and a licence to operate. They may be large base units that can communication with people from around the world or smaller hand held units.
Two Way Radios (aka Walkie Talkies): These often have limited range but if you are convoying with others, they can help you keep in contact in case you lose sight of each other, get lost or need to communicate about stops. They can help if you are separated in crowds.
Citizen Band (CB) Radios: Generally used by truckers and others in the transportation industry but are also widely used by the general public. They do not require a licence.
Scanners: These devices monitor emergency communications channels between police, fire departments, search & rescue units and ambulances. Personal users cannot make calls or respond over this type of unit but they allow people to stay informed of the emergency procedures that are occurring. In some areas emergency services are changing to digital communications and can no longer be picked up on scanners.
Chargers: Ensure that you have at least one AC wall plug in charger with multiple USB ports as well as a portable storage bank charger. There are solar powered bank chargers available as well as AC units, and ones with multiple ports. Include a spare charger cord that is compatible with each of your devices. Mobile radios require their own charging stations. Walkie Talkies often have their own charging units as well. Chargers that plug into vehicle power outlets (lighter sockets) are excellent so that you can charge your devices or charger bank while driving. Inverters allow you to plug in AC devices while driving.
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