A Quick Guide to SHTF Communications
Hitting the outdoors is one of the best ways to get away from the stresses of normal life. It gives you the chance to tear yourself away from screens and reconnect with nature, and even emulate a simpler way of living for a little while. However, at the same time, nature can be vastly unpredictable and sometimes SHTF, regardless of how smoothly you think the trip is going to go. Hence, it’s a must to come prepared.
When preparing for SHTF scenarios, you have to do more than just stockpile food and store water. Yes, they’re vital for keeping you alive but you also need a way to get out of the situation as soon as possible. That’s why every SHTF survival plan needs to include communications.
In this article, we’re going to give a crash course on the different types of SHTF communications you can rely on.
A portable long-range handheld walky talky can be quite handy when you’re well outside the range of a cellphone tower. If you’re going deep into the wilderness, then we recommend that you pick a long-range device. Most walkie talkie product specs will claim ranges of more than 30 miles or so but there’s a catch. Under normal conditions, walkie talkies can achieve ranges of 2 to 5 miles at best, depending on where you are. Elements like rocks, trees and foliage can obstruct radio signals, cutting down their range.
In order to hit a really long distance with radio signals, you’ll need to be able to use the GMRS channel on a walkie talkie. GMRS channels require an FCC license and they allow you to use repeaters. These are large devices that let you boost the signal and allow you to transmit over really long distances.
Walkie talkies do more than allow you to relay messages. A lot of modern devices come with very helpful survival features as well. For instance, most will have NOAA weather channels that alert to oncoming harsh weather conditions 24/7. Most come with built-in LED flashlights as well so you can find your way around safely during night time. In addition, you may get features like Vox (which allows you to operate the device without having to use your hands), SOS transmissions, frequency scans and more.
Portable radios are great alternatives to walkie talkies and can usually reach much longer ranges than the latter. Like walkie talkies, they operate on radio signals and aren’t dependent on cell phone towers.
In order to use a ham radio, you’ll need to get one of three types of licenses: the technician license, general license or amateur extra license which are offered by the American Radio Relay League (ARRL). Of the three, the technician license is the easiest and cheapest to get but it’s also the most limited. The technician license doesn’t permit you to operate on High Frequency (HF) radio bands which help you to achieve a really long range.
Like walkie talkies, most ham radios will also come with a few additional features. These include:
- Weather alerts
- Channel scan
- Squelch – which limits the amount of white noise and ambiance that enters your transmissions. This allows you to transmit an SOS message with much more clarity.
- Memory channels – these are basically channel presets that you can recall instead of having to dial them manually each time. This means you can have the emergency frequencies saved so that you don’t have to necessarily remember them.
Plus when using ham radio, you can have access to dedicated emergency services like ARES which are active consistently all over the world.
There are a couple of advantages to buying CB Radios. First of all, unlike ham radios, you don’t need a license to operate them. Secondly, they’re quite cheap and are readily available in the market. At the same time, there are a few cons as well. The biggest disadvantage is they don’t have the kind of range that you can get with a ham radio and a walkie talkie (if you’re using GMRS). In addition, most will require really powerful antennas in order to lock on to frequencies.
Are Cell Phones a good option?
Unfortunately, no. Mobile phones are quite useless out in the wild. If you’re going to be straying far away from cell phone towers, then best bring along a communication device that isn’t reliant on them. In addition to the lack of range, cell phone towers tend to get jammed during mass emergencies like a hurricane. While you might be able to send a text message through (if you’re in range) it’s very unlikely that you’ll be able to call for help.
What about Listen Only Radios?
As the name implies, listen-only devices only enable you to hear incoming transmissions. The advantage is that these devices use up much less power than two-way radios. This is handy if you’re short on a backup power system when SHTF. These radios are great for staying on top of important alerts like oncoming blizzards and storms while you’re out hiking or camping.
When STHF, you can’t only rely on food and water and just hope for someone to come rescue you. You need a reliable method to communicate with emergency services. Devices like hand-held walkie talkies and ham radios are your best when STHF. Unlike mobiles, they’re not dependent on cell phone towers and so are very handy in remote outdoor areas.