Emergency Radio Communications

Types of radio

There are a few choices when it comes to two way radios. Having one does you no good if there isn’t someone on the other end to talk to. If you have someone in mind you want to keep in touch with in an emergency, you can simply get one for each of you. If you don’ t have anyone in particular to keep in touch with, you can check your local city and/or county authorities for disaster preparedness guidelines. Sometimes they will suggest a type of radio for your area. Here is a rundown of the more common types.

CB

CB radios were once widely used by truck drivers and other motorists to communicate on the highway. Cell phones have reduced the use of these radios, but not eliminated them. CB radios are still widely used for professional and recreational communications across the country. In an emergency, it is possible to contact help on CB channels 9 and 19. A hand held CB will only get 1-2 miles range. A good mobile CB radio (installed in a vehicle) with a 4 foot antenna will get about 4-5 miles. This range limitation is due to the 4 watt power limit put on CB radios by the FCC. It is possible to get more range by adjusting or modifying the CB.

FRS/GMRS

Family radio service or FRS frequencies are commonly used in ‘walkie talkie’ type radios. These radios are used a lot for family activities like hunting, fishing, camping, hiking, etc. GMRS frequencies are usually included on these radios. GMRS frequencies legally require a license, but only something like .02 percent of the people operating on these frequencies actually carry one.

The range on these radios is limited to 1-2 antennas. FRS and GMRS radios have a fixed antenna, so you cannot extend the range.

10 meter

10 meter radios (also known as amateur or ham radios) have long been in use by hobbyists and various organizations. The biggest drawback to a 10 meter is they require a license. This is greatly offset by the power and range they provide. I would suggest if you are going to get one to just get the license, but in an emergency, I doubt anyone is going to complain. The range on a 10 meter radio depends on the power output and antenna setup for the radio. The Magnum 1012 hand held 10 meter will get upwards of 10 miles on USB. A Galaxy DX94HP mobile 10 meter radio with a 4 foot antenna can get a 100 miles range. Many 10 meter radios can also be modified to get the same range on CB frequencies, though this technically isn’t legal.

Listening

Even if you have a good two way radio, it isn’t bad to have some kind of receive only radio to get information on. While you can’t send out a signal with them, these radios can receive information from sources hundreds of miles away, possibly guiding you to evacuation area or warning of dangerous areas and situation.

AM/FM

If you haven’t heard of AM/FM radio, you may want to get out more. AM/FM , more commonly FM, radio is a daily part of most American’s lives. They’re used in almost every vehicle, portable radios are used by joggers, alarm clocks, etc. You’ve probably heard a test of the emergency broadcast system on the radio. It comes across as an irritating buzzing noise followed by a message stating something to the effect of “This has been a test of the emergency broadcast system”. In an emergency situation, you will most likely be hearing important information on most FM stations.

Weather/alert

The National Oceanic and Atmospheric (NOAA) operates a collection of transmitters across the country that continually broadcast weather information and also broadcast alerts and emergency information related to various situations. A special kind of radio is required to pick up these broadcasts. A good weather/alert radio with SAME technology can be programmed for your local county so that you receive alerts whenever there is an emergency situation close by.

Scanner

If you don’t have an AM/FM radio or a weather/alert radio available a radio scanner (also known as a police scanner or race scanner) can be a good alternative to get information. Depending on the scanner’s capabilities, they can pick up a wide range of frequencies, including the NOAA frequencies. Like the AM/FM radios and weather/alert radios, they cannot transmit a signal.

So what should you get?

For communicating, I would recommend getting a good 10 meter radio that can be converted for CB easily. The DX94HP is a great 100 watt radio. Converting for CB frequencies is as easy as switching on solder point.
It would also be a good idea to have a decent set of FRS/GMRS radios for portable short range communications. The GXT1000VP4 and GXT1050VP4 are great options.
Finally, get a good AM/FM-weather/alert combination radio. The Midland WR300 is one of the more popular.

Ken Meeks is the operator of Wilderness-Survival-Gear.com and CBWorld.com.  He has several years experience in both the radio communications and emergency preparedness fields.