Surviving Natural Disasters: Communication

On April 27, 2011, North Alabama was hit hard with a massive, tornado infested, cold front. I was at work while my wife was at home with our children, over thirty miles away. Moments after the storms moved in, the electricity went out and shortly after that the cell tower that supports my home went down.

My wife was left with no electricity and no cell coverage. She was able to call me from the landline and I was able to keep her updated on the locations of the tornadoes. However, if I had been at home that day and not working second shift, we would have been unable to keep up. There are, however, several things we could have done, and have done since, to prepare for such a disaster.

The first purchase I made after the storms was a NOAA Weather Radio. The radio came with instructions to program the counties that affect me and my family. It contains a 9v battery that allows it to work even when the power is out.

Though it is not as specific as news broadcasts, it provides an automated voice warning of conditions, locations of weather warnings and instructions for those in the affected area. This step should be taken by everyone, despite what other steps are taken.

The next purchase should be a hand crank radio. These can be plugged into an outlet or, when the power is out, they can be cranked to recharge their internal battery. Some of the higher end models can be used to charge cell phones and other gadgets.

The benefit of these is that often during storms, the local radio stations will cut to live storm coverage. Also, in extended periods of power outage, the sound of music can help alleviate some of the boredom that is often present during disasters.

Next on the list of purchases is a good amateur radio, also known as a Ham radio. Experience has proven that Ham operators are some of the best sources of information that is often broadcast before any other source. The drawback is that, after you learn the frequencies and how to program the radio, you must be licensed to transmit.

You can monitor the frequencies without a license, but transmitting without proper licenses could land you in a lot of trouble with the FCC. In short, there is a lot more information you need to know to use an amateur radio, but I find them to be worth the extra effort.

One advantage of using a ham radio is that the system is not centrally operated, with sites independently operated throughout an area, thus decreasing the chances of the entire system going down.

Another good purchase is a CB or Citizen Band Radio. These radios operate at a lower frequency than ham and do not require a license to transmit. They are extremely useful to communities that have several operating radios.

While the range is limited, they can be operated from vehicle to vehicle to relay information. Police and rescue channels can be monitored, as well as, channel 19 “the highway channel”, which is used by truck drivers throughout the nation. CB radios are as cheap or expensive as you want them to be. The high end models transmit further and give the operator more options and specific control of reception and transmission.

Communication is often overlooked during disasters, but can prove to be very valuable. Though, no single preparatory action can fill all of your needs during a disaster, every single action builds a foundation of survival that can withstand nearly any possible threat.

Do you have an Emergency Action Plan with neighbors including communication alternatives?

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