Radio Communications in an Emergency


In a major disaster, the chances are your telephones won’t work.

Either the lines have been broken or loss of power has disabled some part of the system. Old style telephones rely on land lines and must go through a central office before getting distributed to another connection.  Lines may break or the office may be damaged.

Cell phones, on the other hand, “broadcast” your voice or data to antennas that are connected through a network of computers and then are re-broadcast from other antennas to the recipient’s location.  Even if you have a strong battery, if the antennas are damaged or the computers inoperative, cell phones won’t work.

And, finally, with everybody on a network trying to get through at once, the circuits (which typically can only handle about 10% of the total subscribers at best) will be overloaded and calls won’t go through . . . especially local point-to-point calls within the affected area.

The problem?  The central points that all calls have to go through to make connections. 

All these points rely on external power from the grid – which may be down as well.

So what’s the answer?

Very simply, walkie-talkies.  They are an inexpensive and practical way to communicate within a neighborhood between C.E.R.T. members. While their range is limited to a mile or less for most inexpensive units, that is usually sufficient for communicating within a neighborhood.  After all, since the frequencies are public, you really don’t want to be receiving other communities’ conversations in the middle of your response activities.

Why are Walkie-Talkies able to communicate when telephones can’t? Simple. These two-way radios are self-contained, providing their own power from rechargeable or replaceable batteries. They broadcast directly, point-to-point on the Family Radio Service (FRS) and General Mobile Radio Service (GMRS) assigned frequencies without the need to go through any central office or computer.

Action Item:  We advise people to keep one inexpensive (about $10 ea.) walkie-talkie unit in each room of a house or office so that people who may be trapped can communicate on a pre-agreed-upon frequency to notify searchers that they need help.

There’s much more here on the subject of communication and the discipline of CERT volunteers in using the different frequencies. We’ll also be addressing the question of power interruption and alternate power sources in an emergency.  Stay tuned.  But pick up a pair of radios in the meanwhile.

Your Emergency Plan Guide Team

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