Posts Tagged ‘walkie-talkie’

Emergency Communications Revisited

Thursday, October 5th, 2017


Cell phone no signal

Hard to imagine: “Puerto Rico residents still without communications, now into third week . . .”

But it was hard to imagine that the U.S. would be hit by back-to-back-to-back hurricanes and flooding, too.

Emergencies happen. Overnight they can turn into disastersAnd if you’re caught in the middle, you want to know what’s happening and be able to reach out to let others know what’s happening.

It’s time to take another look at personal emergency communications.

What you’ll grab first – your cell phone!

Since most people have their phone within reach 24/7, it’s likely to be your first choice in an emergency. Phones can connect with family, receive electronic alerts, and come up with what to do in case of disease, traffic jams, etc.

Cell phone tip: Pre-program your cellphone with important emergency numbers (police, fire, utilities) and create a “group” with family members so you can reach them all quickly.

Your cell phone is an important tool, as long as it’s working.

Three reasons why your cell phone may not work in an emergency:

  1. Cell phone towers are pretty sturdy, but can be damaged and even knocked down by big winds or a big earthquake. Result: no service at all.
  2. Service can be overwhelmed by too many people trying to use it at once – ex., the Boston Marathon. Result: busy signal.
  3. Your phone may, and eventually will, run out of battery unless you have made provisions to keep it charged.

Three ways to have a better chance of getting through. 

  1. Text or tweet instead of calling. These messages need far less bandwidth and can be “stored” in the system until they’re deliverable.
  2. Send your message or call your out-of-town family contact instead of local friends or family members. Naturally, this arrangement has to be set up in advance.
  3. Carry a battery back-up for your phone – one of the power banks or a solar charger – to give yourself a better chance of eventually getting through. Some emergency radios can charge a phone, too. (Want more on batteries, power banks or solar chargers? Here’s an Advisory covering these devices.)

 No cell phone? Don’t forget to try a land-line.

When a power outage has crippled communications, a simple phone attached to a landline may still have a dial tone. Of course, you have to know whatever number it is you want to call!  (That’s why you have memorized a few numbers, right?)

And as we’ve said many times, the operator answering your cell phone 911 call only knows approximately where you are, particularly if you are in a high-rise building. A landline pinpoints your location.

Facing a longer term outage?

Puerto Rico has been cut off for weeks. But not EVERYONE there is cut off!

Three kinds of emergency communications are being used there by people who were prepared in advance of the storm.

  1. Short-reach walkie-talkies. Depending on the quality of the instrument, the weather and the terrain, battery-operated walkie-talkies can connect people across the street or across town.We recommend that all families and neighborhood emergency response groups consider getting their members walkie-talkies (with extra batteries). Even small children can master their use easily. See a couple of examples below, and take another look at our updated Walkie-Talkies Reviews to see if you are considering adding walkie-talkies to your emergency supplies: Walkie-Talkies/ 
  2. Wider-reach HAM radios. This is the one option mentioned more than any other by the professionals in my LinkedIn group. Over 3,000 ham radio operators have been active in Puerto Rico since the hurricane hit. They have been assisting the American Red Cross to gather records about survivors, transmit personal messages to families, and help dispatch power authority crews. (Article: Amateur Radio Volunteers Aiding Storm-Ravaged Puerto Rico, US Virgin Islands)You can get started with a HAM radio for less than $100, but realistically you’ll probably want a better device and additional equipment (power supply, antenna, etc.) so budget for more. Joe is a licensed HAM operator and wrote more about the radios and training, here:
  3. Satellite phones for world-wide connection. As the name suggests, these phones use satellites to carry their calls. When cell towers are down or you are so far from civilization that there are no towers (mid-ocean? Antarctica?), this might be your best bet for staying in communication.As you might imagine, it costs a lot more to own and use these phones. Prices for most devices themselves (some rather like a clunky cell phone, others more complex, like a computer with handset) range from $500 to $1500 or more. Prices for actually using the phones start at around $40/month at the low end, or you can buy by the minute. More details here.

Examples of hand-held emergency radios

Most emergency radios are compact, though they are heavier than a regular cell phone. And, they will require practice before you can tune them successfully. Don’t think they are terribly expensive.  Most of them cost less than the latest Apple iPhone.  Some examples are below. Click on the image to go directly to Amazon for full details and current pricing. (We are Amazon affiliates. I’m happy to refer you there because items are almost always available and prices are often better than anywhere else.)

Baofeng -- Basic 2-way dual band HAM radio; VHF and UHF; costs around $70-80. Yaesu -- Mid-range quad band HAM radio. Submersible. Yaesu makes several; this one costs around $500. Irridium Satellite Radio. Click on image and go to Amazon where you should read the reviews, particularly the one about Alaska. Cost around $1,000.

And here are a couple of examples of walkie-talkies. We own and have used both models; the Uniden is what the members of our Neighborhood Emergency Response Team use and practice with every month. Click on the image to get details at Amazon.

Good basic walkie-talkies. Great for local group, family or workplace. Easiest-to-manage buttons. Cost around $40 a pair.I like these because they're yellow and not so hard to locate in an emergency! Alkaline or rechargeable batteries; NOAA weather channels. Cost around $70 a pair.

If a radio and/or battery charging device sounds as though it makes sense to you, get started on your purchase now. It’d be hard to find someone selling one during a disaster.

Your Emergency Plan Guide Team

P.S. An upcoming Advisory will be on serious solar panels designed to drive all these communications devices.  If you haven’t signed up to get ALL the Advisories, do so now! (Fill out the form below!)

When to Activate Your Emergency Team

Sunday, March 5th, 2017

Quick! Call the Fire Department!

Emergency call


Just before Christmas we had a fire here in our neighborhood. One of our neighbors heard a “ZAP” as he turned on the overhead light, and noticed smoke curling from the fixture. He ran outside to grab a garden hose, but as he scrabbled around to find it and then opened a sliding porch door to get back into the house, the fire exploded and knocked him right back down the stairs.

Ultimately, the home burned  down. Our neighbor was pulled safely away from the steps by an on-the-ball visitor. And fire engines arrived to protect the houses on either side.

What was our Neighborhood Emergency Response team doing during all this?

One member of our team was the first to call 911. Other members arrived on foot and helped keep the streets clear for emergency vehicles. (When the police arrived, the police took over, of course.)

Somewhere along the way, a few phone calls alerted other members of our team, including our group “Commander” (me), whose home is far enough away that this all went on without my even realizing it!

Later, we discussed how things went.

Decide: Big Emergency or Small Emergency?

Our group has been set up to help people prepare for “widespread emergencies when First Responders are overwhelmed and unable to respond.” Usually, that means preparing for “the big one (earthquake).” In that case, it will likely be hours if not days before our community gets assistance. We’ll need to deal with possible structural damages, roadway blockages, injuries, need for food, etc.

Our group educates and trains for big emergencies. It does not activate for localized, small emergencies, such as a fire or some sort of medical emergency. Those belong to the professionals.

We confirmed that this fire did not officially fall within our charter.

Choose: Active Bystander or Emergency Response Team member?

At the same time, when any of us hear a loud crash, or hear sirens and see an emergency vehicle pull up down the street, we’re curious and want to help if we can.

Individual members of our group have helped out in situations like this in the past:

  • At an accident in town, one member, first on the scene, parked her car across a lane to keep the victim from being run over.
  • One member alerted a hotel employee to grab his fire extinguisher when she saw flames coming from underneath a bus unloading passengers at the entrance.
  • One member used his “gas sniffer” to reassure a neighbor about a strange smell – and discovered a leak in his own BBQ! (That same gas sniffer operator has identified the smell of marijuana, too. Those are stories for another times . . .!)

The point is, many team members are ready and willing to step up without waiting for a formal group activation command.

When you recognize and safely intervene in potentially dangerous situations, you fit the definition of active bystander. (There is also the “passive bystander,” someone who recognizes a bad situation but takes no action to stop or solve it. That’s not likely to fit anyone reading this Advisory.) In those cases, you’re acting as an individual and not as a CERT or neighborhood group member.

Communicate better for better results.

Part of CERT training is being ready to take charge. In the incidents described above, our individual CERT members made decisions and got other people to follow orders. We’ve often discussed the importance of projecting authority with the help of:

  • Loud, simple verbal commands (“Come to me.”)
  • Appropriate hand signals (“Stop.”)
  • A uniform (vest and/or helmet)

And when appropriate, you’ll want to activate your team.

Verbal commands and an authoritative posture work here, too. And for the group to function best, you need appropriate tools and protocols. After the recent fire, we reviewed our own communication protocols.

Communication steps.

Here’s what we agree on:

  1. Use a phone to CALL 911. (Don’t text to 911.)
  2. Use cell phone, landline, email and/or text messaging to alert other members of the team. (Have their numbers programmed into your phone’s memory.)
  3. Switch to hand-held radios (walkie-talkies) for efficient, immediate group-wide communications – or if regular phone service is out.
  4. Set up command center to manage a larger network. (Our command center is an officially-recognized HAM radio station with direct contact to the city’s emergency communications system.)

As we’ve described, our local group practices using our hand-held radios with a regularly-schedule monthly drill. Our HAM radio station operators belong to a city-wide group; they practice weekly.

Essential tools and equipment.

This Advisory points to the equipment that every group member needs to have and be familiar with. In particular:

Simple team uniform – a vest.

CERT graduates have their own vests; all our group members who aren’t CERT grads are issued inexpensive vests like this one. (They’re not likely to be worn often, so they don’t need to be top quality.) We encourage our members to carry their vests in the car, assuming their car will be where they are in an emergency.

Ergodyne GloWear 8020HL Non-Certified Reflective High Visibility Vest, One Size, Lime

Personal cell phone.

Everyone has his own phone, with his own provider. However, for emergency team members that phone needs to be able to store numbers. The owner should sign up for local automated alert programs (iAlert).

And the owner needs to know how to send a text! (Some of your members not too sure? Check out this Advisory.)

Hand-held radios (walkie-talkies) for team members.

We have reviewed walkie-talkies several times. As with all electronic devices, you can expect changes in what’s available. In any case, you should be able to get a short-range pair of hand-held radios appropriate for your local group for $30-40. Read our review page – it has questions to help you decide just what capabilities you need, and shows several popular models. We particularly like this Uniden model because the buttons clearly show how to change channels and raise and lower volume. Some of the smallest walkie-talkies combine functions on just one button, making it harder to figure out.

Uniden GMR1635-2 22-Channel 16-Mile Range FRS/GMRS Battery Operated Two-Way Radios – Set of 2 – Black

If you’re a candidate for a ham radio (and the licensing that goes along with them), here’s an article about these radios, too, with some info about how they differ from simple hand-held walkie-talkies. Prices vary from $50 to $450, so know what you need before you buy!

BaoFeng BF-F8HP (UV-5R 3rd Gen) 8-Watt Dual Band Two-Way Radio (136-174MHz VHF & 400-520MHz UHF) Includes Full Kit with Large Battery

Emergencies happen frequently. Some we can help with, others are handled by First Responders and we have no role. Still, when a real emergency DOES happen, and you are there as witness, being ready to take positive action is something to feel confident about, and proud of.

That’s why we train, isn’t it?!

Your Emergency Plan Guide Team

The examples in this Advisory are all drawn from our own neighborhood group. They could just as well apply to a workplace group. If you are responsible for emergency preparedness at work, go back and see if your leaders and team members have the essential tools and equipment they need.




Getting Serious about Emergency Radio Operations

Wednesday, November 25th, 2015

ARRL Emergency CommunicationsIt shouldn’t come as a surprise to anyone who is seriously interested in emergency preparation and response that the Amateur Radio Network (made up of Ham Radio Operators) is a valued part of the community.

You’ve read here about how our Neighborhood Emergency Response Team members communicate with each other via walkie-talkies. But that’s limited to within the neighborhood. When it comes to knowing what’s going on in the “outside world” and letting the outside world know what’s going on here, we plan to use our Ham Radio Operators.

Our Neighborhood Ham Radio Operators

We have three licensed Amateur Radio Operators. Each has his own equipment and is capable of communicating directly with city officials. And our neighborhood group recently purchased a more powerful base station with longer reach, giving us the ability to communicate directly with county and other civic operations that will be activated in a major disaster.

(Our team worked closely with the tech group at the city police department to come up with specifications for our mobile radio station. The station can be moved to wherever it will be most effective. It is designed for duo usage: the first option, using amateur ham radio bands, can be controlled by our ham operators, with direct contact with the local Emergency Operations Center. If no ham operators are available, option two allows trained team members to monitor and transmit relevant info on the FCC two-meter commercial band.

The system cost about $1,600. It consists of a transceiver, power supply and back-up battery, mounted on a rolling cart, with separate folding antenna with tripod legs.  If you are interested in the actual specs, let me know and I’ll be happy to forward them.)

Ham Radio Resources for Review

Before you invest in any equipment for yourself or your group, we recommend you study some of the references on the subject and, of course, involve someone in the community who is already licensed. Better yet, become licensed yourself. That process will give you an idea of what equipment you really need.

Here are some of the books that we have in our library . . .

The ARRL Introduction to Emergency Communication Course

ARRL stands for American Radio Relay League, Inc.. ARRL was founded in 2014 and now has 150,000+ members in the USA. Many ARRL members have registered to be part of ARES, the Amateur Radio Emergency Service, which works with FEMA, the American Red Cross, Salvation Army and other response organizations.  This book does a good job of distinguishing between all the various “alphabet organizations” associated with ham radio operation.  In over 300 pages, what it does best is prepare you to get a license and take your place as a resource within the emergency communications network.



The ARRL Emergency Communication Handbook

This handbook takes info from the basic course and puts it in action in a number of scenarios. You’ll find out how ham operators perform in a widespread emergency, how best to set up your system and your people for a given event, etc. Some excellent charts.




The ARRL Ham Radio License Manual: All You Need to Become an Amateur Radio Operator

The subtitle of this book is, “Get on the air with confidence.” It contains all kinds of advice for the new user about picking your first radio and antenna, how to set up your station for best results, dealing with weak signals, etc. Many diagrams, photos and screen shots are helpful.




Now You’re Talking: All You Need for Your First Amateur Radio License

Now You’re Talking! Will help you pass the Element 2 test by providing detailed explanations for all questions plus explanation of FCC rules. You’d be surprised at how often you need to know these details!


Emergency Power For Radio Communications

Once you’ve assembled the basics, you’ll want to know how to keep everything up and running. This book has (sometimes exhaustive!) details on options for emergency lighting, emergency power (solar, generators, batteries), instrumentation, and more — with case histories and DIY guidance.

These books look similar because they are published by ARRL, but I found little overlap or duplication.  Use Amazon’s handy “Look Inside” function to check on the tables of contents for more detail. (Click on the images above and you’ll go directly to the book itself at Amazon.)


Joe Krueger
Your Emergency Plan Guide Team

P.S.  Keen about listening in to what the police are doing? In “the old days” (which might have been only a couple of years ago) a police scanner provided a fascinating real-time window into law-enforcement activity. But that window may have been closed. Today, many if not most police communications are encrypted

Depending on where you live or where you’re tuning in, your ham radio or even a simple app downloaded to your smart phone may receive fire and emergency medical team transmissions, but perhaps not police. Have you used any of the police scanner phone apps?  What’s been your experience?

P.P.S.  Interested in learning more about walkie-talkies as the first level of emergency communications? Check out these related posts:

Top Survival Resources: Five Popular Stories and Subjects

Tuesday, November 3rd, 2015

Top Survival TrendsAfter 15 years of training and writing about disaster preparedness, and with well over 250 articles under my belt, I discover that some topics keep coming up again and again – in the news media, in questions people ask, and on the various internet sites and in specialty magazines that report on “survival trends.”

Thanks to Google Analytics, we can track which articles are most often viewed on our site, too – and they reflect these same topics.

Here are . . .

Five of the most popular topics on

with links that will take you immediately to more information on our site, and in many cases to outside resources including government and special industry sites.

Are you in the mainstream? Are these among YOUR favorite subjects? Check them out!


1. Emergency Radios and Radio Communications

If there is one topic that stands out, this is it.  In fact, radios and radio communications are twice as popular as anything else we report on!

A radio for your personal survival kit.

Are you ready to buy an emergency radio for yourself or a family member?  Check out our Updated Reviews of Emergency Radios with comments about solar, hand-crank, etc. Most of the radios we discuss are found on Amazon, where prices are as good as they get, and buyer comments are very helpful in selecting the best fit for your needs.

Two-way radio communications for groups.

Interested in how to use radios effectively for your group, whether it’s your family or a neighborhood response team? Then you need a way to not only listen, but also to speak.

We have used many different models, and review walkie-talkies here. also has a number of Advisories on walkie-talkie use:

If you are serious about building a neighborhood group, each of the books in our Survival Series has a complete discussion and a diagram showing one way to use radio communications, how to assign channels for your different divisions and specialty teams, etc.

2. Emergency/Survival Kits

We know that some people simply don’t have time to actually build their own kit, so we start with a review of Popular Ready-Made Kits to be found on Amazon.  The purpose of the review is not to recommend any one kit in particular, but to highlight different things to look for as you shop. (Again, please be aware that if you buy something from Amazon through one of our links, we may receive a commission from Amazon. The commission does not influence the price you pay.)

Because every person and family is unique, we recommend strongly that you Build Your Own Basic Kit, and we have written a booklet to guide you through the various decisions that need to be made.  Once you have the basic kit, add items that fit your climate, your skill and your interest level.

We have also discovered that most people continue to improve their kit by adding specialty items. Some of the most interesting additions:


3. Special Preparations for City Dwellers

Much of the “prepper” literature deals with developing skills that allow you to survive by living off the land. For urban or suburban dwellers, particularly people living in apartments or condos, these survival skills need to be adjusted to the realities of the city.

Some of our popular articles on these special situations:


4. Emergency Water Supplies

We probably spend more of our time on water than on anything else (even though, as reported above, website visitors seem to prefer reading about radios!). How to store water for an emergency, where to find more water when the emergency hits, and how to protect yourself from contaminated water – these are ongoing challenges that need to be overcome if we are to survive.

A few of the most comprehensive articles focused on water:



And finally, one topic unique to  . . .

5. Counting on Neighbors  for Survival

We know that the first people to be there to help in an emergency are the people already there – the neighbor at home next door, or the co-worker at the next desk or in the next room.

With that being the case, we think that the more we all know, the better chance we’ll all have to survive, at least until professional help arrives.

We also know that professional help – police and fire – will be overwhelmed in the aftermath of a widespread disaster, so it may be hours or even days before they do arrive. A strong neighborhood team, ready to take action, just seems to make great sense.

Our 15-year commitment to neighborhood emergency preparedness has been focused primarily on building a neighborhood response team. It has been a labor of love – and yes, a LOT of labor!

The website has many stories about what it’s taken to build the group. You can find many of these stories by heading to the site and simply typing “CERT” into the search box!

We have even compiled much of this information into two in-depth resources:


I hope you’ll find this list helpful, and a reminder of areas in your own planning that may not be as secure as you’d like. Also, if you would like to see more on any aspect of emergency preparedness or disaster recovery, please just let me know!

Virginia and Joe
Your Emergency Plan Guide Team


We mean it! Let us know in the comments what topics YOU like to read more about!


Bam! Power Outage in Southern California

Wednesday, July 30th, 2014

Emergency LightAt about 4:30 p.m. last Saturday, with temperatures hovering around 92 degrees, I was working at my desk when WHAM!, the power went off.

Before I could even get up from the chair a few things happened:

• My computer battery back-up started beeping.
• Our home alarm system started beeping.
• All our emergency wall lights went on.  (See the photo!)

I went into Emergency Response mode.

Step One: Size up the situation

1. My home assessment: nothing damaged, no danger.
2. I checked on the neighborhood: outage in all directions for several blocks; community gates automatically locked in open position; some traffic lights blinking red, others out altogether. Sounds of sirens in the distance.
3. I tested: cell phones were working, but not all home phones. (If people answered the phone, we could talk, but if there was no answer I was unable to leave a message.)

Step Two: Shift to full Community Emergency Response Team mode

1. As Division Leader I got on the radio and maintained walkie-talkie contact with our other local CERT divisions, shifting to Central Command frequency to make reports.
2. I reported the outage to the power company on their automated phone system; later, we got an automated report on that same number.
3. Joe monitored official city emergency response on his HAM radio. (Four of us have HAM radio licenses and radios.)
4. We kept neighborhood CERT members up-dated.
5. We contacted neighbors with news and recommendations, by phone and by face-to-face visit.

As it turned out, a fire in an electrical substation took out power for some 27,000 residents. (The fire engines we heard were responding to the fire itself.) Power was restored in phases; we got ours back about 7:30 p.m., others got theirs as late as midnight.

So here’s what we learned from the outage.

Something as simple as a power outage creates excitement.

At first, people were annoyed because they missed their air conditioning.

Then, they realized that they shouldn’t be opening their refrigerator if power was going to be off for several hours.

Then, some figured the thing to do was to go out for dinner – not realizing that traffic was jammed in nearly every direction.

Finally, as evening fell, people realized they had better come up with a flashlight or lantern because after dark they’d have no way to get around! Some of these people then decided to get into the car and drive somewhere to find batteries . . .

So once again, an “incident” serves as a reminder that emergencies WILL happen. This one didn’t develop into any kind of a disaster, but. . .

If it had continued for 24 hours

. . . imagine what would have taken place!

  • People would have spent a night in the dark.
  • Food in refrigerators would have started to spoil; after 24 hours some food would have spoiled completely.
  • Frozen food would likely have thawed and had to be thrown out.
  • Most cell phones would have run out of battery.
  • Most computers would have run out of battery. Internet would have been unavailable anyway, since home networks were all down.
  • Motorized wheelchairs might have run out of battery power.
  • Back-up plans would have to be implemented for people using breathing apparatus, sleeping machines or dialysis equipment.
  • The water supply may have become compromised. (See last week’s blog post on Boil Water Alert.)

Our U.S. grid is aging (like everything else) and while attempts go on to get the right balance between public and private ownership, the grid is increasingly outdated and increasingly vulnerable. Ever-growing demand and climate change add even more stress to the system.

So power outages are not rare, and their frequency is growing. They can last for a few minutes or for days, depending on the cause. A serious solar flare episode could cause whole sections of the grid to fail and be down for 60 to 90 days!

Quick poll:

1. Have YOU experienced a power outage in the past 12 months?
2. How long did it last?
3. What was the cause?
4. What did you take away from the experience?

Let us know. We’re all in this together, so the more we know, the better off we’ll all be!

Virginia Nicols
Your Emergency Plan Guide Team


Walkie-Talkies for Emergency Neighborhood Communications

Wednesday, May 7th, 2014

“I read you loud and clear.”

Every month, on the second Wednesday at 6 p.m., our neighborhood CERT group clicks on their two-way radios and gets ready to participate in the radio drill.

Radios or Walkie=talkies

Compare sizes of these walkie-talkies to the smart phone in the center of the collection; read about them on our REVIEW page.

The first check-in takes place at the Division level, when the Division Leader checks with 10 or so Block Captains. It’s a quick call: “Division 5 Leader calling Block Captain 5 Alpha. Do you read?” and a quick answer, “Five Alpha reads loud and clear.” Takes less than 7 minutes.

After the Block Captains check in, the Division Leaders and Special Teams (Search and Rescue, First Aid, etc.) switch to the Community Channel and participate in their own roll-call. Another 7 minutes.

What we accomplish with these radio drills is three-fold:

  1. Radios are checked to be sure they are functioning. (If someone forgets to turn the radio off, then when the next month rolls around that radio’s batteries are dead!)
  2. Everyone gets practice using the radios, the channel assignments, and the lingo. (It seems easy to say “Five Leader” or “Five Delta” but non-native English speakers, in particular, need to practice.)
  3. We get reassurance that our community is intact and participating!

Just about a month ago Southern California experienced a 5.3 quake at about 8 p.m. On that evening, CERT group participants grabbed their radios and ran outside to check how neighbors had fared. I stood there in the dark, and soon came the voice of one of my team members, “This is Cheryl, Five Charlie. Is anyone there?” (Protocol slips a bit when there’s a real emergency.)

Cheryl and I were able to discuss our block and ascertain that all was well. I then switched to the Community Channel to check in, and sure enough, other Division Leaders were doing the same thing.

The point is, this simple communications plan worked, worked well, and worked fast. No dialing, no waiting, no ringing, no busy signals, no leaving of messages. Just push to talk.

“I read you loud and clear.”

Take a look at our new review of Walkie-Talkies, just published yesterday. I think you’ll find it interesting and valuable. And let me know if YOU have Walkie-Talkie stories to share. Til then, “Over and Out.”

Virginia Nicols
Your Emergency Plan Guide Team


Radio Communications — The Vital Link

Friday, March 30th, 2012

More on radios/walkie-talkies

We began dealing with communications a couple of weeks ago. We introduced the idea of using FRS/GMRS Mobile Radios (think “walkie-talkies”) to communicate between team members of a Community Emergency Response Team. (FRS = Family Radio Service.  GMRS = General Mobile Radio Service.  The main difference is that FRS is shorter range than GMRS.) (You can read that introductory Advisory here.)


Walkie-talkies work when phones won’t.

A properly-structured CERT organization has a hierarchy, with Block Captains (responsible for say, 10 homes) and Division Leaders (covering several Blocks) assigned according to the geography of the community.

The CERT organization also has Special Teams such as Search & Rescue, First Aid & Triage, Logistics, Damage Assessments and Communications.

All these teams can communicate via radio if the phones are out.

The beauty of the FRS/GMRS Radios is that they have 22 numbered channels, each on a different frequency. Some of the more sophisticated models have a number of “Privacy Codes” that allow a number of people to hold separate conversations on the same channel.

Low-power radios are best for CERT teams.

Contrary to normal logic, you want to equip your people with the lowest-power radios that still transmit over the immediate community you’re in. The reason is to avoid interference from adjacent communities but still be able to reach across the terrain in your area. It’s a careful balancing act that requires a lot of thought and testing to see which units work best for you. If you have a relatively small, compact area, most of your people could be outfitted with the small Motorola, Model FV150 radio.  It is sold in pairs for under $20 and has a realistic range of just under ¼ mile.

Your Division Leaders and Special Teams Members might use a larger radio, such as the Cobra CXT425 or similar which has the Privacy Codes capability and a practical range of almost a mile. This unit sells for about twice as much as the small Motorola unit, but you don’t need as many and the people using them have greater responsibility.

While these larger units have rechargeable batteries, you’re better off using disposable batteries as recharging batteries can be problematic in emergency situations.

One of our most popular pages is the REVIEW OF WALKIE-TALKIES. If you are considering purchasing radios for your family or your neighborhood CERT team, check here so you can be sure you are getting what you need.

What about ham radio?

We’ll deal with the Amateur Radio Service and the ARES in a separate post. If you have someone in your group that has a ham radio license – or is willing to obtain one – you will have a distinct advantage in an emergency as the Amateur Radio Emergency Service works closely with the local authorities and the Red Cross.

Joe Krueger
Your Emergency Plan Guide Team




Radio Communications in an Emergency

Sunday, March 11th, 2012

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

If radio communications are of interest to you, you may want to review these Advisories:

We update our reviews regularly. Sign up below to get these announcements via our Advisories.