Comm is King
Cory Mince 03.17.20
Comm is king, as they say, and having multiple solutions to contact, locate, and navigate to those important to you in an emergency is critical. Although your local big box stores may be out of toilet paper and bottled water, they probably aren’t out of 2-way radios.
Cell phones are incredibly convenient in day to day communication and have become a constant companion for nearly everyone. Smartphones in particular have a number of handy features beyond communication.
Since the most valuable function of your phone in an emergency is communication, either by text or voice, it makes a bit of sense to outsource other functions to your most recently obsolete smartphone. In an emergency, try to limit your use of your primary phone for communication.
Doing so will preserve battery life, and if you are clumsy like me, reduce your phone’s exposure to hazards such as drops, more drops, and children. When using your primary phone, try and keep it in power save mode, keep calls short, turn off the vibrate function, and when possible, send text messages. During an emergency, cellular networks are often overloaded. Sending a text message lessens the burden on the network and increases the likelihood of message delivery.
Navigation, in my opinion, is the second most important utility of your smartphone in an emergency. Google Maps, along with other navigation apps, allows you to download maps for offline use, which acts as a GPS even when you don’t have service. With only a few minutes work you can have numerous detailed maps available to you at any time, regardless of your location. It would be smart to download these maps on your primary phone and, if you have one, your obsolete phone too. I’m sure this goes without saying, and while electronic maps are great, they should augment, not replace, paper maps.
The importance of recording information that doesn’t depend on electricity to be accessed probably doesn’t need to be stressed to anyone reading this article, but I’m going to do it anyway. If you haven’t already, please take the time to sit at your computer, type out the names, phone numbers and addresses of your loved ones, trusted friends and neighbors, perhaps even your family doctor, and place a copy in your home and in each vehicle. You can also make an abbreviated list of critically important contact info and slide it between your phone and phone case.
I’ll begin this section at the top of the heap of effectiveness in order to appease amateur radio enthusiasts, and that is the ham radio. Ham radios can range from small hand held devices to massive antenna sporting behemoths. They depend on line of sight to communicate with other ham radios, and series of repeaters can greatly extend the range of ham radios. They are incredibly effective and reliable, but unfortunately require a license to operate, which greatly limits who is able to use them. You can’t just go to the store and snag a ham radio and start broadcasting. You can, however, find relatively inexpensive and reasonably effective two way radios from your local big box and sporting goods stores. These “over the counter” FRS radios don’t have nearly the range that a ham does, but certainly provide a better option than smoke signals.
There are several advantages to using FRS radios as a backup communication option in an emergency. First, they are inexpensive. A fairly high quality set of radios can be acquired for less than $100 and can be found in just about every major retailer. Second, there are a lot of people who have them, and if you set up a network with those who live close by, relaying information is effective and relatively simple. Third, you don’t need a license to operate them, which means use is available to more people.
Staying connected with your loved ones and being able to communicate with emergency services not only contributes to survivability in an emergency, but also adds to a greater sense of calm. We are social creatures, and when we can communicate, even if it’s only on a screen, we’re certainly better off.