13 September 2011

Prep30: Be prepared in your communications

At the beginning of the Prep30 series, we discussed establishing a family emergency communications plan. Today, let's run through some tools and tips for enhancing your communications capabilities:
  1. First, having a mobile phone is ideal, preferably one with the ability to send and receive text messages. The ability to call others from almost any location make mobile phones a very useful tool for your preparedness plans. If you can justify the cost, smartphones are even more versatile, since you can use the internal GPS to help you find your way on electronic maps, not to mention a whole host of other tools that can be helpful.

  2. Of course, mobile phones aren't perfect, however. While they're great for small-scale emergencies, the phone networks are frequently overloaded during widespread disasters. As authorities have commonly mentioned during the various natural  disasters this year, use text messages during a large-scale disaster to relieve the burden on the network.

  3. In our current age of mobile phones and devices, more and more people are getting rid of their hardwired land lines. Despite this trend, you may want to consider keeping a land line as an alternative communications backup in an emergency. A traditional phone line (like those provided by AT&T and the like) draw their operating power from their own lines, meaning that you may still have a phone when the power goes out. Note that this is not true for new wired phone lines bundled with your cable services, etc. The phone service for those systems relies on components that are powered locally (e.g., the cable modem, etc.). That means that they will not function during a power outage.

  4. For local two-way communication, don't forget walkie talkies. It's easy to think of walkie talkies as kids toys, but today even a $20 Uniden set will get you two-way communication over 12 miles. Upgrading to a $50 Motorola set means that you can talk up to 35 miles away, and lets you receive NOAA weather alerts to boot.

  5. Not all preparedness communication is two-way. One of the most important pieces of gear you need is a radio. While any battery-powered radio can be helpful, it's a better idea to have a radio that receives NOAA weather channels and emergency alerts. It's also worth checking into some emergency radios that have a variety of power sources. For instance, the Etón American Red Cross ARCFR600R radio can be powered via its hand crank, 3 AA batteries, solar power, or AC power via USB adapter.

  6. Another option for receiving information is to have a police scanner. You can get a handheld scanner for under $100, and it will let you monitor police and fire signals, weather transmissions, ham radio bands, and more.

  7. Now that we've talked about what equipment to consider, it also important to remember that these are all electrical devices. That means that you'll need some means of providing and/or replenishing their power after you use them. The remaining points below discuss means of powering your devices.

  8. First, keep extra batteries on hand in any of the sizes your equipment uses. This also includes having a backup battery for your mobile phone.

  9. Consider purchasing a backup mobile phone/device charger. For example the Duracell Instant USB Charger allows you to charge any USB- or mini-USB-powered device, multiple times on one charge. It can be recharged, allowing you to maintain it as a backup over time. You may also want to look into  solar chargers/backups. These are similar devices (like XTG Technology's Premium Solar Charger) that allow you to use the sun to charge the backup battery, and then use the backup to power your mobile devices.

  10. Remember too that some hand-cranked devices (like the Etón radio mentioned above) have a USB charging output that you can use to charge your mobile equipment.

  11. Be sure that you have any necessary cables to connect your equipment to that various power sources or battery chargers. Don't forget car charger cables too, since charging while you drive is a great way to keep your equipment's charge topped up.

  12. No matter which equipment you try from the above, make certain that you try them out before you actually need them. Read and follow all the directions first, and then give each piece a trial run. This will maximize the equipment's life, and hopefully yours too.

  13. A final note: all of the above equipment is highly susceptible to damage from a CME or EMP attack. It's well worth keeping any dedicated emergency equipment shielded inside a Faraday cage. You can improvise a Faraday cage with an aluminum foil packet as described at the end of this previous post. You can also make a Faraday cage/box as described here.

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