Emergency preparedness from a Counterintelligence Agent

How to communicate when the world goes silent

Communications go down even in short emergencies. How would you communicate with your family or get help during a disaster or if SHTF? How to communicate when the world goes silent. http://graywolfsurvival.com/?p=2716So how would you communicate with your family or get help if communications go down? If you found yourself in the middle of a wide-scale disaster such as a hurricane or other catastrophe and you had no government coming to help for a while, how would you communicate with your family or others? What if the power grid went down?

You won’t be able to rely on your cell phone. There are alternatives, however. This is a pretty long article that goes into some good detail, but if you want the short answer, this is what you need.

I’ll go over the basics of some emergency communication methods but if you want more detail, check out Personal Emergency Communications: Staying in Touch Post-Disaster: Technology, Gear and Planning.

Short-term emergencies have shown the limitations of using cell phones to coordinate with each other. Even if the towers are operational, they can’t handle the added traffic of millions of people trying to get a hold of loved ones – or help. Ever had trouble calling your mother on the morning of Mother’s Day?

During many recent events, cell phone service wasn’t an option for many for days. The system became seriously overloaded on 9/11 so calls wouldn’t go through, 70% of the towers went down during Katrina and were down for days, and most areas haven’t been adequately improved across the US.

These won’t be isolated events. Don’t think that because you live in a large metropolitan area that you’re safer. A quick look at some of the things that went on during Hurricane Sandy in NY will show that the government has a lot to deal with in addition to just trying to get your cell phone service back up so even though that was a pretty short-term event, it caused a lot of problems.

Here are just a few issues that would affect you being able to pull out your iPhone to call up people:

  • Cell phone communication has a lot of vulnerabilities that make it a poor solution for widespread or long-term emergencies.
  • Heavy winds or flooding can disrupt the cables between towers such as during Hurricane Sandy.
  • Cell towers require AC power to operate so if they don’t have an automatic backup system, they stop. Keep in mind that a lot of towers are just glorified antennas on the tops of buildings or mountains and backup power, such as an emergency generator, is a very short-term solution. Generators require fuel and that fuel has to be replenished quite often. In a lot of cases, the only backup power available is a bank of batteries that stop charging when the main power system stops.
  • Backhaul systems (essentially the system that connects and/or allows overflow from outer systems to the core, often including other carriers) aren’t always reliable. A lot of this system is wired but has been expanded to microwave and other systems.
  • Most cell phones will only stay charged for a day or three. If you don’t have local power to keep it up, when the system does come back up, you won’t be able to talk to it.
  • Cell phones require networks, which are vulnerable to hackers, physical attack, or solar storms.

Now don’t get me wrong, for day-to-day emergencies, such as getting a flat tire, a cell phone usually works pretty well. It’s just a crappy solution for big emergencies. They’ll be pretty useless if the national grid goes down due to a cyber attack, EMP or CME, which is actually a lot more likely than you might think.

One cool idea that’s coming out is the goTenna cell phone radio antenna system. Your cell phone connects to it via Bluetooth and an app, and the signal is sent and received through an encrypted radio signal. How awesome is that? It won’t be able to reach to the other side of a city but you should be able to locate your family if they’re in the area and maybe even communicate with others if they have the system.

So if you can’t rely on cell phone service, what other options do you have?

CB radio for emergency comms

A lot of people grew up watching BJ and the Bear and they remember seeing all the truckers talking over the air with each other. CB radio is definitely more available during an emergency but they have a lot of limitations.

For one, not a lot of people are on CB. You might be able to find someone in a truck but even that’s harder to find. The problem isn’t just the lack of people who use it, it’s the lack of people in your range that use it.

One of the big reasons your range is very limited with CB vs other systems is that they’re limited to 5 watts input which is about 4 watt out. That may be just some vague notion but more power means more distance. At the frequencies that CB radios use, you can only expect to get between 1 and 10 miles or so, depending on the terrain. There could be a million people in the US with their CB’s all on the same channel at the same time, but if they’re not within range, you won’t be talking.

You might think that you could just hack into your ham radio and pump out more power, but the FCC goes after people who do that (just a few examples). Obviously if SHTF, you’re not gonna really care about that but remember that adding more power to transmit and receive farther doesn’t do anything to help you hear the other guy with a normal CB transmitter.

How good are satellite phones in an emergency?

For a lot of emergency situations, satellite phones are pretty good. The first problem with them though is cost. They’re mighty expensive. Not only do you have to shell out for the phone, you have to pay for service and minutes. If you’re stranded somewhere though, it may be worth the cost.

They don’t always work though. I had one with me at all times when I was in Uganda, and it came in hella handy at times. They don’t like jungles though due to the trees blocking the satellites and contrary to what every freaking movie shows, they don’t work indoors or inside a ship like they kept showing in World War Z (which was a decent movie but movie mistakes like that drive me crazy).

The real problem is that it’s highly unlikely you’d need it in a normal household so they’re ONLY good for emergencies and probably not worth the cost.

Another big problem is that just like cell phones, they rely on the satellites to function so if the satellites stop working, then so do the satellite phones. Obviously. Solar storms and CMEs have taken out satellites in the past. They will do it again.


For local communication, GMRS, FRS and MURS radios are pretty good. They don’t require an FCC license for FRS and MURS, they’re cheap, and easy to use. They’ve pretty much replaced CB radios for a lot of families. As such, even though they’re an improvement, they have a lot of the same limitation on power and range.

If you have a true GMRS radio, you may be able to tap into a repeater, which will expand your range to possibly hundreds of miles, but the repeater obviously has to be running, and you have to be within range of the repeater for your radio to hit it. GMRS radios are also allowed to operate at higher power than a lot of other radios. You also need a license to use GMRS frequencies.

Basically, if you’re considering one of these radio systems for emergency use, go with a true GMRS radio and get the license.


For a lot of things, just having a walkie-talkie could be a great help in communicating with your family. A ham radio is great for both short and long distance but unless you buy several handheld ham radios (which would be hella expensive), you won’t be able to use them. I haven’t kept up on these but I have a fairly thorough link that lists the best survival walkie talkies, according to their opinion. Make sure you do your due diligence with reviews on youtube and amazon, but you could also join a forum for campers or preppers and just ask the group what they think.

Amateur radio (ham radio): the best emergency communication system

So now that I’ve gone through several options that you could choose, but obviously from the title I don’t recommend, let’s look at ham radio.

Ham radio is the go-to communication system for pretty much every emergency response system and is what MARS (the Military Auxiliary Radio System) and ARES (Amateur Radio Emergency Service) both use, as well as many search and rescue and other emergency groups.

One of the nice things is that a lot of ham radios can reach the national weather system (NOAA) frequencies. That means that if you have a radio, you can find out what’s going on in the area. If you have a radio scanner, you can listen to what’s going on with emergency frequencies as well as any other that the scanner can reach, and you don’t have to know which one they’re transmitting on. That’s why they call it a scanner. It goes in a loop up through whatever frequencies you tell it to and it stops if it hears someone transmitting.

Here is a list of emergency radio frequencies that you should keep in mind when both looking for radios and coming up with your emergency communications plan. Just to pacify all the know-it-alls who keep telling me this list is crap because you can’t transmit on them – keep in mind that they’re useful to monitor in emergencies even if you can’t send anything out, and I wanted to make as complete a list as I could for everyone:

34.90:      Used nationwide by the National Guard during emergencies.

39.46:      Used for inter-department emergency communications by local and state police forces.

47.42:      Used across the United States by the Red Cross for relief operations.

52.525:    Calling frequency used by ham radio operators in FM on their six-meter band.

121.50:     International aeronautical emergency frequency.

138.225: Disaster relief operations channel used by the Federal Emergency Management Agency; it is active during earthquakes, hurricanes, floods, and other catastrophic events.

146.52:    Used by ham radio operators for non-repeater communications on the two-meter band; it is very busy in many parts of the country.

151.625:  Used by “itinerant” businesses, or those that travel about the country. Circuses, exhibitions, trade shows, and sports teams are some of the users you can hear. Other widely used itinerant channels are 154.57 and 154.60.

154.28:   Used for inter-department emergency communications by local fire departments; 154.265 and 154.295 also used.

155.160: Used for inter-department emergency communications by local and state agencies during search and rescue operations.

155.475: Used for inter-department emergency communications by local and state police forces.

156.75:    Used internationally for broadcasts of maritime weather alerts.

156.80:   International maritime distress, calling, and safety channel. All ships must monitor this frequency while at sea. It is also heavily used on rivers, lakes, etc.

162.40:   NOAA weather broadcasts and bulletins.

162.425: NOAA weather broadcasts and bulletins.

162.45:   NOAA weather broadcasts and bulletins.

162.475: NOAA weather broadcasts and bulletins.

162.50:   NOAA weather broadcasts and bulletins.

162.525: NOAA weather broadcasts and bulletins.

162.55:    NOAA weather broadcasts and bulletins.

163.275: NOAA weather broadcasts and bulletins.

163.4875: Used nationwide by the National Guard during emergencies.

163.5125: The national disaster preparedness frequency used jointly by the armed forces.

164.50: National communications channel for the Department of Housing and Urban Development.

168.55: National channel used by civilian agencies of the federal government for communications during emergencies and disasters.

243.00: Used during military aviation emergencies.

259.70: Used by the Space Shuttle during re-entry and landing.

296.80: Used by the Space Shuttle during re-entry and landing.

311.00: Flight channel used by the U.S. Air Force.

317.70: Used by U.S. Coast Guard aviation.

317.80: Used by U.S. Coast Guard aviation.

319.40: Used by the U.S. Air Force.

340.20: Used by U.S. Navy aviators.

409.20: National communications channel for the Interstate Commerce Commission.

409.625: National communications channel for the Department of State.

462.675: Used for emergency communications and traveler assistance in the General Mobile Radio Service.


Here is a large list of different frequencies that you could use to put together a list of channels to follow during an emergency or other times.

Ham radio operation requires a license, but as you can see in this article, they’re easy to get. This isn’t quite as daunting as it seems, especially considering you don’t need to learn Morse code anymore, but it still requires some studying.

There are three main levels of licensing: Technician, General and Extra. The higher license you get, the more frequencies you can use. This is important. The lower license will get you started but you really need the higher licenses if you want to communicate around the world.

Amateur Radio Frequencies as of 5 March 2012

So why is it important to get a license? In non-emergency life, you have to be concerned that the FCC will go after you if you transmit on a frequency that you’re not allowed to operate. For you to be ready for a SHTF scenario, you need to have the equipment and practice with it in order to make sure you’ll be able to get through.

Just like with FCC investigators and volunteers who track down offenders (you have to call out your FCC callsign every 10 minute on the air or you’ll probably get some unwanted attention), if you find yourself in martial law and don’t want to be found, they can track you down pretty easily.

So why does it matter about what frequencies? Just like with CB radios and the others, the frequency will affect how far you can transmit/receive a signal. This can be pretty complicated so it’s best to get a good book on antennas and propagation, and work with more experienced people to help you get going.

There are a LOT of people around the world who use amateur radio. These people are typically in tune with dealing with emergencies or working with communicating with people in different scenarios. Because of the range ham radios can get, it’s a LOT easier to get a hold of someone during an emergency. These people are also extremely resourceful so even if they don’t have a working radio (such as after an EMP pulse), they can make one.

I currently have three ham radios. An inexpensive Baofeng UV-5R handheld that I keep on my Harley, a great Yaesu VX-6R waterproof handheld with an upgraded antenna that I keep in my bug out bag, and a portable Yaesu FT-857d radio that I can run off a 12v battery. I’m seriously considering upgrading to the Yaesu VX-8DR though because it’s pretty awesome. You might prefer the VX-8GR though.

Here’s a video that shows the difference and some of the cool features, btw:

A big part of getting your signal out and hearing others is the antenna so if you get a handheld, I’d suggest upgrading the antenna like I mentioned above. Keep in mind also that if you get a Baofeng that their antenna connections are different so you’ll need an adapter in some cases.


There are a lot of repeaters around the world that can help you transmit long distances with just a little radio. Basically, a repeater will listen to the little radios in its immediate surroundings and then blast the signal out for hundreds, or thousands, of miles. Obviously the repeaters need to be functioning to do this but people who have repeaters are usually up on emergency communication and will have backup power systems. If they go down, they usually know how to fix it.

There are even repeaters that use the internet so if you tap into a repeater and type in the address of a remote repeater in another country, what you say on your little radio will blast out to that point on the other side of the world. I talked to a guy in Australia on the first day I got my Yaesu handheld that way.

Using stealth to operate an amateur radio:

Because ham radio people are crafty lot (and some places don’t allow antennas), there is a whole sub-genre of ways to make antennas so they can’t be detected (by sight, not by signal). Antennas can be made out of flagpoles, ladders, fences, railings, and a lot of other things in plain sight. They can also be hidden inside things or buried.

There are several books such as Low Profile Amateur Radio: Operating a Ham Station from Almost Anywhere that can show you how to do these (which is a great book, by the way but good luck finding a copy of it).

Here are a couple more:

With the proper knowledge (which you can pretty much only get with practice), you can make a radio out of stuff you can find pretty much anywhere that will transmit on frequencies that you can reach other people. Not only is this useful to hide your antennas, it could seriously come in handy if you had to make an antenna in an emergency.

Obviously, the more experience you have with radios, the easier it’ll be for you to do something like this.

The Ham radio community:

As I’ve mentioned, amateur radio operators are not only creative and resourceful, they’re very in tune with handling emergency situations. There are several groups that use ham radio for dealing with disasters or for search and rescue. The two biggest are Radio Amateur Civil Emergency Service (RACES) and Amateur Radio Emergency Service (ARES).

If you want to get started learning about ham radio as an effective emergency communications system for you or your family, check out the Prepared Ham Forum. My buddy AD owns the site, and it’s great for learning and asking questions. Lots of helpful people on there to help out.

Creative ways to communicate with ham frequencies:

With the right equipment and some practice, you can easily get around the world. And, you don’t have to actually buy a radio to do it. That’s one of the greatest things about learning and using ham radio. You can literally make a working radio out of scrap. There will always be scrap. You will always be able to make a radio.

In addition to the plethora of ham radio equipment and information available, a good basis of theory can get you talking to people even if all electricity and electronics are taken out. Here are some examples of what you can do with a little knowledge:

The Foxhole Radio

A foxhole radio was used by GI’s during WWII and beyond. The cool thing is that it doesn’t require a power source and is made from simple parts like a pencil and razor blade. It’s only a receiver though.

Crystal Radios

There are many, many, many ways to make a radio out of household items. Way too many to list them here. Suffice it to say that with all the wires and old electronics laying around, making a simple radio receiver is pretty simple. Just like the foxhole radio, these pretty much only receive. They can also be made to use power from the signal itself so they don’t all need anything else to power them.

Homemade AM transmitter?

Fear not dudes and dudettes, you can still make a transmitter out of stuff you can find in a lot of homes or junkyards:

The spark-gap transmitter

Spark-gap transmitters are pretty simple to make. The good thing is that they transmit over a HUGE frequency range so pretty much anyone nearby is gonna hear it.

The bad things are that they’re illegal (for the same reason) and can zap the heck out of you if you’re not careful. You also have to learn Morse code or create your own in order to have anyone have any idea what you’re trying to say.

Always have a backup that won’t run out of power


If you don’t have a ham radio license yet (or actually, even if you do), you should look at getting an emergency shortwave radio so you can listen into weather bulletins etc. The Safe-T-Proof radio is a great little one to have because you can charge it with a hand crank or the solar panel, it has a flashlight and a cell phone charger outlet on it too.

It won’t have the range of a ham radio with a good antenna, but it could be really useful in an emergency, and you don’t have to worry about running out of power.


So, there are many different ways to communicate during a disaster situation or if society collapses but for the most flexible and effective way, you should seriously look into getting your ham radio license and start playing with it. It’s a great hobby and one that could be the difference between finding your family in an emergency or losing them.

Either way, make sure whatever you do that you come up with an emergency communications plan beforehand.


About graywolfsurvival.com

I am a former federal agent and military veteran who has deployed to combat theaters in Africa, Iraq and Afghanistan and have almost three decades of military and military contracting experience.

My goal is to help families to understand how to intelligently protect their family and their way of life against real threats, without all the end-of-the-world doomsday crap.


  1. Outstanding article, very well written and full of useful information

  2. I hope you’ll consider posting an article on the integration of your Yaesu FT-857d into your BOV. I received my Technicians license recently, and want to outfit my BOV with a HAM rig also. But, being new to amateur radio, I need some tips on what to look for in a mobile radio, antenna, antenna tuner, and any other considerations. Seeing how you’ve setup your mobile HAM rig would be very helpful.
    Many thanks for your decades of service, and for sharing your tactical knowledge with us.

    • Mike the 857 is sweet for a bov IF you purchase the remote mounting kit. I drive an 06 TJ (Wrangler) for ONE of the vehicles ( and THREE grand Cherokees for the other drivers as the trailer is too big for the TJ) yeah we have a large crew to transport. Anyway the main body is under the seat, the mic connector is dash mounted via a simple plastic clip I made to hold the connector, the control panel is mounted on the dash dead center above the stereo and an external speaker with housing is mounted to the windshield pointed into the vehicle so it can be heard even when the roof is off the jeep. I can very easily pull everything and put it back as a single box type radio and move it to one of the other vehicles easily. And the others have high power 2 meter rigs in them (also Yaesu). I do want to pick up a couple 817’s for in two of the Grand Cherokees, but I have amplifiers on hand to bring the qrp rigs up in power, ad the 817 will fit in the console on the GCs

    • Thanks for the lift to ham radio. The ham community welcomes all comers. Get in touch with your local ARRL member club for licensing, training and just plain old help. Used gear available cheaper than new. ARRL.org.
      Tom NY2RF

      • Might also consider a rockmite tiny transceiver, can fit min an altoids can (without options). Youi would need to know CW (morse) however. But agreed, thanks for the “HAM” props.
        Cory KC0KRK

  3. Nick Stone says

    Great article, Amateur Radio is something I have been thinking about getting a licence for, and really interested in that book, Low Profile Amateur Radio: Operating a Ham Station from Almost Anywhere, it sounds like it could be just the thing for the area I live in. Just one problem, on Amazon.co.uk it costs £1,339.08 new. Even used it costs £461.68. A little more then I want to pay for a book.

  4. I can vouch for what Graywolf said about cell phones in a disaster. Last year several officers (including me) were called up by my department to go to Moore, Ok. after the tornados ripped into that city. Cell coverage was almost completely down for about a day in that area. I could get an occasional text message in/out, but calls, internet, or group text messages…..no dice!
    Plan ahead of time as to who your messaging should go through. In the event of a disaster, we have one person everyone checks in with, and they keep a tab on who is ok and who they haven’t heard from. We also have a backup person in the event that a disaster strikes the primary person’s area.

  5. Survival Skillcraft says

    I would just like to add that I would not recommend Baofeng radios due to their quality control issues. I own three of these radios and each one has a QC issue that makes them not dependable for an emergency situation. I see too many reviews where people like the radio based solely on the price alone and ignore all the other factors that make these radios a poor choice. Not to mention programming a Baofeng is a real pain unless you use CHIRP software which is free and easy to use. If Baofeng increased their quality control these would be a great radio.

    • the issues with Baofengs QC supposedly (key word there) have been taken care of. The problem was a faulty supply of generic chips they were using. Your comment is VERY valid, and I would personally like to hear from more people on this, in specific, WHEN they purchased their radio, any dates marked on it, and nay issues if any, other than the programming. which is a nature of the beast thing. Quite frankly, anyone as a member of a group, who have these radios SHOULD program them with the software, so that they are all the same, so that if one persons is damaged another can hand them theirs and all settings are the same…. for example the channel numbers match the same frequencies and so forth, simplifying operation, “Operator A qsy to channel 9” instead of “qsy to 458.950” for speed simplicity and security.

      • MadMango says

        I have the BaoFeng BF-F8+, the newer radio. I’ve used it in the field every few weeks for the past 6 months, it has held up great. I use a cloning cable to copy my frequency set to other radios for my wife and friends. The only downside is they are not water resistant in any sense. Nothing a properly sized o-ring at the antenna base and waterproof bag can’t solve.

  6. Very nice article… and site. A few corrections/additions however:
    1. The three Amateur licenses are: Technician, General, *Extra* (vice Technician, General and *Amateur*).
    2. A sentence below the Amateur Radio Frequency Chart says… “you have to call out your FCC every 10 minute on the air…” <– this SHOULD say that "you have to call out your FCC *call sign* every 10 minutes…"
    3. In the Repeaters section, just to help clarify a bit… repeaters that are connected to the Internet do not "blast out to that point on the other side of the world". They simply send the voice/data via a unicast (1-to-1) packet(s) over the Internet to that distant repeater. Once arriving at that distant repeater, the voice/data is then "blasted" out over the local (VHF/UHF) line-of-sight coverage of that repeater's antenna. Result is the same… just wanted to avoid any readers thinking that this did not STILL rely on the Internet being functional, or that the voice/data was being "broadcast" globally.
    4. Just in case anyone left this article thinking: "oh… lots of ways to MAKE radios from household stuff… and it's EASY, so why bother spending any money", because this was said in the reading; I would HIGHLY discourage that thinking! You may be able to build SOMETHING that will pull a signal out of the air… but transmitting, and/or even receiving selectively over a LARGE potential RF spectrum is NOT something you're going to slap together from parts around the house! BUY a few radios and educate yourself on their usage. Baofengs and Wouxun's (yes… they're made in China) are DAMNED good radios when you consider their price!
    4. Just so no one sends me any "hate" comments for adding my insights… I LOVE this site and think there is a LOT of GREAT info here!

    • lol. Thanks B24, I sometimes write these on my iphone or ipad so I miss stupid details like that so what I mean to say and what I end up typing sometimes don’t always match. Plus, sometimes I’ve had several Guinnesses by the end of the post.

      • Oh one other thing, GW, the trench radio is just a variation of the crystal radio, the razor and graphite of the pencil lead are just different forms of the original “cat whisker” and crystal, which both can be replaced with a simple low signal (germanium) diode to simplify things even more. But unless you have an electronics junk box or a “101 electronics experiments kit” laying around, you might not find one, After all if Radio Shack is open, you can just buy a prebuilt radio…

    • Hate male coming your way Hate male coming your way (Craig Ferguson Reference) Seriously though, The time of ripping the parts out of the HUGE tv console and building a transmitter are long gone (Ive done it many times in my youth). Simplicity has been replaced by micro sized devices that Are extremely difficult to use because of micro size displays (hmmm that sounds vaguely familiar) or controls, and then we have people who skim instead of reading the information, and become the worlds foremost experts on nothing and try to spread what they don’t know… as one poster I’ve mentioned in another post, so that others don’t fall folly to his ideas. I don’t gain joy from doing that, but don’t feel right leaving such things going uncorrected do to the damage they can do. Its no wonder the inter net has increased the sale of Guinness… (and yes a large part of this is said in a humorous vein, after all it helps keep us all sane)

  7. Johnathan Doe says

    I’m curious to know if you can make SatPhone to SatPhone calls if SHTF and power was down across a huge area, say the entire east or west coast. As long as the satellites themselves are still functioning, which is a big assumption, I know… SatPhone to SatPhone calls should be fine?

    • Satphones would still work unless something from the ground causes them to shut down like a command signal. You just gotta keep your satphones charged.

      • Sat phone to sat phone works if you have the other sat phone number. Some sat phones have a regular 10-digit number (sometimes a 800 toll free number). In an incident a couple of years ago the DC region experienced a large area outage of the ground phone system. Many satellite phone users couldn’t use their cell phones because they didn’t know the actual phone number for the cell phones.

        • Sat phones do not all work via terrestrial link. Only higher end units have that function. The most common sat phone is strictly Satellite based, particularly since the introduction of the multiband cell phone which makes has allowed for international use of the (CELL) phone. Also, anything that brings down the terrestrial net work would make a functioning sat phone, in either mode sat or ter, worthless as the network they need to access would not be up. We had used them extensively, and abandoned them due to their unreliability,,, a simple cloud would interfere with their connections unless you had a fairly large dish with you.

      • Sat phones aren’t the end-all solution. The assuredness of whether or not a call goes thru is often dependent on the the condition of the land based system — just like cell phones and land lines are.
        A sat call from your handheld sat phone goes up to one of the passing satellites (like one of the many in the Iridium system) The satellite relays the call to a ground station located “somewhere”, the ground station then sorts out the destination of the call (to another sat phone, to a cell phone or to a land line).
        If the call is to a cell phone or other landline phone, then the signal is routed from the satellite receiving station into the “ground based” communication links (like wires, microwave, internet, etc) and on to the receiving phone. At this point the condition of the ground based system becomes the deciding factor on whether the call gets thru or not.
        If its to another sat phone, it may link it back up to the same satellite and on to the destination phone — assuming that intended sat phone is in the same “shadow coverage area”.
        In this case the call will likely go thru.
        But if the down link – to uplink require ground stations that are far apart to get to the area where an overhead satellite has coverage to where the receiving sat phone is located , the call could go thru a ground based system (based on wires/microwave or internet). Then the outcome of whether the call goes thru or not again depends on the condition of the ground based transmission system.
        As an example — if you were in the midst of the Katrina wreckage and tried to use a sat phone to try to call your family’s cell phone which was located several miles away but also in the Katrina carnage area that wiped out cell towers, your call wouldn’t go thru.

  8. You want to know how to communicate, with no infrastructure (no repeaters, satellites, towers, internet, etc), with minimal equipment, with minimal power (small battery, solar, etc), over long distances, then talk to a ham operator that does hf field qrp radio. By this i mean less than 5 watts output on shortwave frequences of 3-30mhz. They take tiny relatively simple radios, some on ssb voice but most on cw (morse code) and commonly communicate hundreds and sometimes thousands of miles. Some even do 1 watt or less output with fractions of a watt on receive. Weakness is the ionosphere and what the condition of it is at any given time. They do simple contests throughout the year. How do i know? i am one. I rarely do a contest without contacting a few but often dozens.

  9. 154.57 and 154.60 are part of MURS now, businesses previously licensed for those freqs (blue/green dot) can still use them but don’t believe they were ever designated for itinerant use. 163.275 isn’t used by the NWS/NOAA any longer.

    I chose a different route for SHTF/disaster comms, you won’t find me on here: http://wireless2.fcc.gov/UlsApp/UlsSearch/searchAdvanced.jsp Yes, I practice too, and it doesn’t require long ragchews on a daily basis to do so. If that’s the desire then the license is the way to go, but for SHTF use it’s not necessarily a requirement. With the amount of new amateurs getting licensed since the FCC dropped the code requirement and made the test questions available, it’s easier than ever to get lost in the crowd. In many ways choosing to skip the license requires more radio knowledge than actually getting a license does, in the same way that it requires more knowledge about bank operations if you plan to make a withdraw from one when you don’t have an account there :-).

    • 163.2750 MHz is a frequency that is owned and administered by the NTIA for Federal Government use only. Civilian operations on 162-174 MHz is prohibited in this case.

      Ham radio test questions have been made available to the public longer than I have been a licensed operator and I have been licensed since Sept 1992. So it is not new by any means. It is up to the ITU to add or drop any radio requirement as they are the worldwide governing body. It is then up to the NTIA and the FCC to effect those changes. Morse Code was dropped in 2003 by the ITU. It was not until 2006 for the FCC to finally drop the Morse Code requirement as well.

      The written examination is not designed to make you a first class radio operator right out of the starting gate. The test was designed to test the very minimum of a radio operator. There is much more to learn about radio operation and theory once you get your license to transmit.

      • The test questions were available when I fires became licensed in 1961. They were part of the license manual as they are today. There seems to be some persons for what ever nonsensical reason do not want to become licensed, but still want to use the amateur radio spectrum. Maybe they apply it to driving, also .

  10. Such a good article. I wonder if I can build a spark gap transmitter for demonstrations purposes. Not to use of course. I have build a fox hole radio and it’s fun if a bit quiet.

  11. OK…2 questions.

    1. The Scanner you have linked, on the Amazon page, it says it has a newer model available. Is there a quality issue or a change in performance of the newer model, or just linking to one you have used and newer model would be fine as well? (For some reason the newer one is about $20 cheaper.)

    2. In this article you list the Safe-T-Proof crank radio, and in another article you list the ETON as another good choice. Any chance we can get a “Top 10” (or even Top 5) list of the crank/solar radios you or a buddy has used and found to be dependable?(I’d like to get one for my mom for Christmas, and she almost always loses power during storms, so I want to get her a good one she can depend on.)

    As always, thanks for this info. And thanks to everyone who is also adding in on the comments. I’d really like to get started on a HAM license, but just not in the “budget” right now to get the equipment to get started.

    • I’d love to be able to do all that but I unfortunately can’t buy or try bunches of every prepper kind of item. If I linked to something on Amazon, it was the best item at the time of the article. I also unfortunately can’t go back through every article for every item every time something’s updated.

    • Go ahead and get your license. It is good for ten years. You can try hamfests for used equipment. It may not have all the features of new stuff but will still work. I have picked up older model 2 meter transceivers for $20 and up. Plus you can look at a variety of stuff. You will also meet people there which is helpful. Try a search for ‘ your state hamfest’ on Google. I have been a ham 40 years and spent maybe $4000 to 5000 on my stuff. I still have some but there is always room for more. Like I said get licensed. You could look for local clubs too and let them know you are interested they should be happy to help you get started

  12. This may be a dumb question, and forgive me since I am very new to the idea of prepping. Will a ham radio (on or off) after an EMP going to be functional?

    • Sorry I just saw this question in my queue (I get thousands of comments and most are spam). A ham radio can be functional after an EMP (theoretically) if it’s adequately protected and not connected to anything outside that protection, including the antenna or power supply.

  13. A few quick comments:
    First The list of amateur frequencies you listed only contained two Amateur freqs. the six meter calling frequency and the two meter calling freq. the rest are reserved for other services.
    Next, even with todays awesome solid state rigs, with an EMP /cme you are screwed. Invest in at least one old school 100% tube type ham rig, and make sure it works. most of these will need the old capacitors replaced, but are not susceptible to emp type burn out as there are no solid state devices in them.
    Third, Learn about PACKET Radio. it is a simple but efficient way to set up a text based network that you can implement fairly inexpensively with older computers and even a cheap hand held radio that has none of the bells or whistles. you can get a chain of people together to transmit text messages as many miles as the group of people are linked. this means 100 people who can only transmit 22 miles max, EACH can send messages 2000 miles if they are in the correct geographic locations in relation to each other. And finally despite what Spirit claims, Marine/ MURS/ GMRS radio is worthless other than local contact. The power available to the rigs is limiting in the respect that it wont get you further than 25 miles max without a functioning repeater. Ham Radio is the ONLY service that has rigs built that put out over 50 watts (even over 100 and commercial built amplifiers that go over 1000 watts) The bottom line is he has based much speculation without any factual proof in his commentary. I’ve been a practicing ham radio operator for multiple decades, I can sit anyone down and show them how to get their license with minimal effort. I have taught hundreds of hams how to get their licenses, and the only ones who have failed are those who refused to dedicate a handful of minutes a day to simple online study that doesn’t cost a cent, and is there to use for the taking. It is essentially a web based automated form of the Method Gordon West uses. And As for Spirits comment about the FCC making the questions available? They were available from the very first DAY that ham radio licenses were required, BY FEDERAL LAW… It is Sad that people find it so important to post nonsense to make themselves feel so much more important, especially in an arena where we are disseminating information that can mean the difference between Life and Death.

  14. We enjoyed your website and your frequency list. It is always good to collect more channel frequencies for various areas of the world. Survivalist SHTF prepper radio communications.

  15. What if you dont want the Gov,to find you at all radio would be the last thing you would want to be using have you ever heard of rf tracking………

    • Well yeah, I used it to find terrorists in Afghanistan and a couple other countries, but they also have cameras on every street corner and drones and satellites so if you really wanna be safe then you shouldn’t go outside – ever. It all comes down to mission requirements and risk mitigation. I’m not really concerned about the government finding me.

  16. RDF is significantly harder with HF frequencies. I transmitter hunt on 2meters and its really pretty easy. Of course if the Gvt is looking for you seriously not much will help. Harder does not mean not possible.

    Excellent article. Thank you. Looking forward to the info on reliable chinese radios. Currently setting family up with VX3R ‘s and VX5 or VX7 the VX8 is a bit to pricy and Im not sure I would use all its good stuff. VX8gr does not have a wide open a receiver (I know this is a mixed blessing) but in a real mess up a lot of the other transmitters will be down. I also have a couple of 2at’s for back up, if nothing else we can hit zombies in the head with them in between transmissions. Also going to build a couple of rock mites with the boys, fun little kit.

    Thanks for pointing out the need for practice with gear. Things will be a mess in an emergency until all the radios people dont know how to use break. A note about default frequencies on those radios would be helpful.

    thanks again OM, 73

  17. What will this radio do for my family? Will it do some of what the Ham radio do? I’ve always wanted a radio but do not have much knowledge. I sure would be looking into getting my license though. This is the radio I’m asking about… VTG Divco-Wayne Military Radio Signal Generator Frequency Meter AN/URM-32A BC221

    • Hi Rose. That’s not a radio, it’s a piece of test equipment used to measure and generate frequencies so it won’t be any good for you.

  18. After SHTF, repeaters will not be operational as they require people to operate them and power to power them.

    A highly (modded) CB radio will talk as far as you need to as long as you understand basic antenna principals.

    It still does not hurt to have a good radio like a yaesu FT-60. The old Cobra 29 will likely get more use though.

    • Most repeaters have backup power supplies and people who run them who could figure things out if SHTF. Besides, if you’re on the right frequencies, you can get around the world on your own with a ham radio without a repeater. You cannot do that on a CB radio. It will not work. CB frequencies will not travel around the world. Some ham radio frequencies will.

      • Joe Schierer says

        Many Ham repeater sites have backup power.
        The LIMARC repeater on Long Island is on a commercial rooftop with many other repeaters and has emergency power. It was operational throughout Hurricane Sandy, and was my only form of reliable communications during that time. An informal net ran during much of the hurricane, where Hams help spread information on which Gas stations were open, etc.

  19. I have to take exception with your list of “amateur radio emergency frequencies that you should keep in mind when both looking for radios and coming up with your emergency communications plan.”

    Only two of those frequencies are authorized to amateur radio operators: 52.525 MHz and 146.52 MHz.

    The remainder of the list are scattered among commercial, military, maritime, public safety, and aeronautical services.

    Under no circumstances (unless they have a licenses to transmit there) should anyone use those frequencies.

    I really encourage you to update this post.

    • Nowhere did I say you need to be transmitting on all those frequencies just because you feel like it. Those are listed for reference because in an emergency situation you could gain information by listening to them – and in a REAL emergency situation, if I HAD to get a hold of someone and could only reach someone on one of those freqs, I’m absolutely going to use it if my radio will tx on it. Anyone who gets a license to be able to transmit legally in the first place would understand this so it’s not like I’m giving out incorrect information.

  20. I’m late to the party as this is article is a year and a half old…but….

    A lot (not all) the information given here is technically correct but has no practical value (a spark gap transmitter? Really?). Crystal and foxhole radios are interesting and they really do work, barely, sort of. This article implies that they are a realistic option. I’ve made both and they are not.

    The list of “amateur radio emergency frequencies” is mostly frequencies NOT used by amateur radio. I realize this may be a matter of semantics, but when your target audience is people who know nothing about radio, semantics matter.

    This article is not factually inaccurate but it is oversimplified almost to the point of being maliciously negligent. Any beginners reading this should know they’re not going to throw together some junk from around the house and have a useful, practical, working radio.

    I’ve been a ham for 30 years and a professional technician almost as long. Anyone who suggests a spark gap generator as an option has outed themselves as (and I’m being generous here) someone who absolutely should not be taken seriously.

    • Some people who come to this site are interested in worst-case information, so I provide it, as well as mostly mainstream information. I also provided the spark gap in particular because it needed a little clearing-up from what I’ve read on other blogs. So you’re saying it’s absolutely, under no circumstances, in any way, shape, or form any kind of solution for anything that could ever possibly happen? I added those additional pieces to make a complete article. I don’t believe I came across in any way that those are the best ways. I also don’t believe it would be impossible for someone to use those in a long-term, grid-down situation, that some of my readers are interested in.

      Write your own article if you think you can do better.

      • Amen, GW. We’re all adults here. The well rounded info presented is much appreciated. You’re always honest and straightforward.

      • I can think of some highly useful applications for survivalists to understand the basics of a spark gap generator. Not the least of which is potentially jamming communications to UAV’s and drones were we ever invaded by a foreign military.

      • A spark gap xmitter would only be useful for an emergency SOS signal

    • Wow please get over yourself even novice people understand what was written without your translation and fear of the law mongering. If there is a big enough emergency situation I can tell you while you adhere to the regulations the rest of us are going to transmit and listen to where ever we can, period!

      • Once you figure out how to set up the antennas and impedences and which frequencies work in which conditions, etc. You can’t do that now without a license. Good luck trying to do that all during an emergency when you need to tx/rx immediately.

  21. Hello,

    Could you suggest an easy to use handheld radio? Also, a repeater to buy and an antenna so that I can reach people hundreds of miles away? I am just learning and need some help. I am willing to spend a few hundred bucks on equipment. Thank you,

  22. Admin. Ryan says

    Hey, Greywolf. We’re looking to give you a guest writing spot on the site to send back to greywolfsurvival.com on any topic you choose. Let me know if you’re interested.

  23. In the second paragraph you have a link to Amazon. I’m just wondering if you still recommend that one for a beginner? I ask because I noticed this was written over a year ago. Thanks! Very informative!

    • I linked to that one specifically because it’s pretty much the least expensive ham radio you can get that you can start learning with that will still work. Probably a better idea than tossing out $800 for a Yaesu but it all depends on where you want to put your money.

  24. Smoke Hill Farm says

    I believe that there will be a lot more people on the CB if things really go bad for any length of time, primarily because it doesn’t depend on towers or repeaters. A lot of people have old CB units sitting in their basement or garage, and will eventually think of trying it. So I pulled mine out & hooked it up, just to make sure it worked.

    One recommendation, based more on rumor than any real knowledge: If you’re looking around for used CB’s at yard sales or on eBay, you might be better off with one of the older 23-channel models instead of the “newer” 40-channel units. I have heard from a number of people (who should know) that the power on the 23-channel models is significantly higher than the newer ones — that the government dropped the max power output when the 23 to 40-channel change was made.

    Also — they used to have devices, usually called a “power mike” that would boost the output of your CB signal tremendously. I believe they were technically illegal, but a lot of truckers had them anyway.

    I also understand that “base station” CB’s have a lot more allowed power than the usual 12-volt vehicle-type or hand-held models. The trade-off being, of course, that it might be easier to find 12-volt power than 110-volt if the grid falls apart.

  25. Ok iam 73 I been do this stuff since I was about 6 years old SWL thats short wave listener. QRP hit it the closes on the button. which Iam one low power station. real low. i live in lower arizona and have reach around the world Indian ocean union Island. zulu south africa new zealand little Islands in the pacific japan i can go on and on its fun and great to do. I know you do it to with your 500 watt lintard big deal try 5 watts stupid. OK first you got to read try Shrader electronic communication. the books get bigger after that. Attennta books must read. Grounding is the beganing must read. I live next door to a man that ran voice america in dixon cailf. he said billy put a ground rod down. today I got four ground rods down on river bottom land that i pour ten pound of rock salt on every year maybe the only salt marce in arizona belive me it works ten foot rods does it no high power lines around. attennas are fun built your own or pay a thounsand or better. i built attennas that nasa had to come and look at. one they came flying out of sky but thats still top secret. thank god for area 51. radios listeners win. alagader lose. tune in listen. you learn so much by keeping your mouth shut. low power morse code will get you going really good. and its all easy.

  26. OK this is top secret stuff . when earth talks to the people on the moon . they use a half of a watt of power. and thats real. not bad for playing on the radio.

  27. now that top secret dont tell anyone.

  28. jack hooten says

    trying to find an easy to follow instruction to set up bao-feng radios?

  29. Is there anything / device out there that could replace the cell phone incase of an emergency that could be recharged by a solar panel and that don’t need uncle sam’s involvement to use for our family ?

  30. I dislike reading time-consuming posts, only as i have got some dislexia,
    but i actually loved this one

    • Thanks Victoria. I’d love to be able to write short posts but every time I try, it ends up being long because I want people to know enough to adapt what they know to real life.

  31. George W.R. Jr says

    Im loving your site, Facebook page. Im also prior military also former law-enforcement. With two combat tours to iraq with infantry. Since then I always had a bailout bag. Now with my new family a few states away. Due to geting the next kid out of high school. Just in 10th grade now. Dont wanna sawp her school. But the whole family is on bored. We are prepping for the worst case scenario, hoping for the best. I beleieve im on the right path, but with a new family them not having any out door type of skills. Its become very challenging. But they fully turst the training i lay out for them. Nomrlly i would just read do my own reseach on things with my family. From my own background i feel that there a time limit on things during this time of the world. That said, im reaching out to you to ensure the safety of my family. They are 8hours from me. So they each will have bailout bag. And each with a certain skill. Like one will best in land navigation other in other on commo. Of course everyone will know how to do everyone’s job in the event the unforeseen happens to one of them. There other things that we are doing. Cause i cant be there day to day to get there mind set right. I would very much go over my plan with you. So you can give advise where needed. Cause my family is my life line. After one is outta hs the rest of the family will he moving here with me. So untill then its a stress time. We are always back and forth to oneanothers homes. Also cant move because of my elder grandfather our bussinses. Thanks looking forward to hearing from you. George

  32. Derrick Bennett says

    So what would be the best for shtf/martial law scenario where one would like to not be tracked?

  33. Captain Chris says

    Golf Whiskey
    this is
    Charlie Lima
    BRAVO ZULU on a GR8 series of posts.
    Out here on the NW edge of the Atlantic (@ FN41so) we are ready for SH’gTF in hurricane season, so a warhead exchange shouldn’t be much of a challenge – RELATIVELY SPEAKING !
    73_DE W1PPY/MM

  34. Prince Eric says

    I agree that ham radios are the optimal choice in an emergency situation. We use older generation Jedi series motorola radios because of their durability as well as they are intrinsically safe if you are on a situation where there may be a natural gas leak or at various chemical plants.

  35. Hi,
    Recent events have caused me to attempt to start prepping. I’m a single woman in my late 50’s on a fixed income. I have no family, but I do have a close friend who lives less than a mile away. I would like to be able to communicate with her if SHTF. I would also like to be able to hear police and other emergency broadcasts in my area. I live in a fairly small town about 40 miles from Atlanta, GA. If anyone reads this, could you recommend a radio that would do the job for me? Thanks in advance.

  36. Hello. I am new to this but have been prepping for a few years now my husband and I are slightly older disabled pensioners and we live in Northern Ontario, Canada. Came across your site and like the posts hope to find out lots more from this site. Looking forward to reading and or participating we are trying to learn everything that we will need to know. Thanks for reading.

  37. kenneth lynch says

    thanks you really made my day i programed my baofeng uv-r5 fm ham radio o was talking to a friend that lives i dwight illinois i live here up in joilet illinois thanks i made very good contact.

  38. It’s kind of you to go to all the trouble of sharing so much of what you know. We are fortunate to learn from your experience and mistakes. Much thanks.

  39. Only just touching base with this Gray Wolf, thank you. To learn this will be immeasurably helpful. Especially communicating overseas. Thank you for what you do

  40. Jonathan Weiss says

    Paralyzed United States Marine Corps veteran, who is on his own, and is recovering from surgery. Bought a UV 5R for the inevitable, as I see it, SHTF scenario.

    Would like to get licensed, but need to know the best source for studying, and being prepared for the initial exam.

    Also, even though I utilized Morse code in my MOS, it’s been a while, and I’m extremely rusty. Is this something I’m going to need?

    I also have a pair of Motorola civilian walkie-talkie type radios, and a CB in my truck. Just want to be prepared, so that I will be able to communicate during an emergency, or what I see as the evolving situation with the Coronavirus.

    Comments, and recommendations absolutely welcome.

    Semper Fi ??

  41. Kathy H. says

    I have one of my father’s old shortwave radios. I did get my license and joined a ham radio club while at college, but the license has long since expired. I live in a condo now and have no idea how to hook up the antenna. Also, what happens when the electricity goes out? I’m not clever like my father, who used to build things himself, and who could, well, you know, do ANYTHING with this stuff.

    (He designed radars for a living; he designed and built our house; he rebuilt a car engine that was in pieces in a box and got the car inspected and legally licensed and on the road; and so much more. You know, THAT kind of guy!)

    Also, I need someone to transmit TO. No one else in my family or among my friends has a short-wave radio. But maybe being licensed and set up might help someone else during an emergency?

    Would this be worth pursuing? Thanks.

  42. Ham is the way to go. I also have a set of walkie talkies that is functional up to 1000 yards. Perfect if we are a small team who needs to temporarily split up. Bought it because I needed a baby alarm and they turned out to be pretty powerful.

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