“Everything you say can and will be used against you in the court of law” – this popular phrase suddenly has a whole new meaning as reports confirm that darn near everything we type, speak and write is openly and unapologetically recorded, tracked, logged and filed to undoubtedly be used against us one day in some way, shape or form.

With communications being a hot topic in the news this week, I thought it would be a good time to discuss some backup options during a bug out, bug in or grid down scenario.

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It’s no secret that traditional, grid-dependant communication tools such as cell phones, land-line phones, Internet and email suffer significant outages during even minor disasters. Heck, even high-profile sporting events and elections can overwhelm cell tower capacities. We’ve all heard the infamous “All circuits are busy” recording on our cell phone at some point or another.

Yet sending and receiving information during a grid down disaster scenario is critical. Do you have a backup plan for communicating with other family members? Do you have a method of receiving disaster-related information for your area? Below are a three, alternative, grid-optional communication tools you may want to consider.

Two-way radios: FRS/GMRS radios

Family Radio Service (FRS) and General Mobile Radio Service (GMRS) are very similar. These are the two-way radio “walkie-talkies” that you can find at most outdoor retailers.

FRS came first and is less powerful. These two-way radios do not require a license to operate. But believe it or not, the more powerful GMRS two-way radios do require a license from the FCC to use. The license costs $85 for five years. I wonder if all those families at Disneyworld I saw a few years ago got their GMRS license from the FCC before they used those walkie-talkies I saw all over the place. You can buy GMRS radios at virtually every outdoor retail store in the world without a license, but you are supposed to get a license before you use them. For many of you, I’ll bet this is the first time you ever heard of that.

FRS/GMRS radios are great for short-range communications. Keep in mind the ranges quoted on the packaging are in optimal environments. Some work as far as 36 miles. Ranges in and around building or trees and hills are significantly shorter. However, these are ideal communications tools for a team evacuating an area at the same time in separate vehicles. They will work as long as you have batteries (or chargers). These are perfect patrol and scout radios.

While not private, most GMRS radios have 23 channels and also privacy sub-channels. I’ve been at large sporting events with my GMRS radios and have been able to find an “almost” private channel. I say “almost,” because you can never tell if someone is listening.

I definitely recommend getting a nice pair of GMRS radios for your disaster prep kit. I use a pair of Midland GXT Pros, which have an integrated NOAA weather radio (great for keeping informed of disaster related news). These have rechargeable battery packs with both a DC (cigarette lighter vehicle port) and AC charger (regular 110v plug). They are also waterproof, and I’ve been really impressed with the range.

Citizen-band (CB) radio

I grew up on a farm with several relatives who lived nearby. We used CB radios as a regular form of communication between homes and homes, between homes and vehicles and between vehicles and vehicles. We could talk from home to a friend or relative in a car many miles away and often did.

CB radios are what truck drivers use and have 40 channels. They are excellent communication tools for vehicles, especially when cell phones aren’t working. The normal range can be anywhere from 1 to 12 miles and depends greatly on the size of antenna, terrain and weather. They are very popular on the roadways and operate on a different frequency than FRS and GMRS radios.

For disaster preparedness, GMRS radios are excellent communication options between you and your loved ones, though other people may be able to hear you if they are on the same channel. CB radios can be used the same way, but they are a better source for outside information because many users often communicate on few channels. People who use CB radios typically listen to one of two main channels – 9 or 19. Consequently, CB radios are great for communicating information amongst people in the similar geographic area. However, messages can travel long distances very fast. It is a well known fact that communication between CB radios during large-scale disasters such as Hurricane Katrina was extremely beneficial in reporting and dealing with disaster-related information.

The CB radio I use is the Guardian Alert CB radio also made by Midland. It too has a built-in NOAA weather band channel for instant emergency and weather updates. I chose to use a dash-mount model, but smaller, battery-powered, handheld units are available as well.

Morse code

This may sound archaic, but you never know when you might be faced with a scenario where silent communication could be your only option. There is a reason why the military still trains communications personnel in Morse code. Anything can happen, and being 100-percent reliant on electronics is a dangerous game of chance. It’s all about having layers of options. I’ll never envy a guy with no options.

Print this Morse code chart, and keep it in your disaster survival kit. Morse code can be communicated using such simple actions as flashes from a flashlight or tapping on pipes. You just never know.


Information is power. Additional layers of off-grid communication tools may be the key to keeping your family safe, informed and together one day during a time of crisis. Be careful, though, Big Brother is absolutely watching [and recording].
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