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Emergency Family Communication Planning

One of the classes I offer at Heritage Life Skills is the Family Communication Planning. In this course we address what Danny discusses in the article below. Over the past few years I have assisted several folks who attended this class at Heritage Life Skills 2018 and 2019 to build their Family Communication Plans. This plan is one of the important stages of your overall preparedness efforts. Sadly, it is often neglected and simply overlooked. Maybe even neglected. You have a better chance of driving 500 miles on a quarter tank of fuel than you will have surviving a SHTF scenario without a Family Communication Plan. Even if you have communication equipment, don't assume the unwritten and unpracticed plan will come together without confusion and failure. Radio discipline and understanding is critical. If you have any questions on this subject feel free to email me.

The article....

Emergency Family Communication and Planning

You never know when a disaster will strike; so are you prepared for when one does? Chances are you're not! There are so many people who don't like to talk about a potential disaster; many of them believe that by doing so they will only be tempting fate. Unfortunately, the head in the sand method of dealing with any real life crisis is only ever going to end one way...badly! Thankfully not everyone is an ostrich!

Preppers take great pride in planning for pretty much every eventuality and are extremely confident that what they have planned for, stored, and readied, will be more than enough to see them through even the harshest of disaster scenarios. However, sometimes even well organized and pragmatic preppers will often overlook something when piecing together their plans; more often than not it is emergency radio communication.

Why is radio communication ignored by so many when planning for emergencies? There could be any number of reasons why radio communication is often overlooked or simply deemed unnecessary by many people. Worryingly, the likely reason could be the unflinching faith that many people have that their cell phones will never let them down when the SHTF, so why would they need anything else? Of course, it is totally understandable that people think like this; the reliability and range of cell networks and telecommunications in general has improved massively over the years, so it would make perfect sense to use them as the primary communication method in an emergency.

What also makes sense is that most people already have a cell phone, and even the youngest of kids are more than accomplished at using cell phones nowadays. But... Despite all the huge improvements in terms of the advancement in communication technology, our structure is still unbelievably vulnerable, even from the smallest and least disruptive of natural disasters. Past disasters have repeatedly highlighted just how crucial radio communication has been, and will continue to be, during and after any disaster type event. This is why it makes perfect sense to have some type of radio communication as a backup system for contacting family and friends, as well as the authorities, should phones be rendered useless. However, before moving on to cover the different types of radio communication that are available there's the important matter of establishing a family emergency communication plan.

Why is a communication plan for your family so important in an emergency? Chances are that when a disaster strikes, your family won't be together. In this type of situation it is instinctive for families to want to regroup as quickly as possible. A family emergency communication plan helps a family to do exactly that and in as short a time as possible. So, what should an emergency communications plan include?

You can check out the official FEMA guide to making an emergency family communications plan provided by the US Dept of Homeland Security here it is very comprehensive and covers everything you need to know. The UK Government offers a similar guide which you can find here.

Below is a quick breakdown of the guidelines FEMA recommends.

1. Create a list of everyone you intend to contact when you enact your plan and distribute it to everyone who is on that list.

2. The list should include all contact details for each name - address, phone numbers, email, and if possible, social media links.

3. Also, if applicable, you'll need a main contact locally as well as 1 or 2 contacts that live further afield out of state perhaps. You should agree on who these people are early on, so everyone on your list can use them as the primary reference point during a period of SHTF. These will be your main points of contact.

4. The nominated person who is the main point of contact will be able to focus on coordinating evacuation and on bringing together family and group members.

5. Once disaster strikes, and you've managed to escape unharmed, among the first things you need to do is to get in contact with those on your list of emergency contacts.

All contingency plans, schedules and updates should be conveyed to everyone in your list. You will need to get in touch with your primary point of contact initially, and if a possibility, send emails or a text message to your emergency list as well as updating your social media. Now obviously the list above is all great if your cell phones, landlines, and internet are all operating, but what if they're not? In the likely event of a total network failure your contingency plan to coordinate a regroup, and the best way of keeping in touch with other members of your family, is to use radio communication.

Which modes of radio communication are available?

There are three popular and readily available modes of two way radio communication accessible to the public; CB radio, FRS/GMRS radio, and Ham Radio. Each has their pros and cons but all of them will provide emergency family communications when telecommunications are down.

FRS/GMRS Two-Way Radios

Family Radio Service and General Mobile Radio Service are the two types of consumer two way radios that are frequently referred to as walkie talkies by many people. They are designed for short-distance two-way communication, are very affordable, and are very easy to use, hence why many people choose them as their first choice communication backup to cell phones. FRS radios do not require any licensing although the more powerful GMRS radios do.

A license can be picked up easily enough from the FCC in the United States. In the UK a license is required for any radio with an output greater than 0.5Watts. Although GMRS radios are more powerful than FRS radios both are extremely limited when it comes to range. Marketing is often misleading and will state a radios range is anything up to 38 to 50 miles. This type of range is only ever achievable in perfect conditions. (Unobscured mountain top to valley floor). This is because FRS/GMRS radios are line of sight radios. Line of sight means that if there is any type of obstruction between a pair of communicating handsets the strength of the signal will be seriously reduced! In short, it is highly unlikely that you would ever use FRS/GMRS radios under perfect conditions. In fact, you should only ever expect a maximum range of around 2 miles, especially in urban locations. If you think you will need more range than that, and in most cases you will, then you need to look at something more powerful.

CB Radio

Many people associate CB radio with truckers and understandably so, as every rig seemed to have a Citizens Band radio fitted in the 70's and 80's. CB radios have progressed from that time too and can easily be found in convertible mobile and handheld radio configurations and you're able to monitor and or access emergency communication channels as well. Like FRS/GMRS radios range is a problem but in most cases it is an improvement, extending range to at least double that of a FRS/GMRS handheld, plus there are no licensing requirements. Although not as freely available as FRS/GMRS radios, CB radios are easy enough to get your hands on and are also relatively affordable. CB radios are versatile; you can have a rig fitted into your vehicle, a handheld set for every member of your group, and a base station at home with a huge antenna which will greatly increase the range of your system.

The major downside of CB radios is the limited number of bands available meaning there is definitely an issue with privacy, which could be a problem in certain SHTF scenarios.

Amateur or HAM Radio

The best mode of radio communication by far in terms of increased power and range, ham radio is definitely at the top of the heap! It is the communication method of choice for practically every emergency response body, search and rescue, and emergency group. Depending on the power and equipment used there is no limit to the range that can be achieved with ham radio.

As for using ham radio for emergency preparedness, handheld ham radios are perfect, have more than enough range, and, as with CB radios, a home base station is also an option. As good as ham radio is there is a down side. Ham radio is far more technical to use, more expensive, requires training and plenty of practice to become a skilled operator, and you are required to pass an exam before you are able to transmit. All of which is fine for most adults but, young children and those who struggle technically will find using ham radio a challenge, but not impossible given time.


Having an emergency radio communication backup plan for when cell and telecommunication networks are down isn't about being overly cautious. It is common sense emergency planning based on history. Ham radio is by far the best option but all the radio modes covered above are ideal as standalone secondary communication options. However, there is nothing wrong with incorporating more than one of them into your plan especially if there are members of your family or group, that struggle using HAM radio, as long as your communication plan makes allowances for it, it will be fine.


Bravo Echo Out

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