Handheld Radio Communications When SHTF

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During most major disasters, cell phones stop working and people are unable to get in touch with their loved ones. In a long term SHTF event, it is a given that cell phone networks will no longer be active. This makes having an alternate way to communicate an important part of emergency preparedness planning.

Using a radio to communicate and receive information during an emergency has proven reliable in many disasters in the past. Unfortunately, radio communication can be very complex for the average prepper and I have found that many people avoid the topic all together for lack of understanding.

Because of the importance of this issue, I thought I would create an introductory guide on the different types of handheld radio devices. I also recommend checking out this great list of articles about emergency communications on my website http://survivalpulse.com.

Two-Way Radios (Transceivers)

Two-way radios are simply radios that can be used to both transmit and receive. The frequencies that a two way radio can operate on determine if a radio is considered a HAM radio, a walkie talkie, CB radio, etc. Below is a breakdown of the common types of two-way radios.

Standard Walkie Talkie (GMRS/FRS)

Family Radio Service/General Mobile Radio Service (FRS/GMRS) frequencies are most commonly associated with the typical walkie-talkie you can find sold in pairs at the store or online for under $100.

These radios have a limited range (usually up to 1-2 miles or so in urban areas). The boxes for these radios are often misleading, promoting the max range that is possible in ideal conditions (e.g. mountain top to valley on a clear day).

They come with a number of frequencies that can be used to transmit and receive. Some of the frequencies are FRS frequencies, which automatically limit the amount of power that the device uses when transmitting. This limits the range/clarity of the device. You can transmit on these frequencies without any type of license.

The other frequencies are GMRS frequencies, which transmit using more power but require a license to use. GMRS frequencies allow up to 5 watts max for transmitting but even high end walkie talkies do not transmit using this much power.

The good thing about a GMRS license is that there is no test and your entire family is allowed to use the GMRS frequencies when you buy one license. If there are GMRS repeaters in your area (basically towers that amplify your transmission) you will be able to communicate at much greater distances.

It is possible to buy 5 watt handheld programmable radios and program them to use GMRS frequencies. This would extend the range of the radio further than pre-programmed consumer versions.

Pros

  • Affordable.
  • Easy to use.
  • Compact.
  • Can use repeaters on GMRS frequencies.

Cons

  • Limited Range with off-the-shelf models.
  • Requires a license to transmit on GMRS frequencies.

MURS Radio

Multi Use Radio Service (MURS) radios are similar in capabilities to FRS/GMRS radios. A different frequency band (made up of only 5 frequencies) is used. MURS radios are allowed to use more power to transmit than a radio transmitting on an FRS frequency but less power than a radio transmitting in a GMRS frequency. No license is required to transmit on MURS frequencies.

Pros

  • Affordable.
  • Easy to use.
  • Compact.
  • Does not require a license.

Cons

  • Limited range.
  • Limited number of frequencies.
  • No access to repeaters.

CB Radio

Citizens band (CB) radios operate on a different frequency band than FRS/GMRS and MURS radios. Without going into specifics, the frequencies used by CB radios are typically less effective at communicating in an urban environment when compared to FRS/GMRS frequencies. Handheld CB radios are significantly larger than FRS/GMRS and MURS radios making them less than ideal for a bug out bag.

Pros

  • Affordable.
  • No license required.

Cons

  • Limited range.
  • Larger than other handheld two way radios.
  • No access to repeaters.

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