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[Admin note: I extended the sale! Prices go back to normal on Monday, 5/26.]

For those who like a quick, summary view:
  • “The Day After” is on sale now on Amazon! (and at a temporary low price). See links below.
  • Paperback and Kindle versions of my other books are available at temporary, lower prices too!
  • Get ready for a fun contest!

Amateur Radio, Emergency Communications and Disaster Preparedness Tips in the Sequel to “The Road Home”

Now for the details. Drum roll please… I’m happy to announce that “The Day After” is now available on Amazon.com! Finally, you’ll be able to read about what happens to Robbie and some other fascinating characters on the day after the massive Pacific Northwest earthquake. And there’s even more great news – keep reading…
The Road Home book is now available on Amazon

The Day After on sale now!

In celebration of the release, for the next week only, “The Day After” is on sale at a significant, one-time discount, both in print and Kindle formats, at up to 40% off.  The paperback, which will go up to $12.99 shortly, is on sale now for only $9.99. (To top it off, Amazon will discount it even further, but I can’t predict exactly how much.) The Kindle version, which will be priced at $4.99, is now on sale for only $2.99!

And if you haven’t read my other books, they’re on sale too!

Remember, these low prices will only last for a week.

There is another way to save money. If you buy the paperback on Amazon and want a copy to read on Kindle, you can buy the additional Kindle copy for only $0.99 (since I participate in Amazon’s “MatchBook” program) That price is usually $1.99 or $2.99, so this is a huge savings too!  You can buy both, give the paperback to someone as a gift, and still own the book on your Kindle. :-)
And last but not least, I’ll be running a fun contest and giving away cool prizes. Be on the lookout for more details on how to participate.
Please pass this email along to family and friends, so they’ll also be able to take advantage of this short-term offer!
Thanks, and happy reading!
Andrew
*Please note: Amazon hasn’t yet updated the price on Personal Emergency Communications, so if you don’t see it available at the 11.99 price (or discounted from that price), wait a little longer and it will update.
{ 4 comments }

 

I have good news and bad news. Let’s start with the bad news.  You’ll have a very difficult time finding eXRS radios because TriSquare has apparently decided to stop manufacturing them.  Here’s one reference to that effect (even though as of publication, their website is still up). Apparently my recommendation didn’t go viral and significantly boost their revenue :-) .

Motorola DTR650 FHSS handheld radio, image from www.motorola.com

Motorola DTR650 FHSS handheld radio, image from www.motorola.com

Now for the good news.  Frequency-hopping spread-spectrum (FHSS) radios are still available for general, unlicensed use! (Reminder: FHSS radios switch frequencies multiple times per second and only transmit for a fraction of a second at a time, making it impossible to intercept without very expensive, specialized equipment, which I assume that only three-letter agencies and military units have.)

A Better FHSS Option?

Motorola is producing the DTR650, the latest in its line of FHSS radios (including the DTR410 and DTR550). This is a good thing. Motorola generally makes solid radio equipment, and the DTR650 meets various military specifications (810 C, 810 D, 810 E, 810 F) for blowing rain, salt fog, vibration, blowing dust, shock and temperature.  They appear to be much more durable than the TriSquare radios. You can see the DTR650 specifications here.

Additionally, they have many accessories available, including various earpieces, antennas, chargers, etc. And since this appears to be the latest in a line of radios, there will presumably be improvements to the product line and warranty or technical support available long into the future.

It isn’t all roses, however. I’m finding these radios for sale in the $200-250 range, per radio. That’s quite a bit more than the eXRS models, but depending on your budget and communication needs, these may fit the bill.

I haven’t used these radios yet, but I’m definitely interested in doing a hands-on evaluation. Now if I could convince Motorola to ship me a pair to evaluate… :-)

Stay safe,
Andrew AB8L

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What do a bridge collapse and the Seahawks winning the Super Bowl have in common? If you were there, odds are good that you couldn’t use your phone.

Emergency Cell Phone Outage #1

On May 23, 2013, a truck with an oversized load crashed into the bridge structure on I-5 near Mount Vernon, WA. Aside from the bridge being taken out of commission, disabling traffic flow in the Interstate for almost a month, there was another issue: cell phone voice traffic came to a standstill.

How did that happen? Were all of the local cell towers built on top of the bridge? Did the truck also somehow hit a cell tower before taking out the bridge? Did an important communication cable run across the bridge? How could a truck hitting a bridge take away the ability to make a phone call?

The truck didn’t take out a cell tower. Everyone in the area afterward did. Everyone tried making calls at the same time, paralyzing local cellular phone systems. It was that easy. No earthquake, tornado, sun spots or alien attack required.

Emergency Cell Phone Outage #2

In 2014, the Seahawks won the Super Bowl. Washington fans were excited, to say the least. They were so excited, in fact, that on February 5, 2014 about 700,000 came to Seattle, into the same area at one time, to congratulate the team. In doing so, while calling their families, texting their friends, and updating their Facebook pages, they nearly took out downtown Seattle’s cell phone service. This was after cell phone companies, anticipating significant additional usage, upped bandwidth and brought in additional, mobile cell towers. In addition to significantly degraded service, it appeared that 911 service was being seriously impacted, and officials were so worried that they started making announcements, asking people to stop using their phones, to allow for emergency voice traffic.

What is your emergency communication plan?

The moral of the story (aside from “Stay away from sensationally-broken bridges and crowds of over 500,000 people”) is no surprise to a reader like you: You can’t always rely on your cell phone, especially if you are in or near an emergency that is bigger than your personal situation. Consider getting a radio to round out your communications toolset!

Of course, the naysayer would point out that if everyone had radios, those airwaves would be clogged up too, especially in an emergency. Probably true, but don’t worry. That won’t happen, no matter how often I or any other radio-pushers recommend. :-)

I don’t mean to sensationalize radios. They’re no panacea. We know that in the days of yore (e.g. before the 1990s), people were indeed able to survive without cell phones or radios, even if the absence of a texting, selfie-snapping, web-surfing smartphone is unimaginable for some folks. Regardless, if you have a serious need to keep in touch with someone no matter what, definitely consider a radio for your backup plan.

Here’s another opinion, from the Seattle Times Article referenced below:

“Kyle Moore, public-information officer for the Seattle Fire Department, said he’s always getting laughed at for using an ‘old-school pager.’ But he gets the last laugh knowing his device will respond in an emergency. ‘If the cellphone towers go down, this pager works,’ Moore said.”

Personally, while a pager is a radio of sorts, I’d rather have a ham radio, and some (e.g. Yaesu VX-3R) are about the size of a pager (if you remove the antenna). Just sayin’.

For more details, see links to the parade and bridge outage articles below.

———————————————

You can read more information on the Seattle near-outage here: http://seattletimes.com/html/localnews/2022854455_cellfailurexml.html.

This is the only article I saw mentioning that cell communications were impacted: http://www.goskagit.com/news/reports-bridge-collapses-between-mount-vernon-burlington/article_52637dd0-c417-11e2-bf59-001a4bcf887a.html.

About halfway down the article, you’ll see: “Daryl Hamburg, manager of operations for Dike District 12, said cell phones are not working at the moment except for texts. Hamburg said people are everywhere.”

If you’re interested in more background on the collapse, you can get the low-down here: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/I-5_Skagit_River_Bridge_collapse. Note there’s no mention of communications being impacted at the time of the incident!

73,

Andrew AB8L

{ 2 comments }

Why mess with amateur radio? What’s cool about it? Why put in the time and effort, just to talk to someone, especially when you already have a phone?  Take a deep breath and the answers will be revealed… There is more here than meets the eye.

1. The Cool, High-Tech Gear

Amateur radio doesn’t look quite like this any more.

I’ll admit, at first I was intrigued mostly by the gear. I’m a gadget guy at heart, and I’ve always been fascinated by the latest, coolest gizmos, from smartphones to one-handed fire-starting devices, LED flashlights, and titanium multi-tools. And at first, I thought amateur radio gear was all old-school, nearly antique technology, walkie-talkies with huge antennas or big desk radios with multiple knobs and dials and an accompanying, huge chrome microphone like they used in the old days (see picture).

And I was partially right. There are walkie-talkies and big desktop radios. But the technology has been changing constantly, and I found those changes fascinating. The amount of change isn’t in the same order of magnitude as with massively-popular smartphones or high-resolution, flat-screen, 3D TVs with built-in Internet applications, but there have been big changes, including increased popularity of digital technology such as APRS and D-STAR, software-defined radio, and (tongue in cheek…) the use of 20th-century technology such as USB connectors in desktop and even some handheld radios.

Modern handheld radios are loaded with high-tech features! (Kenwood TH-D72A)

Nowadays, you can get small and very powerful radios jam-packed full of cutting edge circuitry. They don’t come with video-games, but they will transmit and receive all manner of radio signals very, very well. And for the hard-core gadget junkies among you, some of the hand-held radios even come with built-in GPS and Bluetooth support. :-)

2. Open New Doors

Barring the destruction of our telecommunications infrastructure, amateur radio will never be as popular as texting, playing word games with friends, taking pictures and video, or listening to music on the latest, coolest phone. But radio still has allure, and not just because of the radios themselves. Now you’re wondering… if it’s not just about the gadgets, the apps, the bling with the two hundred million dollar advertising budget, what then?

It should go without saying that any serious prepper should have radios and know how to use them, SHTF, TEOTWAKI and all. But we’re talking about relatively common scenarios in which ham radio plays a vital role very often.

Do you like to help people when they’re in trouble? At the scene of an accident, are you the type of person who will call 911 instead of taking pictures with your phone? (I just talked to someone the other day who took pictures with his phone as a fire burned a nearby building. Nobody called 911 for several minutes, and he didn’t even think of it until later. Yes, there are people like that. But if you’re reading this article, you most likely aren’t.)

Amateur radio is frequently used in emergency situations in which normal communications aren’t sufficient, either because they are unavailable (e.g., tornado or earthquake destroys or temporarily disables normal communications infrastructure), overloaded (not enough cell phones to go around, towers or land-lines overloaded), or you just need a well-trained communicator to do the talking.

Local ham radio operators, as well as operators from out of the area, through local organizations such as ARES or RACES, the Red Cross, and other groups, volunteer in disaster areas to help people in need. You could do this too, if this type of volunteering floats your boat.

Are you not ready for that much stress? There are other ways to volunteer that are much easier. Consider the many options to get involved in your community when everything is “normal.” For example, event organizers very frequently recruit local ham radio operators (usually through clubs or emergency communications groups) to help at events such as foot races, bike races, parades, walk-a-thons, etc. These events are usually very complex to organize, and hams play a vital role in ensuring messages get transferred rapidly and efficiently, people are safe, and problems are identified before they get too serious. Aside from being a great way to practice using equipment and getting to know how it will work in which locations and situations, these events are usually a lot of fun anyhow.

3. Learn Stuff You Should Know Anyway

The great sci-fi author Robert Heinlein wrote:

 “A human being should be able to change a diaper, plan an invasion, butcher a hog, conn a ship, design a building, write a sonnet, balance accounts, build a wall, set a bone, comfort the dying, take orders, give orders, cooperate, act alone, solve equations, analyze a new problem, pitch manure, program a computer, cook a tasty meal, fight efficiently, die gallantly.”

While he didn’t say “A human being should be able to operate a radio,” I bet he would have included it if he had more room. Many other important things didn’t make the cut, so ham radio operators shouldn’t feel slighted :-). And while I’m not a famous writer like Heinlein, I am a writer, so I’ll say this (and quote me all you like!):

“A human being should be able to operate a radio.”

Yes, everyone should have a basic idea of how to operate a radio. There are some simple things you should know, for example:

  1. Push the button and talk into the radio, then let go of the button so someone can talk back
  2. Yelling doesn’t make a radio transmit with any more power
  3. Listening usually uses a lot less power than talking (and most people should probably listen more anyway)

But there’s bonus material. Everyone should also have a very basic understanding of what electricity is, what radio waves are, and how an antenna is used. We don’t need to know that on a day-to-day basis the same way we need to know to tie our shoes or how to not overdraw the checking account, but it’s still good information, and radios are a part of our world. For example, cell phones are radios…

Another thing people should know about, which ties back to number two on the list, is who will be available to help in an emergency. Do you know who your emergency communications (emcomm) volunteers are in your area? How about the location of your city or county emergency operations center? And an even better question… would they let you in to help in an emergency? Go get an amateur radio license, volunteer for the group, get a fancy access badge, and you’re in!

Don’t forget one of the biggest reasons of all.

It’s fun!  The people are great. The technology is cool. The opportunities to learn and help others are endless. And the hobby is fun.

Enjoy!

 

{ 4 comments }

Winners Announced!

Update – 6/11/2012: We have winners for the May/June contest – Bob Willey (1st aid kit) and Ralph Dutcher (signed copy of “Personal Emergency Communications”) - congrats to both of you!

For everyone else, you may win something yet.  There will be more contests. I have more great stuff to give away to my readers. Sign up for my blog updates / newsletter and you won’t miss your chance! :-)

Thanks to everyone who participated, and stay tuned for more!

-Andrew

———————–

I want to thank all of you for being loyal readers! This time, my thanks will be in the form of two prizes in my first contest.  Freebies!

Personal Emergency Communications by Andrew Baze – win a free copy!

The first is a signed copy of “Personal Emergency Communications.” I’ll ask you for a name to make it out to, and a mailing address, and it will be yours!

Adventure Medical Ultralight .3 First Aid Kit – everyone needs one of these!

The second is an ultralight, waterproof first aid kit, from Adventure Medical Kits. This is one of the best ultralight kits on the market, and of course you should have one in your backpack, purse, go-bag, glovebox… the list goes on.

Of course, I would love to give all of you a prize, but I’m only giving away these two in this contest, but your odds are far better than winning $1 in the lottery. For a few seconds of your time, you might as well give it a shot :-).

How do you enter this contest? It’s simple:

  1. Post a relevant comment on one or as many as three articles (aside from this one) in www.emergencycommunicationsblog.com or www.preparedblog.com. One comment = one entry, up to three!
  2. Or “Like” me on my Facebook fan page here: https://www.facebook.com/AndrewBazeWriter. Liking = one entry.
  3. Send me an email telling me whether you did #1, #2, or both, and how many entries you get (between 1 and 4), and you’re all set. I’lll create the entries for you and add them to the pot. No fuss.

In the last week of May, I’ll make a random selection and we’ll have two happy winners. Ready? Go! And good luck to you.  :-)

-Andrew

{ 8 comments }

Do You Really Need a Personal Emergency Communications Plan? You tell me.

I recently wrote an article titled “A Chink in Your Emcomm Armor“, in which I described the need for people in emergency communications roles of any kind to have personal emcomm plans, in order to ensure they would be available in an emergency, versus doing their best to get home and check on family, neighbors, etc.

Then I went to EMCOMM West, a fun gathering of emcomm professionals in Reno, Nevada. The audience for my talk was about 50 people (I was excited to speak to a crowded room!), and I asked the same questions I’ve asked before.

“How many of you have some kind of emergency communications role, whether paid or volunteer?” Everyone but one person raised their hands.

“How many of you have a personal emergency communications plan?” … Not one hand went up.

I see this as opportunity, and in fact the topic of my class was “How to create your personal emcomm plan,” and we walked through a template, with people filling in options as we went. So am I surprised by the answers I got? No.

Now I have a different question, for everyone. Do you think people really need such a plan? Is it overkill? Am I tilting at windmills when I propose that everyone who has an emcomm role should have a personal plan in place? For that matter, what about people who aren’t interested in emergency communications, but who are still interested in disaster preparedness in general? I’d love to hear what you think. Maybe I’m biased. Maybe I’m taking an extreme approach. Or maybe I’m right on the money. What say you?

Reply to the article or shoot me an email – I’d love to hear what you have to say.

-Andrew

{ 5 comments }

I’m happy to announce that my next book is now available! If you have family, friends or anyone else you care about and want to be prepared to weather the next power outage or even a natural disaster, Personal Emergency Communications is a must-read.

Personal Emergency Communications by Andrew Baze

Written for the layman (no radio interest or expertise required!), I’ll walk you through the technology, the equipment you’ll need, and how you can make your own realistic, simple emergency communication plan, far more advanced and useful than the insufficient “have an out-of-area-contact” plan you’ve probably heard before.

I wrote this book for my friends and family, and for anyone who *isn’t* interested in radios at all, but who is interested in taking care of loved ones when the chips are down. Have you have ever wondered “What will I do if my cell phone, land-line phone, and the Internet don’t work?” or “How will I call [insert important people here] to know they’re safe?” Or do you only wonder now, since I asked the question? :-) In any case, this book is for you!

Here are comments from Ward Silver, author of “Two-Way Radios and Scanners for Dummies” and “Ham Radio for Dummies”:

This is a very useful book for someone interested in communicating in a disaster or emergency but who has little or no experience with using radio equipment… I like the book’s approach of “you can do this” and how it emphasizes thinking about what you want to accomplish, having several backup plans, and the need to practice. Andrew manages to explain the basics of different radio technologies while keeping a lot of the technical details from obscuring the basic points. To be sure…to get the most out of your radio and communicate effectively you’ll need to learn some of the technology but not all at once right at the beginning. The sections on personal prep and “go kits” is welcome and can’t be repeated enough. Going though his provided templates will help anyone think about planning and their personal circumstances which is a good thing – not enough people do it and are then unprepared. He provides on-line resources that will help the reader learn more about whatever technology they wind up deciding to use. This keeps the book from becoming an encyclopedia and makes it easy to read all the way through instead of getting sidetracked by details.

Give it a read and be much better prepared for an emergency.

-Andrew

 

{ 5 comments }

A Chink in Your Emcomm Armor?

Law enforcement, fire, medical, emcomm team members, Emergency Operation Center managers, other emergency services personnel and managers, business continuity (BC) or continuity of operations (COOP) coordinators, please pay attention. Being able to use most of your key emergency plans in a serious event will depend on what I discuss next.

Have you tested emergency response plans for your communications teams or emergency office? Maybe you’ve worked through a county-wide earthquake drill or simulated hurricane or tornado response. Most of us have done some testing or exercise. But a key part of these exercises is usually not covered. Specifically, who does the work if families are in danger? In other words, how well will those plans work if nobody shows up because they’re busy trying to determine whether their families are safe?

No Personal Emergency Communications Plan?

Most emergency operations people I meet are generally well-prepared for a short-term problem, with at least the three days of food and water, a CERT class under their belts, first aid, CPR and other basic certificates in place. But in a recent talk I gave to an audience of emergency management professionals in government and the private sector, I asked how many of them had a written, personal emergency communication plan. The results were eye-opening. Less than 10% of the audience raised their hands. While it may be different on your team or in your office, the numbers aren’t surprising to me. Very few people have answered “yes” when I ask whether they have a written plan. I aim to change that, slowly but surely…

Let’s be clear about the problem: most of the people we will need to rely on during or right after a disaster do not have a personal emergency communications plan. It doesn’t take a rocket surgeon to take this one step further. If the people who are already personally and professionally actively engaged in emergency preparedness don’t have a personal emcomm plan, the vast majority of people in their offices won’t either. The people they rely on won’t be available. When we test our official plans, we assume our emergency personnel will be present. In many cases, they won’t.

Here’s another way to look at it. If you are at work and your area is hit by an earthquake, twister, unexpected flooding, power outage or anything else that could seriously impact your family, what will be your focus? For that vast majority of us, our top priority will be to ensure our families are safe. Everything else is lower priority, even if our job is to help others in emergencies. Read about Paul Schubert, 30-year police veteran who needed to care for his wife after Katrina hit: http://www.usatoday.com/news/nation/2006-02-20-neworleanspolice_x.htm. If you get to the end, you’ll see the crux: “I chose my wife,” Schubert says. “It was a no-brainer.”

For the ~10% of the exceptionally well-prepared people who do have personal emcomm plans, I’ll ask you another question. Can you manage your offices alone? Can you do everything that needs to be done all by yourself, after a natural disaster or other emergency? Most of you will probably answer “no.”

This is a glaring gap in our overall ability to respond to a disaster at all levels. No amount of equipment and supplies will prepare us to survive disaster without any trained personnel to lead, communicate, coordinate logistics and distribution, etc. An emcomm plan for yourself and everyone you depend on is critical for every member of any emergency response organization.

How Do We Fix This?

What’s the solution? Just as with our planning at the city/county/state level, we should have a written and tested personal emcomm plan for every critical member of our various emergency response teams. This idea certainly shouldn’t be foreign, but it is still generally overlooked.

What kind of plan are we talking about? As with our “professional” plans, a plan needs to take the following into account:

  • Who? (e.g., family, friends, possibly neighbors we feel responsible for)
  • When do we attempt communication? If phones don’t work, when do we use precious battery power to transmit or listen?
  • What gear do we use at which time? Do you try with an FRS/GMRS radio, amateur radio, satphone? Which frequencies or channels do we use if the first ones are busy?
  • What are the backup plans, and what are their schedules?

Do you have a template for a plan? You can get one for free here.

Along with a realistic and tested plan comes equipment and training. Family members should be equipped and trained to use the appropriate technology for your budget, terrain, distances, etc.

Do you need more information? Dozens of tips on planning, technology specific gear are covered in my book Personal Emergency Communications, available on Amazon.com in print, and in Kindle and Nook formats soon.

Stay safe,

Andrew Baze, AB8L

 

{ 1 comment }

As you may know, I’ve been incredibly busy lately, working on my next book. It isn’t a sequel to “The Road Home” (I’m starting that in March!). Instead, it’s a nonfiction book this time, on emergency communications for “regular folks”. I wrote it with the intent of making emergency communications at least a little bit interesting to my mother, my non-ham friends, and anyone else who should be at least a little interested in having backup comms available. You probably know a few people who fit that description!

I’m posting the second chapter (in its current state – I’m doing a lot of revising now) for your reading enjoyment and review. Please comment – I would love to hear what you think.  As I recently said in an email to my blog subscribers, your comments matter and I really value them!

One thing you’ll notice – I’ve added a fiction blurb at the start of the chapter. I do this at the start of many chapters in the book, in order to make the content more “real” (ironically), so that readers, especially those unfamiliar with why emcomm matters, can connect with the message. One piece of feedback I heard recently: “I liked the little stories at the start of the chapters more than the nonfiction content”.  While that’s nice to hear, I can’t say that was my original intent, but it does accomplish what I was hoping: it hooks the reader, especially in an area he or she might not otherwise be excited!  So I’ll call that a little success for now.  What do you think? :-)

Whether you like the fiction or nonfiction, please let me know what you think, and enjoy!

—————-

Chapter 2: Creating a Personal Emergency Communication Plan – The Basics

Travis stood, cold and frustrated, outside his office building in the middle of the city. After the earthquake ended, it had taken an excruciating 25 minutes to get from the 12th floor to ground level in the stampede of office workers. The people from the 20th floor probably still had another hour before they’d be out. People milled about him looking frightened and cold, many having forgotten to grab their jackets.

He had remembered his, but still shivered involuntarily in the cold, autumn air. A far deeper chill shot through him as he wondered again if his daughter Emily was safe.  As part of his single father routine, Travis had dropped Emily off at day-care earlier that day, just like on any other day. It was about 6 miles away, between work and home.

While he knew the daycare building wasn’t very old and that the employees were trained on emergency procedures (as they are all required to be in his state), he wanted more than anything to know that his little girl was safe. He checked his phone, wondering if he had received a text message, email, or phone call from the school. No texts. No email. No voicemail. And that was probably because he also had no signal.

Travis stamped his feet against the cold and frustration that was building. His car was parked in the lot across the street, but looking at the gridlock that had formed in these last few minutes, he knew that it would take hours to drive the short distance, if he was able to reach the daycare at all. To add to the uncertainty, he would have to cross a bridge that spanned the nearby highway, if that bridge was still in one piece.

 He decided to go to his car anyway, to get warm and check the radio. Halfway there he realized he had left his keys in his desk drawer. Luckily, he had a spare in a hide-a-key attached to the car frame. On the radio, tense announcers discussed the obvious fact that they had just experienced a serious earthquake, the roads were clogged, some older buildings had collapsed, and emergency services were not available in many areas. The governor had declared a state of emergency, and FEMA was mobilizing, due to arrive with aid at some point…but when? How could he find out if Emily was OK?

All was not lost. Travis had given some thought to emergency preparations, and had a small bug-out-bag  in the trunk of his car, as well as an extra jacket. He was more prepared than most, but these preparations couldn’t help him determine whether his daughter was safe. 

After listening to the radio and collecting his wits for a few more minutes, Travis made up his mind. He got out, put on his jacket and backpack, took a last drink from the large water bottle in his car (he had another, smaller bottle in his bag), locked up, and started walking toward the daycare.  More than anything, he wished he could talk to someone at the daycare. Would anyone even be there by the time he got there?

———-

How will you be able to communicate in an emergency situation? Will you be able to talk with anyone other than those people in shouting distance? Can they talk to you? If you were in Travis’ shoes, what options would you have?

If you can’t make it home and you know your family is waiting, worried about you, will you be able to talk to them somehow? Or what if you have close friends in an area just hit by a tornado – how will you check to see if they’re all right? Will you have to wait for a notification from the Red Cross? Or will you be able to figure it out on your own? Many businesses have a “business continuity plan” or “emergency response plan,” to ensure the business doesn’t completely fail after an emergency. City, county, and state governments have emergency management offices, with employees whose full-time job is to plan for disasters. To make sure your family and friends are safe after a disaster, you should have a personal plan too! You may not have an emergency planning office at your disposal, but you are smart enough to read this book, so you are well on your way.

Let’s take it a step further. How could you communicate with your neighbors – the elderly widow down the block who always waves and says hello, or the young couple with three kids across the street? Is there any way to talk with them if there is a blizzard or tropical storm raging (depending on your location, of course), other than trekking out in it yourself?

The odds are slim that you’ll be able to accomplish any of these tasks without a basic emergency communications plan. But what’s the best way to figure out what to do? Of course, it depends on what you need. Let’s dig into that.

Step 1: Grab a piece of paper and a pen, and answer these questions. Don’t skip this part. If you don’t think about these questions and come up with good answers, your plan could have critical gaps.

Note: I strongly recommend you write down your answers. It’ll only take a moment, and you’ll be rewarded for this small time investment!

Key Questions

1.  Who are you?

At first glance, it probably sounds like a silly question, but think about this for a minute. If you are a man responsible for a wife and three young children vs. a single woman hundreds of miles from home, you may have very different needs. Are you in the military? Do you travel frequently?

Here’s another way to look at the question: who depends on you? Are you responsible for your family’s safety? Do you have a feeling of responsibility to take care of your friends or neighbors? Do you need to take care of a group of people who work for you?

Think about who you are in the context of your various roles in life, and that will take us to our next question…

2.  With whom do you need to communicate?

Go back to question #1. Do you need to reach family members nearby? Maybe you have very close friends in the next state. Maybe you need to help take care of neighbors down the block or across the valley. Or maybe you are part of an organized (loosely or tightly) group of preparedness-minded friends, classmates from your CERT course, or others.

3.  Are they able to hear you and communicate back with you?

This may seem like another dumb question, but it is actually critical. Let’s assume you set up a fancy radio station that can reach your parents in the neighboring state. If they don’t have a radio that can hear you, you don’t have a useful solution. They need to be able to respond. You may have to minimally equip and train some people as part of your plan. But don’t worry. I will show you how to do this with little effort!

4. How far do you need to communicate?

Are your friends or family close-by, hundreds of miles away, or even thousands of miles away? When we look at your options later, this will be important too. And again, don’t worry – communicating at great distances is quite do-able. It just requires different equipment. Think about distance in these categories:

  • Very close – same neighborhood
  • Close – same town/city
  • Regional – same state or part of a state
  • Long distance – a different state, province, region, country, or continent

5.  How often will you need to communicate?

Do you need to talk with someone more than once a day? During which time(s) of day do you need to speak? Is there a particular time that works best? Do you have to consider different time zones? We’ll discuss how you can set up a schedule, known as a “calling clock”, which will enable you to reach someone more reliably and save precious power at the same time.

6.  Do you need to be mobile?

Do you expect to be staying at home? Do you expect to have your car, truck, or SUV available? Do you expect to be on foot, carrying everything you need in a backpack? There is a big difference between a desk-sized radio running on a deep-cycle marine battery and a hand-held radio running on internal lithium-ion or AA batteries, and there are many options in between.

7.  Will you need to transmit data?

In some scenarios, emergency radio teams are prepared to transmit lists of supplies and needed medical equipment to other teams or government agencies as part of disaster relief efforts. This may not apply to you personally, but you should still think about it. This can be done with as little as a handheld radio and an inexpensive netbook computer. Note: while this book doesn’t dig into data transmission details, you should still identify whether this is a need, and do more research.

8.  What will be your power supply?

What kind of power will you need? Short of smoke signals, you will need a power source to run your communication device(s). Depending on the device’s power consumption and how often you use it, you may need a generator, three AA batteries, or one of the many other options. Do not neglect this area. All of your planning and preparations will be for nothing if you don’t have the power to run your equipment.

9.  Do you have the skills and equipment you need?

Unfortunately, this part of emergency communication planning is often overlooked (especially the skills part). Answers to the previous questions will give you an idea what you’ll need. If you haven’t answered them, don’t waste your time and money by buying a bunch of new gear. You won’t know what to get until you invest a little thought. Once you have a clear vision of what you need to accomplish, then you will be able to identify gaps in equipment and skills. NOTE: equipment is usually easy to take care of, assuming you have a few dollars available, and often simply involves making a purchase online. The skills needed to use the equipment effectively are more work, and you’ll need some practice. Practicing with your gear needs to be part of your initial plan and part of the ongoing maintenance of your plan.

How are these questions helpful? Don’t underestimate the value of a good question. In fact, I’d wager that most people have never answered the simple question “How will you respond in an emergency?”

Sometimes asking a simple question can cause a lot of positive action to happen. (More than once in my life, a very simple question has caused me to go “huh?” and significantly change some of my behavior!) Please take a serious look at the questions above, and as I mentioned before, please write down your answers. As I discuss later, you should also review those answers with your spouse and any other key members of your plan.

Congratulations! You are already ahead of the game. And you have extended your lead further by writing down your answers. Writing is much more useful than simply producing fleeting thoughts and then going about your business, especially considering that many of these thoughts often fade away. Once you have written something down, you have moved it from the “thought” space to a “real” space, and this is a good way to get started. Now that you have written answers, you are ready to move on to the next chapter.

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I’ve written about some other radios, and have discussed various amateur, FRS/GMRS, and other two-way radios, but the Midland XT511 is one of the best options out there when it comes to very basic, general emergency communication equipment that requires no license or training.

The Midland XT511 FRS/GMRS/NOAA/AM/FM radio

The Midland XT511 is a full-featured, FRS/GMRS/NOAA/AM/FM radio with a variety of power options for emergency use.

Here is a quick run-down on the features packed into this compact package:

  • Charge your cell phone or other USB-connected devices
  • LED Flashlight
  • AM and FM radio reception
  • NOAA weather radio reception, including hazard alerts
  • Transmit and receive FRS/GMRS, with privacy codes and other features available
  • Scan FRS/GMRS traffic in your area

Not only does is have AM & FM reception, FRS & GMRS (two-way), it has a built-in weather radio. But that’s not the best part.  It also uses four AA batteries and has a separate, built-in rechargeable battery pack, which can be charged by the included AC and DC charging cords. But we’re still not at the best part.  Here is a big difference between this radio and many others: it has a hand crank that folds out from the side, which will allow you to

Midland XT511 rechargeable battery pack

The included 700 mAh, 6.0V, rechargeable Ni-MH battery pack.

recharge the batteries with no other power source. In addition, you can use the USB port to charge other devices (e.g., your cell phone) by turning the crank. All of these features fit into a package that’s smaller than I thought it would be. This radio is quite flexible!

Midland XT511 power options

As you can see here, the XT511 can be powered with AA batteries, its internal rechargeable battery, a DC power supply, AC power supply, and the crank arm. This is a great set of options for an emergency radio.

Midland XT511 displayed options

You can see some of the many features available in the sticker that covers the display, fresh out of the box.

That’s a decent set of features in a handy, small package, and this radio should at least be on your “emergency” shelf. along with your spare batteries, lantern, extra food and water, first-aid kit, and other supplies.

 

I still recommend a set of FRS/GMRS radios as one of the most important emergency communications tools for everyone, but at the same time I think this radio is just as important. While your existing handheld radios should operate on AA batteries in addition to a rechargeable battery pack, and should also receive the NOAA weather (or “all-hazards”) channels and alerts, it’s unlikely that they can be recharged manually like this one. In addition, it has a built-in three-LED flashlight (which is relatively bright).  Did I mention that the device has a lot of features?

It also has a handheld microphone/speaker, with a couple of interesting options.  The plug is two-part. One part of the plug fits in the microphone jack,and one fits into the speaker jack. When it’s plugged in, as you probably expect, the built-in microphone and speaker on the front of the radio are disabled. But what if you still want to operate the hand-microphone quietly?

Midland XT511 handheld microphone

The convenient headphone jack in base of the handheld microphone (shown with the attached plug out of the jack) makes it easier to use and hear the radio in noisy or quiet environments.

 

 

 

The handset has another speaker jack, into which you can plug an earpiece. Good thinking on the part of the engineers. The features just keep coming!

So far, the radio is working fine for me. To echo one of my coworker’s comments, while some of the dials may seem a little bit loose, the radio still appears to be plenty sturdy and is holding up well. Most of the reviews I see on Amazon also seem to indicate similar experience.

As you can see on the box in the first picture, the Midland XT511 is called “Base Camp Radio,” and I think the description is a good one. While it’s not the first radio I’d put in my backpack, due to its size (even though it isn’t that heavy), it’s a great radio to have at home or wherever else you call your base camp, especially if you have an emergency where you lose grid power, even long-term.

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