How to Communicate When the Phones Are Down

All it takes is one really good-sized crisis and suddenly individuals are left without the means to call home and say, “I’m okay.” Whether it’s a weather disaster, riots, a terrorist attack or a governmental crack-down, access to the internet, cell phone service, radio and telephone landlines can be quickly and rather easily disrupted.

Here in America we’ve seen just how quickly a violent windstorm, wildfires, or hurricane can shut off our communication. No, you won’t have to resort to using smoke signals! In fact, most of these non-traditional methods are rather hi-tech. Check them out.

1.      Do you have a solar/battery powered emergency radio? If it can be powered up with a hand crank, so much the better. Some units include lights and even a compass. Check out WeatherRadioStore for this type of unit.

2.      Two-way radios are an attractive option because of their low cost. Some models even boast a 30 mile range. In reality, even the highest quality radios will rarely have more than a two mile range. However, these radios can come in handy when electricity is out because they operate on VHF and UHF signals, and if you live on a large homestead, these are hard to beat and require no expense to operate.

3.      Breaker, breaker! What’s yer 20? It might sound like a really bad line in a country-western song, or a line in a bad country-western song, but a Citizens’ Band (CB) radio is a low-cost form of communication that is free to operate and doesn’t require a license. Depending on your location, the range of a CB radio might be as much as ten to twenty miles. Check out your local Craigslist or even Freecycle to find one in your price range.

4.      Feeling hi-tech with your cool, trendy iPhone? Did you know you can install an app on your iPhone or iPod Touch that will give you access to police, sheriff, Coast Guard, and fire department scanners? Although this requires cell phone availability, you’ll be right on top of the latest developments in a crisis. Visit to learn more.

5.      A satellite phone may be your best bet when you absolutely, positively have to get in touch with someone, and there’s no other way. A ‘sat phone’ works everywhere, except indoors. These babies sell for several hundred dollars each, but are often the only reliable communication in areas hit by an extensive disaster or in a region with virtually no phone coverage of any kind.

6.      Very often, people outside your area will have more up-to-date knowledge of your situation than you will. With a shortwave radio, you can reach thousands of shortwave radio stations around the world. People operating these stations will likely have internet access even if you don’t. Radio Shack has a rather dry but informative Q&A on their website.

7.      People networks. Just as many churches have “prayer chains”, “information chains” can be organized among friends, relatives, and neighbors. Choose an out-of-state individual who will serve as a contact point for everyone and keep track of timely, vital news so everyone stays informed. This is called a communication hub.

8.      Amateur radio licenses aren’t just for nerds anymore!  I was surprised to find out how many women have, or are getting, their HAM operators license.  You don’t need the tall radio tower in your front yard, and it’s possible to pick up basic equipment at a nominal price.  In a catastrophe, Amateur Radio operators may be the first to begin broadcasting, and in a worst case scenario, they may be utilized for getting information both in and out of an area when nothing else can.

Have a Plan A, B, and C for communicating if and when an emergency situation arises.  Make sure each family member knows who to contact and how to contact them.  Have at least one alternative way to receive information and one alternative way to communicate outside your area.

Sometimes we overlook communication back-ups in our hurry to stock up on food, water, and other tangibles.  It’s hard to imagine the rising level of panic that occurs when your family members and other loved ones cannot be reached by phone, and you have no idea where they are or if they’re alive.  This aspect of preparedness should be addressed by every family.

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