Best Emergency Communication Option?

Discussion in 'Preparedness & Survival' started by 9mm guy, Apr 10, 2017.

  1. 9mm guy

    9mm guy
    Tualatin
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    If a mega-earthquake or an emergency situation hits, there's a good chance I will be at work while my family is at home. If the disaster is severe enough to take out cell towers and our cell phones are rendered useless, I've been trying to think of the best way to communicate to my wife at home. There's the option of a satellite phone, but my research shows that it would be too expensive for me.

    I work in Salem and live in Tualatin, OR, which is about 36 miles. It's a pretty straight, clear shot on the I-5 without much mountains or hills in between.

    What's the best option that you experienced guys would recommend? I don't know anything about radios. I'm guessing 36 miles is to too far for something like a two way radios to work? Also if possible, can you guys recommend a specific device? It would help cut down on research time on something I know very little about. Maybe an Amazon link to specific devices you guys trust & like?

    I also realize that maybe I'll have to settle for something like a BaoFeng two way radio and know that I won't get any reception until I'm maybe 5 miles from my home since that's better than nothing. Any suggestion in the right direction would be appreciated. Thanks in advance for all your answers.
     
    Last edited: Apr 11, 2017
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  2. Camelfilter

    Camelfilter
    Salem
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    Ham radio would be best. We haven't set aside enough time to take any tests, but for your intended use it would be best. Even if repeaters are down due to whatever happened, you could communicate as you got closer.

    Baofang handhelds can be had for under $50.

    I mention ham, against your sat idea, as whatever caused cell to be down ny you would more than likely cause it to be down regionally. So you'd need sat for all in the family, and they would need to know to turn it on.

    Also first thing you should do, once you & everyone in your vacinity is "ok", is text that you are, and your intent.
     
  3. B3dlam

    B3dlam
    Astoria, OR
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    HAM is a decent option keep in mind anything that you're likely going to be willing to hump 36 miles on your back is effectively a line of sight communication only. Assuming perfectly flat obstruction free ground line of sine from two 6' tall individuals is 5.2 miles. To get true line of sight over 36 miles assuming you are on the ground you would need a 700' tower at home. It is definitely worth looking into repeaters though because HAM repeaters are all over the Portland area and located up on tall mountains. I believe most of them run on battery backup so they would be functional for a while however keep in mind they are going to be clogged up with everyone trying to communicate during a crisis.

    If you did truly want to be able to talk from home your best bet, in my humble opinion, would be to get your Amateur band (HAM) radio license. Then get yourself a Chameleon Loop antenna that you can attach to your vehicle along with a mobile radio in your car. You would than also need an HF radio back at your house and ideally a larger more permanent antenna there. A good setup like that will allow long range communications well past the horizon.
     
  4. ThePhonMan

    ThePhonMan
    Spokanistan
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    HAM radio is definitely your best bet. Not only will it provide you with a semi-reliable radio system (depending on the nature of the disaster) it will also connect you with a great community of like-minded folks. Even if a repeater fails you can always fall back on the old fashioned radio relay method to communicate over that distance.

    I helped stand up the Globalstar sat phone network in a previous life. Sat phones are fine but you'd be paying quite a lot of money for every day you own them (you'd need 2 to communicate in a major network failure) and may never need them. You would gain the advantage of data access if you have a sat phone but that may not be worth much. You may also want to look at SPOT as an alternative. It's cheaper than traditional voice/data service on a sat provider but has some limitations. You send text/email messages to a group of people.

    Whatever you choose to do, set up a contact person well outside your area (friend or relative in a distant state) and use them as the clearing house for status data. You may not be able to call or text your wife but you can probably get a message outside the effected area.

    One last thing to think about, count the number of bridges and overpasses you must traverse between work and home and start planning now for alternate routes. I learned this trick from the guy who ran LA County's OES division. He estimated it would have taken him ~3 days to walk home from downtown to the valley if "the big one" hit. You're traveling a much greater distance.
     
  5. HB of CJ

    HB of CJ
    42N, 123W Kinda
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    Yep ... HAM would be pretty much line of sight only as all the towers and repeaters would quickly die due to whatever. Can you reconsider the Satellite Phone? Perhaps lease? But ... even then no guarantee the satellite phone would work either. Censorship at the national level? Something to think about. :(

    What you can consider is communication by other means before the fact. Predetermine exact patterns of behavior and travel before hand. Might not work during the SHTF but then you might have a predictable pattern of behavior of all your loved ones and others in your extended group. Like a football play blocking pattern.
     
  6. bbbass

    bbbass
    La Grande
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    It's 2meter ham band that you want. The car radios are about the same size as a Cobra CB and the antennas are shorter than HF.

    HF will carry over line of sight, but you need a larger antenna to do the job. The car antennas are about 4' long, or longer, and need an autotuner to work properly. The home are large and typically require a long wire between two tall trees or telephone type poles.

    2meter ham clubs are specifically interested in local communications during disasters. HF would be used for long distance communications.

    Check it out. Lots of info out there but it would be best to contact a local ham association.

    Disclosure: I'm a lifetime radio tech. Not specifically ham, but one learns about everything. I have an FCC General Class license and 40yrs in the biz. My other specialty was home rehab, home inspections, and pest control.
     
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  7. AMProducts

    AMProducts
    Maple Valley, WA
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    Here's the thing, even if a 90.5 EQ hits, it's unlikely that everything is going to fall down at once. Generally after an EQ hits, you have 1-2 minutes to pick up your cell phone, text your wife "I'm ok, headed home, walking or driving, see you in 18 hours". Your wife can do the same. (got kids with cell phones? same thing?) it might take 3 hours for that text to reach, but chances are the cell network will stay up for a little while, until it completely collapses as every slack jawed yokel picks up the phone and says "yo dog, you feel that"? And they will likely continue running until the generator fuel runs out. You might get data, but text will usually go through even with several hours delay.

    As for radio, a baofeng works great if you can talk on repeaters, which means both you and the wife need ham tickets. At the very least, if you want to get a ham ticket but can't convince your wife to. You can come up on the repeater and talk one way at her... "damnit honey, dinner better be ready by the time I get there". Be sure to disable transmit on her radio, and if you say that, don't expect her to be there.

    I realize that we're a society that values instantaneous and constant communications, but frankly, a lot of it just wastes time. Provided you're ok, and your wife is ok, (even then, you can't really do anything about it) it should be understood that you're headed home. Maybe if you hear on your portable radio that SHTF in south portland on your way home, or a wildfire is spreading near tulatin and people are advised to evacuate that might be a good time for some comms (where are we meeting?) or you could just pre-arrange things.
     
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  8. DuneHopper

    DuneHopper
    Unity = Strength
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    The portables are great we have these they require a license but also can do public bands with proper wattage.
    The key to any portable is make sure they can recharge and you have some solar power to do it. I have a small panel
    about the size of these radios I bought a few years ago its a portable battery and will charge these radios in about 3 hours.
    So portable or home make sure you have a way to use these if batteries go dead.

    61-nLE4hYRL._SL1000_.jpg
     
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  9. bbbass

    bbbass
    La Grande
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    If SHTF, nobody is gonna care if you have a ham license. You can purchase any radio you like without a license.
    One of my big gripes at the shop was people coming in with Marine band radios that they were using while out hunting. Patently against the law but they did it anyway. FCC does have some antenna vans out there but it is pretty rare and I don't see them activating during SHTF or big disaster.
     
  10. Oathkeeper1775

    Oathkeeper1775
    Coast Range
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    3 points....

    X7on ham radios; the local repeaters are maintained by some of the most benevolent people on the planet. Their lives truly revolve around those repeaters. Many have backup power supplies, some run on solar. Eaves-dropping without a license and OK to use in an emergency and if no other means of comms exist.

    SHTF; the last thing to do is talk on the radio; not wise, so a Tecsun PL 600 will pick up comms from all over the planet.

    Point 3 is a scanner; all the freqs are available online and programming is easy. The Baofeng will program scanner and GMRS freqs as well as ham (2meter).
     
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  11. Camelfilter

    Camelfilter
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    If SHTF, many of the repeaters may be down. The ones that are not may be in service for the emergency.

    Many hams donate a lot of there time and skills for communication during a disaster as a community service.
     
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  12. CountryGent

    CountryGent
    Southern Oregon
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    Another plus one to the ham radio option. An amateur ticket opens up a lot of options. If one is getting serious about comms, this is the area to put the time and money into.

    Beyond that, GMRS is another service to look into as well; with a mix of amateur licensed (me) and unlicensed (the Mrs) in the house, it filled a gap. A license for said covers one's household. However, amateur radio, all things considered, still offers a lot more.

    We also did the satellite thing for awhile (GlobalStar). The pros of sat phones is they are easy to use and, in theory, can be operated almost everywhere. The cons are they are very expensive (though not as bad as in years past) and there is no guarantee everything that is required for them to work during SHTF will be operational.
     
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  13. Oregon Quartermaster

    Oregon Quartermaster
    SE Portland
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    No one's going to state the obvious? Have a plan beforehand, including contingencies, and make sure everyone involved knows what to do. I don't have to send a single message to my family. They know the drill.
     
  14. Camelfilter

    Camelfilter
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    Worst case scenario message in a ziplock under rock "X" in the back yard...no names...no specifics...just nicknames of places/people etc...

    "I'm with Gemma & we're ok. Going to look in on Nino & will be back with guests. Going by the pie ladies house both ways if possible. See you soon..." etc
     
  15. rick benjamin

    rick benjamin
    USA, Or, Damascus
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    Or elk hunting in the Imnaha..
     
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  16. B3dlam

    B3dlam
    Astoria, OR
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    It was mentioned a few times above just generally in the middle of larger responses.

    Another thing you could seriously consider is obtaining a business band license for 2-3 itinerant frequencies for your family. That would cover your entire family under one license but limit you to only a few frequencies.
     
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  17. bbbass

    bbbass
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  18. Camelfilter

    Camelfilter
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    Don't have a license, so don't know factually. However I'm assuming that the repeaters would be tied up with emergency traffic, so non emergency would either not be allowed or you similarly wouldn't be able to get thru.

    ie you won't be able to check in with home, because real emergency traffic trumps conversation.

    Also Ham operators likely have a good bit of redundancy, if it were say an earthquake, a certain percentage will be offline from the quake, until they can get fixed/tied back into there antennas etc.
     
  19. AMProducts

    AMProducts
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    Problem for most who want to run unlicensed: repeater owners. If they make enough of a nuisance of themselves, it is very easy for a repeater owner, or anyone with the codes to shut down a repeater. And likely the yokels who bought radios, managed to program them, and get on the air with all the lack of etiquette, skills, or familiarity will possibly annoy repeater owners enough for them to shut down. The big thing these days is repeaters going mixed mode - So the repeater will work for conventional at the moment, and may also support P25, however in an emergency, it's really easy to turn conventional off, and just run P25, and possibly P25 encrypted (no one cares right?)

    Anyone who has ham radio on their list of must-haves and plans to do more than just talk simplex as a squad radio, should really add a ham license to the list of must-haves, otherwise you may just be a rough edge that WROL may decide to round off.
     
  20. bbbass

    bbbass
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    One of the posters in this thread is a ham, maybe they can chime in here.

    You should see how robust the tower requirements are for repeater sites. I'm pretty sure they would survive any level of quake. Maybe some shakeup of equipment racks inside the tower site buildings tho... that could be a problem. If a rack falls over, it could pull hardline coax connections loose, but most 2m repeaters are going to be using RG8 extensions on an hardline that comes into the building so would not be a problem.

    In the event of an EMP, all comms are down. The X rock and the emergency planning are good ideas unless the Great Flood comes. Mt Hood blows it still doesn't affect comms in outlying areas. :)
     
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