How To Communicate When the Grid Goes Down
Our fragile communications infrastructure has been having a hard time lately.
- Nearly 3 million residents of Puerto Rico were left without cellphone service for weeks following Hurricane Irma.
- A cyberattack in Venezuela this August left 7 million phone customers without service.
- Hurricane Katrina knocked out more than 1,000 cellular sites when it hit New Orleans in 2005.
- Superstorm Sandy knocked out a quarter of the wireless networks in 2012.
It doesn't take much to windup offline with no way to talk to family members even only across town. So what can you do to protect you and your family, especially dependents and the elderly?
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Step 1: Get a Two-Way Radio
When all else fails there has always been Portable Two-Way Radios to help people stay in touch.
For only $30 you can grab one of the best selling and most popular Ham Radios out there: the Baofeng UV-5RA.
- Talk to other radio users within 1 - 4 miles (depending on your environment) or more with a repeater*.
- You can receive severe weather alerts from the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Association (NOAA) as well as FM radio.
- There is a built-in LED light.
- The battery can function for several days on standby mode and you can easily charge these radios from a backup battery bank and USB cable.
*Important Note: Transmitting on many of the frequencies available with a Baofeng UV-5RA require an FCC issued Technicians class License or higher in the US. Please review the laws pertaining to the proper use of these devices in our comprehensive user guide. Listening without transmitting does not require any licensing.
CB Radio is another option:
Citizens Band (CB) radio has been around a long time and is ubiquitous. You can get inexpensive car/truck mounted options around $25 - 35 or a hand-held option like the Midland 75-822. It has 40-Channels with 4-Watts of output power. It also allows you to get NOAA weather alerts.
CB Radio doesn't require a license to use, and there are still millions of people out there using CB everyday! You cannot get CB bands on a Baofeng radio by the way, so you would need both if you want to use all the non-licensed possibilities: FRS, MURS, GMRS, and CB.
Step 2: Get the goTenna Mesh
This is some of the most exciting new tech we've seen in a long time and think that anyone who is serious about emergency planning should have these.
Why? You don't need towers or routers to send text messages, you create your own network with a goTenna and a smart phone. You connect to the goTenna Mesh via Bluetooth and send encrypted messages via their app. You can setup one as a dedicated repeater, throw it on a 20' piece of PVC or up in a tree and you can get your range up to 3 miles or more.
- goTenna Mesh pairs with your phone and hops text and GPS communications from device to device, so you can create your own network anywhere, no service required.
- Privately and automatically relay messages through other devices to extend beyond point-to-point range with revolutionary mesh technology.
- Download free, detailed offline maps of any location in the world.
- Save and share geolocation pins so you can find yourself and others on the map.
- No learning curve: pair to the goTenna and use the app to send secure text messages. Easy!
goTenna lets Mesh users register their units on a map so you can see the coverage in your area. Check it out at www.imeshyou.com.
What you need: iOS (9.0 & above) or Android device (4.3 & above) and Bluetooth-LE (a.k.a. BLE, Bluetooth Smart or Bluetooth 4.0)
Step 3: Get a Two-Way Satellite Communicator
Thankfully modern technology has given us a new way to communicate from anywhere in the world to anywhere in the world. There is a satellite network above us which covers nearly every inch of the globe which now enables us to use cheap 2-way devices and phones for communications.
One of the most affordable options is the Garmin InReach Series - you can pick two up for the price of one iPhone. They can be used as stand-alone devices or with a smart phone.
Garmin inReach SE+ Handheld Satellite Communicators with GPS Navigation
- 100% global Iridium satellite coverage enables 2-way text messaging from anywhere (satellite subscription required.)
- Trigger an interactive SOS to the 24/7 search and rescue monitoring center.
- Track and share your location with family and friends.
- Pair with mobile devices using the free Earthmate app for access to downloadable maps, U.S. NOAA charts, color aerial imagery and more.
- inReach Explorer+ device adds preloaded DeLorme TOPO maps with onscreen GPS routing plus built-in digital compass, barometric altimeter and accelerometer.
Step 4: Further Reading
This is just a sample of some of the ways people can communicate during and after natural disasters or a massive grid-down event. If you would like to dig further into the subject check out some of the other articles we have on our website: