Communications: Where to Listen & How to Reach Out (Weather Radios, CBs, and Ham Radio)


The ability to receive information and communicate with family and the outside world, when cell phones and internet are out, will be important to you during a disaster. There are several options for emergency communications that are inexpensive and easy to use. Shortwave lets you listen to emergency broadcasts, talk locally, and even communicate around the world. It is relatively inexpensive and easy to get the equipment you need to stay informed during an emergency.

Information as a resource

One of the best things you can do to help yourself in a disaster situation is to learn how to collect as much information as possible. Well before you need to call for help you will want reliable information on the situation. As far as disasters are concerned, or even temporary power outages caused by nasty weather, shortwave radio communication is your friend. There are a couple of reasons for this.

Reason #1, Lots of good information is available via shortwave

The first reason shortwave is useful is that the emergency management communications system is built around shortwave technologies. Shortwave is far reaching and dependable. Much of the infrastructure for shortwave is specifically not available for commercial use and is reserved for private radio experimentation and emergency broadcasting. Most of this equipment is intentionally designed to work when commercial radio can't. Shortwave is used almost exclusively in emergency management, police, fire, emergency medical response (ambulance), and private industry like gas and electric companies. In many cases after a disaster strikes, it is ham radio operators that get out the first situation reports and calls for help.   

Reason #2, Shortwave is inexpensive and effective for emergency communication

The second is that shortwave communications equipment is available and relatively inexpensive. You can find reasonably priced radios that listen, talk locally, or talk around the world. The “listen and local” kinds don’t require a license to use. The talk around the world radios require a HAM license. Ham licenses are inexpensive and not hard to get.

Reason #3, Most shortwave radios are designed to work in disaster situations

The third reason is that most shortwave radio equipment works on batteries or 12 volts (like a car battery). This means that even when the power goes out shortwave radios can still work. AM/FM radios use batteries as well but the radios stations are often on the grid so if power outages are widespread these stations may go off the air.  

Radio Options

Weather radios and short-wave receivers

If you just want to listen, then National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration / National Weather Service (NOAA/NWS) weather radios and short-wave marine receives are the perfect choice. They require no license to operate and can be very inexpensive.

Listening to a shortwave receiver takes a bit of getting used to. You will need to learn the tricks that were common knowledge for your great-grandparents when they tuned their radios back in the day. With a little practice you can get just as good at finding stations and “chasing the signals”. It is well worth your time to learn about shortwave broadcasts and discover its benefits for emergency communication. 

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