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Estimated reading time: 10 minutes
Radios may seem a bit old fashioned in the information age, with everyone “connected” through their smartphones and computers. But the fact is that radio is still one of the most effective means of communication out there. I just recently talked with an emergency worker who was in New Orleans immediately after Hurricane Ida hit, and if it hadn’t been for radios, the rescuers wouldn’t have had any communications at all.
The nice thing about radios is that they are not dependent on the same infrastructure that our other means of communications are. Telephone and internet are much more complex systems. Even television is more complex, requiring more sophisticated equipment and considerably more power. Yet even a small radio, running off of batteries, can provide instantaneous communications near and far.
All mediums of communication are required to have backup power, per FCC regulations. Even so, the local cell phone tower isn’t going to have a backup generator connected to it, keeping it up and running. Your local landline phone company will, but that’s not going to do any good, even for those who still have landlines, as our modern cordless phones don’t work if the base isn’t connected to the house’s electrical power.
But radio can work off of their reserve power for a minimum of three days. In some cases, they might have fuel to last even longer. Of course, there’s no guarantee that the power company will get power back on in three days or that more fuel will be available; but at least it’s a start. It’s better than we can find with other means of mass communications.
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Of course, broadcast radio isn’t the only way that radio is used. Almost every government agency uses radio for communications, from the local level all the way up to the federal government. While we can’t legally cut in on those conversations and talk to them, we can listen in on what they are saying, including any broadcasts that they are doing which provide us information about rescue and relief operations. All it takes is the right sort of radio.
In addition to that, you might want some sort of portable radios for your survival team’s use. Being able to communicate between team members when phones are down is an essential part of working together. Just make sure your team picks something that will work for everyone in your team, giving you the range that you’ll need.
So What Sort of Radio(s) Should We Have?
The radios you select are going to limit what you can do, so it’s important to make sure you’ve got the right sort of gear. There is quite a variety out there, with different radios intended for different purposes. Making the right selections is important, as you can’t listen in on a frequency that you don’t have. Here are a few things to consider:
The HAM radio network is the most effective communications network in the world, allowing its members to converse and/or pass along messages worldwide. They are so effective that they perform backup communications services for government organizations at all levels, as well as providing military personnel overseas the ability to call home and talk to family.
The only problem is that to talk on the HAM radio frequencies, you have to be licensed. They’ve taken the Morse Code element out of licensing requirements, but you still need to take a class about radio propagation and pass a test to get even the most basic license.
A HAM license is only required to talk; anyone can listen in on those transmissions if they have a radio receiver which picks up the right frequency. A shortwave radio allows that, as well as picking up a whole lot more. When looking at shortwave radios, the key is in finding one which covers the most possible frequencies. Digital ones are better for dialing in on a particular frequency; but an analog dial will work too.
Police, fire and other emergency service providers have their own radio frequencies which they operate on. While some police communications are encrypted, most are still available to listen in on. They can be heard on some shortwave radios, but a police scanner allows you to scan through all police and fire frequencies in your area, only listening in when someone is transmitting.
Citizen’s Band (CB)
While CB radio isn’t anywhere near as popular as it once was, there are still a lot of people who communicate over it, including some prepper groups. DB no longer requires a license to operate and will transmit for a range of 3 to 20 miles, depending on terrain, antenna type and how many others are using that channel at the time.
Single-sideband (SSB) CB radio will transmit roughly three times the range, but requires that SSB radios be in use at both ends of the conversation. Walkie-talkies are nothing more than handheld CB radios, including children’s walkie-talkies.
Business Band Radios
This is another category of “walkie-talkie,” manufactured specifically for use by businesses which need short-range radio communications. Depending on the type of radio, its power, the frequency, and the terrain, they can transmit up to 15 miles on open terrain. To get that, SSB radios are needed. Non-SSB radios will give a maximum range of 6 miles on open terrain and about 4 in the city.
In addition to the radios I’ve listed here, there are also several different types of specialty radios, which are used in specific applications, such as marine radios or aviation radios. Should your survival plans include a boat or aircraft, or should a team member have those, you might want to consider adding those radios to your collection.
Emergency Radio Frequencies
There are a lot of different frequencies which are used for one type of emergency communication or other, mostly because there are a lot of different organizations that deal with emergencies at a variety of different levels. To avoid confusion, most of those agencies need to have their own frequency, where their personnel can communicate, without interference from other organizations. But since it is radio, anyone can listen in; you just can’t talk on those frequencies.
General Emergency Frequencies
There are lots of emergency frequencies out there, some of which will be listed below. In this section, I’m going to try and cover some of the more important frequencies that are used for emergency communications on an international basis. While some won’t apply to you, they may still be useful to have at some time, as they are frequencies that are constantly monitored.
- 2182 kHz – International maritime distress frequency for radio telephony
- 4340 kHz – NATO combined submarine distress
- 8364 kHz – Survival craft
- 34.90 MHz – Often used by the National Guard for emergency purposes
- 39.46 MHz – State and local police forces for inter-departmental emergency communications
- 47.42 MHz – Red Cross relief operations
- 121.5 MHz – International aeronautical emergency frequency
- 138.225 MHz – FEMA disaster relief operations
- 151.940 MHz – Emergency channel used by preppers
- 154.52 MHz – Local fire departments for inter-department emergency communications
- 155.60 MHz – State and local agencies for inter-department emergency communications
- 156.050 MHz – Port operations
- 156.700 MHz – Port operations
- 156.75 MHz – International news channel that broadcasts maritime weather
- 156.80 MHz (VHF Channel 16) – Global emergency radio transmissions
- 156.85 MHz – International maritime distress, calling and safety frequency
- 163.4875 – Another frequency often used by the National Guard for emergency operations
- 157.125 MHz – US Government only
- 157.150 MHz – US Coast Guard
- 243.0 MHz – NATO combined distress and emergency frequency
- 406.0 – Emergency position indicating locator beacon (EPIRB)
SATERN – The SATERN system is the Salvation Army Team Emergency Radio. These frequencies are used by the Salvation Army in their assistance efforts during and after disasters.
- 38.080 MHz – Caribbean weather information
- 38.450 MHz – Gulf Coast
- 38.625 MHz – Mississippi Area Traffic
- 38.650 MHz – West Virginia Emergency
- 38.725 MHz – Hurricane information
- 38.730 MHz – West and Central Gulf ARES/Louisiana ARES, Mississippi ARES
- 39.100 MHz – Central Texas Emergency/Mississippi ARES/Louisiana Traffic
- 39.230 MHz – Mississippi ARES, North Carolina ARES
- 39.250 MHz – Central Gulf Coast Hurricane, Louisiana Emergencies
- 39.270 MHz – North Carolina ARES
- 39350 MHz – Central Gulf Coast Hurricane, Louisiana ARES, Texas ARES, Mississippi ARES, Alabama Emergencies
- 39.400 MHz – Southern Florida Emergency
- 39.440 MHz – West Gulf Emergency
- 39.500 MHz – Hurricane Watch/Norther Florida Emergency
- 39.550 MHz – South Texas Emergency
- 39.600 MHz – North East Coast Hurricane
- 39.650 MHz – Alabama Emergency
- 39.750 MHz – Georgia ARES/Texas RACES
- 39.935 MHz – Gulf Coast health and welfare/South Carolina ARES/South Carolina RACES
- 39.950 MHz – Gulf Coast Weather
- 72.250 MHz – Central Gulf Coast Hurricane
- 72.3320 MHz – North Carolina ARES
- 72.350 MHz – Louisiana Emergency/Central Gulf Coast Hurricane
- 72.400 MHz – American Red Cross/US Gulf Coast Disaster/Texas Emergency
- 72.420 MHz – Southern Florida ARES
- 72.430 MHz – Alabama Emergency/South Carolina Emergency
- 72.475 MHz – Northern Florida ARES
- 72.480 MHz – Texas RACES
- 72.500 MHz – Texas Emergency
- 72.540 MHz – Northern Florida Emergency
- 72.600 MHz – Gulf Coast West Hurricane
- 72.640 MHz – Gulf Coast health and welfare
- 72.650 MHz – Salvation Army Team Emergency Radio (SATERN)
- 72.730 MHz – Texas ARES
- 72.750 MHz – Georgia ARES
- 72.800 MHz – Louisiana Emergency
- 72.850 MHz – West Gulf ARES (day)/Louisiana ARES (day)/Mississippi ARES/Texas ARES
- 72.900 MHz – Central Gulf Coast Hurricane, Gulf Coast Weather/Louisiana ARES/Texas ARES/Mississippi ARES
- 142.220 MHz – Health and Welfare
- 142.450 MHz – Health and Welfare
- 142.650 MHz – SATERN
- 142.680 MHz – Amateur Radio Readiness Group
- 143.030 MHz – International Assistance and Traffic
- 143.160 MHz – Health and Welfare
- 143.200 MHz – Health and Welfare
- 143.250 MHz – Hurricane Watch
- 213.100 MHz – Health and Welfare (Spanish)
- 284.500 – Health and Welfare (Spanish)
Considering how many of the disasters we deal with are weather related, one of the more important frequencies for anyone to have available to them is weather radio. The National Weather Service provides constant emergency coverage through their NOAA weather radio service.
Most people only check their main frequency at: 162.400 MHz, but in fact they also broadcast at: 162.425 MHz, 162.450 MHz, 162.475 MHz, 162.500 MHz, 162.525 MHz, and 162.550 MHz. To find out which frequency is in use in your area, check their website at weather.gov/nwr/station_listing.
Sometimes, the best information about what’s happening comes right from the source; your local police or fire department. They’re usually the ones dealing with the problem. But finding the exact frequency that your local police or fire department uses can be a bit tricky. Most don’t really want that information to get out, even though it is public information.
Once upon a time, you could go to your local Radio Shack store and they could give you that information. Unfortunately, most of their stores are closed now; but if you have one in your area, you might try asking. Another option is to try looking it up on www.RadioRaferece.com. Their listings aren’t fully complete, but they can provide a lot of information.
A third way to find the frequency is with a high-end police scanner, which will scan through all the possible frequencies, looking for traffic. When something is heard, it will come through the speaker. By taking note of the frequency and type of traffic that is going over that frequency, it can be possible to deduce what that particular police channel is being used for.
The RadioRaference website can also provide information about what a particular frequency is used for in some cases, if the state and frequency is provided.
For those who own CB radios, you’ll find that some of the 40 channels that are available are commonly used for specific purposes, some of which apply to us as preppers. These channels are not owned by these groups, so there may be other traffic as well. Nevertheless, knowing these channels can help to find others in a time of crisis.
- Channel 3 @ 26.985 MHz – Prepper CB Network
- Channel 4 @ 27.005 MHz – The American Preppers Network
- Channel 9 @ 27.065 – Universal CB Emergency & REACT Channel (Radio Emergency Associated Communication Teams)
- Channel 13 @ 27.115 MHz – Typically used in campgrounds and marinas
- Channel 14 @ 27.125 MHz – Children’s walkie-talkie frequency
- Channel 15 @ 27.135 MHz – Used by truckers in California
- Channel 17 @ 27.165 MHz – Also used by truckers in California, when heading east & west
- Channel 19 @27.185 MHz – Main trucker Channel
- Channel 36 @ 27.365 MHz – Survivalist Network
- Channel 37 @ 27.375 MHz – Prepper 37 USB
In addition to these standard CB channels, there is what is known as “freeband CB.” While I understand this is technically illegal, there are CB radios which are sold, that have the capability to communicate on these frequencies; they are all SSB frequencies:
- Freeband 27.3680 MHz – Survivalist Network
- Freeband 27.3780 MHz – Prepper Network
- Freeband – 27.4250 MHz – Survivalist Network
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Emergency Radio Frequencies Every Prepper Should Know is written by Rich Murphy for urbansurvivalsite.com