How to stay in touch in an emergency

Clark’s recent podcast had a question where a family wanted to stay in communication if there was a major coutage of things like cellphone service.

While Clark started mentioning ways, I was in the background hollering “What about Ham Radio” until he actually mentioned that. Then I smiled.

Most common communications involve a network which is interconnected devices. Examples are the traditional landline service, cellphone service, the Internet and so on. Satellite service in common use is a different network but still an issue. If someone was to take DISH’s Internet network down or others, then many or most users would lose communications.

The differenc with Ham Radio is although we (and I say WE) have interconnected devices which rely upon the Internet and/or networks, we also have point-to-point communications. I can transmit from my house to someone on the East Coast of the U.S. which does not rely upon anything inbetween. Can my specific signal be blocked by an evil force? Yes, but then a twist of the dial and I am elsewhere. Countires such as Russia have blocked parts of the radio spectrum, but it was haphazard and impossible to block large portions of the radio spectrum.

My Uncle actually transmitted a Ham Radio signal from Hawaii to the mainland using the moon (it’s called moonbounce). Why? Because he could!

So satellites? Hams have them. In fact we sent up many satellites as ballast of regular spacecraft, and at a very cheap price. Russia sent up the first satellite in 1957. 4 years later Hams sent their first satellite up, called OSCAR 1. O.S.C.A.R. Orbiting Satellite Carrying Amateur Radio. The Ham sattelites are available for transmission through by ANY LICENSED HAM IN ANY COUNTRY. SO far there have been 119 satellites Hams have sent up. Mnay of the early satellites were built with parts from the hardware store or Radio Shack. Individual satellites are hard to block.

A drawback to Ham Radio is that you must be licensed to transmit, but anyone can listen. There are various restrictions in various countires. Also by convention, you do not discuss sex, politics or money. It would be alright to book a hotel room over Ham Radio (ham radio to telephone line to a hotel) but you should not discuss price. Also Ham Radio is not meant to be encrypted to hide content and because it is public airways, the conversations are not private. However it is a simplke way to communicate across the street, across the state or even around the world.

Note: Every Shuttle Astronaut was a Ham and they often used Ham Radio between the Shuttle in orbit and small transceivers set up at schools where students asked the Astronauts questions as they passed over. Even if NASAs complex and massive network were to be blocked by a foreign country, they (or the ISS) could just transmit on a Ham Radio frequency to earth. “Ah, John, can you ask your teacher to telephone NASA and tell them we are fine up here? Thanks!”


Laypeople and new hams highly underestimate the antenna infrastructure and operator skills needed to conduct long range shortwave comms. It’s a lot. I’m a ham since 1975.

I suspect that if the power is off line so are the hams

Actually batteries and generators are often used. The old CD radfios used a hand crank.

I participated in field days contest back in Maryland circa 1976 or so. It is a weekend of simulated emergency where you get points for every contact you make and pass information like a signal report. This simulates passing names or other info during an emergency.

We took two extention ladders and guyed them and strung a wire between the tops of each, making a dipole antenna. We also took black trash bags, filled them with helium and attanched a lightweight wire creating a vertical antenna.

At the time there was a company called Solarex in Gaithersburg, Md who made solar cells. We asked if we could get a panel to try for our hame contest. The owner redialy agreed and we got a panel to charge a car battery which we used for one of our radios. When we asked what we owed the company, the guy had no idea as they generally made large panels for military and satellite companys at the time, so it was free.

Hams power their transceivers by their vehicle. Many of the transceivers use 12 volts and are mobile capable.

If there is Internet available somehow (either wifi or mobile data), I have a Ham app on my cellphone (Echolink) which I am allowed to use. I can listen and speak through various repeaters around the world. It requires nothing else but my cellphone and a working speaker and mike which smart phones already have :-).

So yes, there are even ways to communicate without antennas or bulky Ham radios.

Ochotona, here is my Uncle doing 2,558 miles on 2 meters! Also note his Hawaiian shirt. He was the one who got me interested in living in Hawaii

1 Like