Posted on April 15 2019
10 a.m., Tuesday morning. The lights wink out. The television goes dead. Airplanes fall from the sky. Explosions rumble under your feet. Your beloved son or daughter is 750 miles away at college.
Twenty-four hours later, I bet (if I could turn back time) you would trade me every gun in your collection for a way to talk to your daughter at college and get her home. Maybe you planned a collapse with her and maybe you didn’t. Likely, something will go not-according-to-plan.
Likely, you would sacrifice almost anything to have one more conversation.
If you have loved ones far away during a collapse, a telephone, text device or ham radio could mean more to you than any amount of beans, bullets and band aids.
Here are the options for bringing your loved ones together if the cell phones fail:
Cost: $995 + $49.95 per month (10 minutes per month, rolling over each month.)
Benefits: probably functions when cellular networks fail. Works anywhere. Primarily relies upon satellites in orbit which are not likely to be vulnerable to electro-magnetic pulse (EMP) but may be vulnerable to coronal mass ejection (CME or severe sun spots.) So long as the phone isn’t plugged in, it’s unlikely to be “fried” by an EMP. The satellite phone allows for texting even when sat networks are overburdened.
Liabilities: extremely expensive. Every call, even if from one satellite phone to another, comes back to a network of ground stations, which are distributed around the globe. If every grid everywhere fails, then satellite phones would fail too. While the military does have their own satellite network, it is possible that government might limit use to civilians even in civilian networks.
Important note: even calling between satellite phones must FIRST hit a land-based station.
Analysis: for the cost of several expensive firearms, you would stand an excellent chance of being able to contact family members during a collapse with a sat phone, especially in the first weeks of a collapse. Satellite is a strong backup to cellular, but no sure thing.
Cost: $350-$450 + 11.95 per month (40 messages)
Benefits: probably functions when cellular networks fail (uses the same Iridium network as satellite phones.) Works anywhere. Primarily relies upon satellites in orbit which are not likely to be vulnerable to electro-magnetic pulse (EMP) but may be vulnerable to coronal mass ejection (CME or severe sun spots.) So long as the device isn’t plugged in, it’s unlikely to be “fried” by EMP. The cheapest plan is only ten texts per month, but they just charge $.50 per text over the ten texts (and who really cares in the apocalypse?) InReach devices are smaller, more rugged and more portable than satellite phones.
Liabilities: inReach units are still expensive. Text is harder than voice communication and less complete. Every call, even if from one inReach to another, comes back to a network of ground stations, which are distributed around the globe. If every grid everywhere fails, then inReach devices would fail too. While the military does have their own satellite network, it is possible government might limit use to civilians even in civilian networks like inReach.
Analysis: for the cost of just one expensive firearms, you could have a pair of these devices and a likely means for communicating with a loved one after the SHTF. An excellent balance of cost versus benefit, the inReach probably makes more sense than satellite unless you have money to burn. There’s probably no reason to have both, though, since they both rely on the same basic network.
3. Ham Radio.
Benefits: In “simplex” form, ham requires no network. Depending on the power of your radio and the receiving radio, you can reach hundreds or even thousands of miles in theory. Ham radios with enough power to reach hundreds of miles aren’t much cheaper than inReach. Small handsets like the $27 Baofeng can reach a mile, and can reach farther with the help of a repeater. To reach a loved one away at college, you’d probably both need $900 units, clever antennas and nighttime conditions. Still, “simplex” ham radio will functional forever, since all it requires is two radios, electrical power, and the atmosphere.
Liabilities: repeaters are less vulnerable to chaos than cell towers, but they can still be powered down or vandalized for their backup power systems. Ham requires licensing to practice, and practice is necessary if you expect to communicate post-SHTF. Licensing requires AT LEAST an entire Saturday to accomplish. Ham channels will likely be monitored during a disaster and anything you say could have listeners. Maximizing your ham radio using improved antennas and equipment leads down a rabbit hole requiring the development of considerable expertise—but local help learning is virtually always available for free. Ham radio is not plug-and-play like satellite phones or inReach. While long distance simplex transmission over hundreds of miles is possible, it is very dependent on weather and atmospheric conditions, and specialty equipment.
Go to here for ham certification help.
Analysis: ham radio is do-able, but really needs to be a hobby. Receiving your Technician’s certification costs little but requires time and study to pass the test. Ham must be practiced in order to be useful in a collapse, and communication over long distance would still be hit-and-miss at best. Satellite and satellite texting are far more reliable and simple, unless a crashed grid shuts down the ground stations. In that case, ham would be the only remaining option.
4. UHF/VHF GMRS, FRS, CB and MURS Two-way Radios?
Why Not Discussed: two way radios work great for short-range applications such as property and in-town communications. The basis for this post was to discuss long-range communications options for family members caught days away from home. Even if you’re skirting FCC regulation, UHF/VHF handheld radios typically pump out no more than 5 watts and are mostly line-of-sight, meaning that the curvature of the earth usually creates difficulty after a few miles unless you can both find mountaintops.
ReadyMan’s recommendation for serious survivalists with loved ones away from home.
1. Have a well-understood and oft-reviewed family disaster and re-connection plan. Everyone should know far in advance what to do and where to go in case of a collapse, EMP or civil disorder. Each family member should have an envelope in their glove box or backpack that tells them what to do, step-by-step, in a comms-down scenario. Click below for a free download of an MS Word doc template for your "Glovebox Letter" to help loved ones get on the road quickly (the download should instantly pop into your browser when you click.)
2. Buy the Garmin inReach for each loved one and get the cheapest usage plan. If your budget is big, buy the Iridium 9555 satellite phone and the basic plan for each family member. Set specific call-in times for each person so that the phones aren’t left running down the batteries.
3. Get each loved one Yaesu FT-857 radio and practice communication with and without repeaters, if you can. Practice repeater and simplex ham “rag chews” with family members. This will require that each one be licensed at least at the Technician level (which is pretty fun, honestly.) Considering the difficulty of this recommendation, it’s likely that most will stick to items one and two on this list, which should be 90% reliable, at least for a week or so into a collapse.
Phones, Garmins and ham radios aren’t nearly as sexy as rifles and handguns. They still don’t make Pic rail attachments for sat phones on the AR15. In the rush to buy cool survival gear, it’s easy to forget how it would feel to have a family member hanging in the wind during a true-blue collapse. Dedicating serious time and resources to comms makes good sense, especially if your family spends time far away from the homestead.
We hope this research and analysis helps. Come to the ReadyMen Group to comment on family comms or comment below to further the discussion.