SHTF Communications: What You Don’t Know CAN Kill You

SHTF Communications: What You Don’t Know CAN Kill You
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SHTF Communications (c)Do You Know What Your SHTF Communication Options Are?

Preparing for SHTF means more than just stockpiling food. It’s more than just storing water. It also includes good SHTF communications. Being able to send and receive critical news and knowledge about what’s going.

Even if you are literally “in the dark” it doesn’t mean your SHTF communications have to be.

Having a guaranteed way of communicating with others in the worst of times is an essential prepper responsibility.

However, there is not just one single method for SHTF communications.  There are actually several options to consider.

Some better than others so let’s get started.

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Cell Phone Survival Communications

Let’s Start With Cell Phones

Almost everybody today has a cell phone that can make calls and send text messages. And they are the best option for limited event emergencies.

If you get in a car wreck, a cell phone works quickly to call for help. If someone is having a heart attack a cell phone can get medical professionals notified immediately.

Yet, they are just about the worst option for anything larger in scope. Anybody who has been in a mass disaster situation can attest to the frustration of trying to make a cell phone call. They probably discovered that the network they are so used to using is completely overloaded and jammed. No outgoing calls, no incoming calls. Nothing.

Even at non-emergency events, such as popular at college football games, you’ll notice jammed cell phone networks locally. This is especially true since nearly all college-aged adults are heavy users of cell phones, these types of cell phone network jam. And with the proliferation of smartphones, these local network jam ups are likely to get worse and more frequent in the future.

A network jam is a common problem and is the cell phone’s Achilles heel. Making it the absolute worst communication option for SHTF. Hell, even smoke signals will be more reliable than cell phones when SHTF.

The one saving grace for cell phones is the text messaging option. When a mass emergency occurs and cell towers are jammed, try using text. The use of text messaging has proven to be slightly less affected by an emergency situation.

During Hurricane Katrina, text messaging (while not instant) did continue to get through.  So hey, it’s worth a shot.

Just don’t make a cell phone your only survival communications option.

Walkie Talkie Radios

What about Hand Held Walkie Talkies?

Walkie talkies, also known as GMRS/FRS radios, are great for short range SHTF communications. They work best for a small individual group like your survival coalition. They don’t work for mass communication or long range communications.

It’s an ideal option for a family wanting to stay in contact as they move around a small property or local area. Just be aware, depending on the model and manufacturer you’ll get different ranges. So make sure you test their range before you need them so you understand your walkie talkies range limitations.

Most specified ranges are for flat open land areas. Trees, hills, and buildings tend to diminish the overall range. So just keep this in mind if you choose walkie talkies as your local SHTF communication device.

HAM Radio

Is Ham Radio Good For SHTF Communications?

Ham radio was one of the most popular communication devices over large distances in the middle of the 20th century.

However, as phone networks improved, the cost of long distance and international calls grew cheaper. So the popularity of ham radio dwindled for the masses. But, ham survival radio perfect for survival purposes.

Ham radio networks are both reliable and can communicate over long distances. They are also not dependent on cell phone towers. The only real drawbacks to ham radio are the equipment costs and the training necessary to learn how to use it.

If you intend to broadcast (and not just listen) then you will need to get an official license.

To operate ham survival radio equipment legally, an operator must obtain a license. This includes passing a test and paying a small fee.

However, a license is not required to purchase, own and just listen in. Which is extremely valuable in most survival SHTF communications scenarios. And after SHTF all these rules and regulations won’t matter anyways.

Plus, getting a small setup and a license is easy. So don’t let it stop you from becoming a licensed operator.

Also, invest in upgrading your ham radio’s antenna so that yoyou can transmit and receive signals over longer distances. Getting intelligence reports from other States can prove very helpful when grid power is out across the nation due to an EMP attack.


Is CB Radio a Viable SHTF Communications Option?

Citizens Band radio was one of the most popular ways of keeping in contact with people in the 1970s and 80s. However, this form of radio communication dropped in popularity in the late 20th century.

CB Radio advantages include the greater range vs walkie talkies. However, a CB radio is generally located in a single location within a property. Within a built up area, the use of CB radio could be affected by larger buildings and more interference.

Unlike ham radio operators, a CB operator doesn’t require a license or pass a test to take to the airwaves.

Hand Crank Radio

Should I Invest in Listen Only Devices?

One of the major problems when disaster strikes is loss of power. For all the devices discussed thus far, they all require electrical or battery power to operate. So you’ll need to figure out your backup power system to operate these for longer periods of time when SHTF.

That’s why I suggest you invest in a listen only survival radio device. Not only are they low cost, you can get one with a hand crank to be able to easily keep it powered. Just crank and listen. Simple.

These shortwave listen only radios can provide an invaluable link to SHTF news. It can help keep you up to date on the current situation for any major disaster.

Another listen-only option to consider is the use of a police scanner. These allow you to obtain information that could be life-saving during an SHTF event.

This is a unique option as important news will be broadcast over analog police frequencies. But, many law organizations are moving to digital technologies. So over time, this option will become less effective.

Also, note that a scanner must be programmed in advance. You want to make sure you are tuned into the right channels to gain the right emergency news.

Action Plan

Your SHTF Communications Action Plan

You should make a plan for all 3: Listen, Local, and Long. These are the 3 communication levels you should strive for your SHTF communications. This means a 3 pronged approach.

1 – Listen Only

First, if you don’t already own a small portable hand crank survival radio, don’t you think it’s time?Here’s good one. Buy it now.Hand Crank Radio

Here’s the one I own.

It’s small and light-weight (so it will fit in your Bug Out Bag), plus it doesn’t require batteries.

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Done? Good, you now have your electrical independent SHTF listen only communication taken care of. Congrats.

2 – Local Communication

Second is local communication. If you have a local survival coalition (and you should) then you need every member to have a walkie talkie. Now your coalition just got 10 times stronger as you can communicate so much better and faster when SHTF.

3 – Long Range Communication

Finally, you should investigate owning and operating a ham radio. Here’s a good one to get you started and here’s a website to learn more about getting a license.

For a true SHTF event, you’ll want to be able to reach out over longer distances to communicate with other survivalists and preppers.

Good SHTF communications is a difference maker in survival. The ability to listen, communicate locally, and over long distances is vital to your long-term survival success.

Don’t underestimate this advantage and don’t wait until its too late.

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Remember: Prepare, Adapt, and Overcome,
“Just In Case” Jack
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    • Just In Case Jack says

      Thanks John for the kind comments.
      I try to include easy to follow action plans at the end of every one of our articles. Glad you’ve found them helpful.

      – Jack

  1. says

    If one big bad event ever did happen, then walkie talkies would be the best way to communicate over a long distance, excellent article and definatly food for thought for if the worst did happen.

    • Just In Case Jack says


      Walkie-talkies would be the best way to communicate over local distances.

      Not sure I’d say “long distances” as you suggest. I know of no walkie talkies that can reach 200 miles in distance…do you? In my experience and research, you’re lucky to get 5 miles out of a set of high-end walkie talkies. The only way I know of to boost a set of walkie talkies into a “long distance” range (50+ miles) is a high powered repeater (or several). The problem is, these high-powered repeaters cost thousands of dollars and you have to install them as high as possible to get maximum benefit.

      So walkie talkies are perfect for local communication, especially within a small / local survival coalition.

      However, if you want long range communication at a reasonable price then you’ll need to look into ham radio.



  2. Mountain Man says

    A mix of hand held transceivers is a smart play. Simple “walkie-talkies” are easy to use, inexpensive and fairly reliable for close in communication (i.e. to a neighbor across the street). Depending on the population density of your area, there may however be a lot of other people using the same limited frequencies these offer and thus listening in. We have a couple of these radios..

    Another bet with wider range and less likelihood of crowded bandwidth is a MURS radio. We have a couple of these as well and can get about a one mile range even in the mountains. No license required.

    Finally, a hand held HAM is the best of all. The FCC rules in 97.403 and 405 pertaining to emergency use states that a HAM radio can be used without a license in the event of “immediate safety of human life and immediate protection of property” without other means of communication, and also to broadcast one’s position and such. So in a grid down situation with anarchy all around, its a judgment call. Personally, if I know law and order have broken down, I won’t hesitate to use it, even without a license. Mine has a range by itself of nearly six miles.. There is no license required to own a HAM radio or to listen on one, which in itself can be very beneficial as you can scan law enforcement and emergency services so that you better know what’s happening out of sight.

    I have read elsewhere, but can’t find any official FCC language that so long as you don’t use a repeater station, direct station to station communication (one hand held to another hand held) is allowed without a license. My neighbors have these radios and know how to use them to speak directly with one another, but not using a repeater, so we’ll judge for ourselves the gravity of the situation when using them. Regardless, I’d recommend having all three types on hand. They are cheap insurance and can always be used for bartering if you don’t use them.

    • Just In Case Jack says

      Thanks for added the input.

      I also agree that when anarchy prevails ham licenses won’t matter. However, in order to become a proficient operator, I recommend people get their licenses. An emergency is a terrible time to start learning anything new, it’s always best to learn those skills before the emergency. That’s the definition of being prepared.

      When I installed multiple repeaters for the manufacturing company I used to work for, we had to submit to the FCC for licensing. So I know with repeaters it’s required. I believe you’re right about handheld to handheld (without a repeater) not needing FCC approval.

      I’ll also have to look into MURS radios further. I don’t have any experience with those. 1-mile range without repeaters and licenses is pretty impressive.


      • tom says

        handheld to handheld communications using licensed frequencies (ie ham radio or any other services licensed for that frequency) requires a license. I have to have a ham radio license to use very low power (sometimes under 1 watt) transmitters.

        Like Jack said, obtain your license, you will learn at lot, and have fun, and learn how, and why radio works. You will be better off knowing how to use it and communicate when shtf.

        Try the different modes, cw, voice, packet, sstv, digital, l voice, etc, and see which one works for you and your situation.

  3. canalratrick says

    Comunication on any of the ham bands requires a license. Doesn’t matter if its on a repeater or not. The repeaters will last maybe a day or 2 on batteries then the ramge on your walkie talkies drops dramatically. External antennas can help a lot so be sutre the radio you choose has detatchable antenna. The HF bands support world-wide communication and the license is not hard to get. If youlearn morse code you can talk to Europe on less than 5 watts.
    A good AM receiver would be my first choice. At night you can hear stations all over the continent and get their local news. My Sony SRF59 only cost 8 bucks, lasts at least a month on1 AA cell and fits in my pocket. Its one of the best AM receivers I have used. Remember that if the party you are talking with can hear you others can too. Thers no privicy so beware what you say

  4. bobby says

    We live in the mountains during the spring and summer and in Texas during the fall and winter.Our married children and grandchildren live in Texas all the time.What would be the best way to communicate to 1000 miles with any one of them in a SHTF situation?

  5. Doug says

    1,000 mile reliable communication between parties will only work if both parties have at least a General class hf amateur radio license, so understand that all parties will need both the license – and – the equipment/knowledge/antennas on how it use it.

    Counting on using linked VHF/UHF repeaters means you’re counting on existing infrastructure still being up and operational, which isn’t always true,

    If all parties having a General class license is just not possible, consider a satellite phone instead. Pricing has dropped considerably (new sat phones are now $499 + tax) and service can be had for $65 a month (or $2.17 a day).

    I got my ham and sat phone equipment from a great prepper friendly communication dealer based in Mesa, AZ (RF Gear 2 Go), that I first met at Preppercon last year.

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