Emergency Communications from A to Z

Having an emergency communications plan is an essential part of being prepared for short and long-term disasters. The ability to network and transmit information about changing situations and new threats is invaluable.

Establishing and maintaining communications with members of your group, your family, and emergency response personnel might just be the factor that makes the difference and keeps you alive.

In long-term or unknown duration survival situations, established, practiced communications plan will save work and energy, help you react more quickly to new threats and opportunities, and all-around stay safer.

But as preppers, we plan for the worst possible outcome, not the best case scenario. That means we’ll never count on being able to pick up the phone and call who we need to in the aftermath of a major disaster.

If land lines are cut and cell phones are down, how will you transmit the information you need to faraway people? Time to start thinking about it.

The good news is there are all kinds of ways to communicate in the aftermath of a society toppling event even if they aren’t as fast and efficient as picking up the phone to call someone.

In this article, we’ll give you some ideas for starting your own emergency communications plan.

The Importance of Emergency Comms

It is hard to overstate the value and versatility of reliable, fast communications in any emergency scenario. I know we surely take it for granted.

Fast communications allow you to summon help in a moment’s notice, spread the word about an emergent threat or potential one, coordinate with the distant personnel to get everyone working towards the same goal, and gather information about the broader situation that lies beyond your scope of perception.

Consider that entire wars have been won due to clear, timely communications relaying critical information.

Conversely, battles have been lost when communications failed, either arriving too late, or scrambled, or intercepted, leaving the would-be recipients grasping at straws or stumbling in the dark.

Or, even worse, reacting or anxiety information that was no longer good or planted…

Don’t think this comparison is too grandiose to be useful, either. For civilian populations, a severe disaster and other crises have very much the same effects as war on your day-to-day life.

Reacting quickly, but more importantly correctly, to a developing situation is vital if you want to stay alive or avoid injury. The old saying “look before you leap” definitely applies.

If you are on the precipice of making a major decision, one that might have serious consequences for you and yours, you want to know everything you can about the totality of the situation before acting.

On the other hand, acting when you should do nothing or when you should stay put can be just as bad.

Leaving your relatively secure shelter to take off for greener pastures may prove disastrous if you are overtaken by events that you have no idea or closing in or waiting for you.

Once safe passages maybe made hazardous due to changing situations. Or you might be fleeing for Parts Unknown in the wrong direction, when help was just around the corner, unbeknownst to you, the other way.

Emergency Communications 101

Compared to a regional organization or governmental agency that’s trying to re-establish communications infrastructure over a wide area, your communications plan and priorities are somewhat simpler.

You simply need to keep in touch with the people that you need or want to keep in touch with. For most of us this means family and friends.

Some serious preppers may have associates in a mutual assistance group or similar organization that will benefit from two-way communication.

Whoever you’re trying to raise, you simply want to keep in touch with him or her so you can both make it through the situation intact.

You will want to know about their overall status- any injuries or casualties, their supply situation, any nearby dangers, etc.- as well as anything they know that may affect you.

Things like emerging threats, worsening situations, bands of looters or marauders and so forth, even government checkpoints, crackdowns and similar threats to freedom and property. You know, “trouble coming down the turnpike” kind of stuff.

The only question is what kind of communication system will work for you. Even among the systems will be looking at today, not all of them are equal when it comes to communicating concepts.

Some are excellent for transmitting alphanumeric characters. Others are much simpler, and work better for relaying coarse, broad concepts or statuses.

Other methods can translate messages of any complexity, but rely on the delivery of a complete message to the recipient.

Some are instantly sent or received, at least as fast as the sender and recipient can deliver and interpret data. Others rely on one party or the other physically leaving the message contents or signal in a predetermined location.

But fast or slow, old-school or high-tech, they all have a place in your disaster plan and prepper toolbox. You’ll see what I mean as you read through the methods below.

6 SHTF Communications Methods

As you read through the communications methods below keep one thing in mind: you aren’t married to any single one of them. One method may be perfect for your situation, and you rely on it the exclusion of the others.

Another prepper in a different situation may need to rely on two or more depending on weather, transmission factors and the receiving party.

Keep in mind the recipient gets a vote in this- if you know Morse code like the back of your own hand but your recipient is slow and clumsy with it, maybe you should try something else as a primary method and save Morse for emergencies.

Always make your communication method work for you and the people you’re communicating with, not the other way around. And if it seems silly but it works, it isn’t silly!

Text Message / Email

I have no doubt there’re some of you out there in the reading audience about to throw a flag on the play.

“Internet and cell-based communications during a disaster?! We’re here to learn about communications to use during a disaster because THOSE won’t work!”

I hear you, reader, and you’re not wrong.

But I am going to include texting and email on this list because it is something of a fallacy that is taken as fact when it comes to using either of these most modern comms methods during a disaster.

Yes, you should assume things like your cell phone, GPS and other modern technological marvels will be inoperable in the wake of a major disaster. Common sense tells us that these systems are extraordinarily intricate and more vulnerable to disruption.

That is true, on the surface, but somehow both also manage to survive and even operate more or less normally during disasters of all kinds under certain circumstances.

One reason we don’t recommend relying on cell phones is because the network is actually more likely to be overwhelmed with traffic than shut down due to physical damage or lack of operator interaction.

In layman’s terms there are too many people trying to place frantic phone calls at once, all the time, for the system to handle it and so there’s a commensurately smaller chance that your call will connect and go through.

Sprinkle on a little bit of damage and destruction on top of this, and they can seem downright unreliable or useless.

The answer is not to throw your phone away or assume it’s out for the duration. Instead, send text messages or email messages to those you’re trying to reach instead of calling.

Both text and email go out in a comparatively small squirt of data compared to a phone call and don’t rely on a sustained connection to enable you to say what you need to say. You can type out as much or as little as required for the situation and send it.

The good thing about both systems, assuming the network can handle your request and transmit the message, is if your device is unable to get the message out immediately, so long as it has a signal from a nearby tower or an internet connection it will keep trying to send the message until it can do so successfully.

That’s pretty handy. As with texting and email in normal times the recipient can respond at their convenience or when able. Fire and forget!

Bottom line: you should at least try to get text messages and emails out, during and after a disaster situation, at least until you are certain beyond a shadow of doubt that the network is hard-bent and inoperable. You might be surprised!

Morse Code

Morse code is the grandpappy of flexible, adaptable telecommunications and can be employed in all kinds of ways, from the sending of simple codes to lengthy and complex messages comprised of alphanumeric characters.

Morse code can be employed by any medium that is capable of being perceived in an on-off state, and works equally well using light, visual recognition or sound.

Morse code was originally developed for use with the telegraph, and was developed by and named for the inventor of the telegraph, F.B. Morse.

Morse code is capable of transmitting every letter of the alphabet and numbers along with a handful of punctuation marks.

Characters are transmitted using standardized sequences of two different signal duration, one short and one long; dots and dashes, or if you’re a Morse code practitioner, dits and dash.

Morse alphabet

Shorthand signals that could convey standardized messages or statuses may also be transmitted, known as prosigns, or procedure signs.

The most famous and internationally-recognized of these signs is the classic SOS, which is three dots, three dashes and three more dots (…_ _ _…).

Fun fact: SOS does not stand for anything in particular; it is just a standardized emergency code.

Stringing together dots and dashes to make characters, and stringing characters together to make whole words with pauses, or breaks, in-between you can convey as much or as little info as is necessary using Morse code and can do it as quickly as a receiver can interpret your transmission.

Morse code is capable of being memorized and translated instantly by someone practiced enough in it, or “translating by ear/sight.”

In an emergency, you can generate Morse code using any improvised method that will create sound or generate light that can be seen from a distance.

People trapped in collapsed buildings have banged on exposed piping so rescuers could hear the reverberations.

People lost at sea or on the sides of mountains have use their flashlights or even mirrors to blink Morse code signals at hikers and Rescuers alike on land and in the air. The beauty of Morse code is its flexibility and adaptability.

You might decide to employ Morse code with others in your group to communicate across vast distances using light or sound. Bells, horns and even gunfire can be used to broadcast Morse via sound waves.

Flashlights, lanterns and any other highly visible light source can cross great distances with success and comparative ease.

You can even use Morse discreetly with a faintly visible light such as a “firefly” LED to blink a short signal or message to someone who is looking for it nearby, and do so without alerting others.

You and yours will definitely have to put in some serious work and practice to master Morse code, but it is arguably the communication method that will serve you the best in the most situations of all on this list. Every prepper should know at least a little Morse code!


Also known as flag semaphore. Derived from the Greek word for “sign bearer” semaphore is a system of communication for conveying information in a purely visual manner at a distance.

Have you ever seen those guys standing on ships at sea waving flags around back and forth at each other? That’s semaphore in action.

Using semaphore, the flags are positioned sort of like the hands of a clock, with each preset position of the two together representing a number or a letter.

The receiver simply records each character represent it when the flags come to rest before the sender moves on to the next. And this way the message is built up.

Semaphore is another old school method of visual communication, has been around since at least 1866. First used on land, is achieved major prominence as a method of communication between ships at sea.

Even if you are ground-bound prepper, semaphore can work well across vast distances even with small signals so long as the sender and receiver can both make use of optical aids like binoculars or telescopes.

One popular use for semaphore on land is communicating between the peaks of mountains when modern electrical communication systems are unreliable or down.

Semaphore works well in any conditions where visibility is good, and you don’t just have to use flags with it. Any handheld indicator or even empty hands can be used with semaphore.

You can even use something like a lighted wand to employ semaphore at night. Because it is visual only, semaphore is not quite as versatile as Morse code, but is relatively easy to learn and easy to interpret.

Semaphore is also quiet and not as visually obvious as blinking a light to employ Morse code, making it a better option for visual communication in situations where discovery may lead to trouble.


Whatever situation you might be dealing with, if electronic communication is an option, you should probably make use of it. The stand out method for preppers to maintain telecommunications capability in the event that landline and cell phones go down is good, old radio.

Almost every prepper is familiar with common hardware store walkie-talkies, but the real stuff is far more capable and also far more complicated. Learning radio theory in order to get the most performance out of your home or vehicle set is a discipline unto itself.

The most basic option is to get a NOAA one-way emergency radio, to stay up-to-date with any unfolding or looming natural disaster. These are fairly cheap on Amazon.

Once you get one of these, tune in to one of the frequency below:

FrequencyWX ChannelMarine Channel
162.400 MHzWX236B
162.425 MHzWX496B
162.450 MHzWX537B
162.475 MHzWX397B
162.500 MHzWX638B
162.525 MHzWX798B
162.550 MHzWX139B
161.650 MHzWX#21B
161.750 MHzWX#23B
161.775 MHzWX#83B
162.000 MHzWX#28B
163.275 MHzWX#113B

You have several choices in radio as a civilian, with some of the most common and popular being CB, or citizens’ band radio, amateur radio, more popularly known as ham radio, and FRS/GMRS.

The type of two-way radio that most citizens are passingly familiar with is, naturally, CB radio. In constant use with enthusiasts, truckers, off-road enthusiasts and folks living in remote areas with poor cell phone infrastructure, CB radio is pretty capable and does not require a license to operate on like ham radio.

Below is a list with the CB radio frequencies you can use:


Ham radios come in all shapes and sizes with corresponding capabilities depending on the radio output, antenna specifics, repeater height and of course the vagaries of atmospherics.

To make use of ham radio you’ll need to get your license and classification (at least while the government is still concerned with such things).

The real beauty of ham radio is that there are networks of fellow ham radio operators and enthusiasts operating all across North America and much of the Caribbean.

Those local stations can serve as repeaters to relay messages across great distances and function as a fantastic, if loosely organized, backup to more modern communication infrastructure.

You can depend on it: if something ever wipes out our cell phone network can the US it will be ham radio operators that pick up the slack and get America back on the air.

FRS /GMRS is short for Family Radio Service/General Mobile Radio Service, which is simply a system of short-range two-way radio system designed for business and family communication in the US and Canada.

Like ham radio, GMRS requires a license for use, and only permits licensees to communicate among themselves and their family members for personal or business reasons.

These radios are typically hand-held, but may be vehicle mounted, and while nowhere near as powerful and capable as the larger ham radio installations, they are much more portable and can still make use of repeaters for extended range.

Typical range between handhelds without use of a repeater is about 1 or 2 miles.

Radio only has two real drawbacks. First, it requires power. If you have no power you have no radio, and greater range often requires considerably more power, all other things being equal. The party won’t stop until the power is out, and then you’ll be back in the dark with a dim set.

Second, you cannot really protect anything you are transmitting with radio, even from other citizens with radio sets. Anyone who can receive the signal can hear exactly what you’re saying.

Compared to something like Morse code or semaphore which is rarely practiced and understood these days outside of specialist circles, anyone who can listen in your conversation over the radio can understand what is being said if they speak your language.

Maybe this will make a difference for you and your situation, or maybe it won’t. The variables are tough to calculate, but here are some things you should keep in mind.

First, anyone who hears you talking over the airwaves can do so without you knowing they are listening.

They can also start piecing together clues about who you are and where you are from any informational breadcrumbs dropped in your conversation, things like place names, vehicles, needed supplies that you can give to others or are looking to get yourself.

All of those little intel nuggets can add up to a fairly complete picture for a potential hostile. It would not do to advertise over the air how many guns you are sitting on next to a small mountain of ammunition, or how well stocked your stores of provisions are when famine is the new normal…

Below you can see some of the most relevant HAM radio high frequency emergency nets for the U.S.:

03808.0 LSBCaribbean Wx (1030)
03815.0 LSBInter-island (continuous watch)
03845.0 LSBGulf Coast West Hurricane
03862.5 LSBMississippi Section Traffic
03865.0 LSBWest Virginia Emergency
03872.5 LSBMercury Amateur Radio Assoc ad hoc hurricane info net (0100)
03873.0 LSBWest Gulf ARES Emergency (night)
03873.0 LSBCentral Gulf Coast Hurricane
03873.0 LSBLouisiana ARES Emergency (night)
03873.0 LSBMississippi ARES Emergency
03910.0 LSBCentral Texas Emergency
03910.0 LSBMississippi ARES
03910.0 LSBLouisiana Traffic
03915.0 LSBSouth Carolina SSB NTS
03923.0 LSBMississippi ARES
03923.0 LSBNorth Carolina ARES Emergency (Tarheel)
03925.0 LSBCentral Gulf Coast Hurricane
03925.0 LSBLouisiana Emergency (altn)
03927.0 LSBNorth Carolina ARES (health & welfare)
03935.0 LSBCentral Gulf Coast Hurricane
03935.0 LSBLouisiana ARES (health & welfare)
03935.0 LSBTexas ARES (health & welfare)
03935.0 LSBMississippi ARES (health & welfare)
03935.0 LSBAlabama Emergency
03940.0 LSBSouthern Florida Emergency
03944.0 LSBWest Gulf Emergency
03950.0 LSBHurricane Watch (Amateur-to-National Hurricane Center) (altn)
03950.0 LSBNorthern Florida Emergency
03955.0 LSBLSB South Texas Emergency
03960.0 LSBNorth East Coast Hurricane
03965.0 LSBAlabama Emergency (altn)
03967.0 LSBGulf Coast (outgoing traffic)
03975.0 LSBGeorgia ARES
03975.0 LSBTexas RACES (altn)
03993.5 LSBGulf Coast (health & welfare)
03993.5 LSBSouth Carolina ARES/RACES Emergency
03995.0 LSBGulf Coast Wx
07145.0 LSBBermuda
07165.0 LSBAntigua/Antilles Emergency and Weather
07165.0 LSBInter-island 40-meter (continuous watch)
07225.0 LSBCentral Gulf Coast Hurricane
07232.0 LSBNorth Carolina ARES Emergency (Tarheel) (altn)
07235.0 LSBLouisiana Emergency
07235.0 LSBCentral Gulf Coast Hurricane
07235.0 LSBLouisiana Emergency
07240.0 LSBAmerican Red Cross US Gulf Coast Disaster
07240.0 LSBTexas Emergency
07242.0 LSBSouthern Florida ARES Emergency (altn)
07250.0 LSBTexas Emergency
07254.0 LSBNorthern Florida Emergency
07260.0 LSBGulf Coast West Hurricane
07264.0 LSBGulf Coast (health & welfare)
07265.0 LSBSalvation Army Team Emergency Radio (SATERN) (altn)
07268.0 LSBBermuda
07243.0 LSBAlabama Emergency
07243.0 LSBSouth Carolina Emergency
07245.0 LSBSouthern Louisiana
07247.5 LSBNorthern Florida ARES Emergency (altn)
07248.0 LSBTexas RACES (pri)
07268.0 LSBWaterway
07273.0 LSBTexas ARES (altn)
07275.0 LSBGeorgia ARES
07280.0 LSBNTS Region 5
07280.0 LSBLouisiana Emergency (altn)
07283.0 LSBGulf Coast (outgoing only)
07285.0 LSBWest Gulf ARES Emergency (day)
07285.0 LSBLouisiana ARES Emergency (day)
07285.0 LSBMississippi ARES Emergency
07285.0 LSBTexas ARES Emergency (day)
07290.0 LSBCentral Gulf Coast Hurricane
07290.0 LSBGulf Coast Wx
07290.0 LSBLouisiana ARES (health & welfare) (day)
07290.0 LSBTexas ARES (health & welfare)
07290.0 LSBMississippi ARES (health & welfare)
07290.0 LSBTraffic
14185.0 USBCaribbean Emergency
14222.0 USBHealth & Welfare
14245.0 USBHealth & Welfare
14265.0 USBSalvation Army Team Emergency Radio (SATERN) (health & welfare)
14268.0 USBAmateur Radio Readiness Group
14275.0 USBBermuda
14275.0 USBInternational Amateur Radio
14300.0 USBIntercontinental Traffic
14300.0 USBMaritime Mobile Service
14303.0 USBInternational Assistance & Traffic
14313.0 USBIntercontinental Traffic (altn)
14313.0 USBMaritime Mobile Service (altn)
14316.0 USBHealth & Welfare
14320.0 USBHealth & Welfare
14325.0 USBHurricane Watch (Amateur-to-National Hurricane Center)
14340.0 USBLouisiana (1900)

Lastly, a more technologically savvy enemy could actually start to home in on your broadcast site using various methods if you actively transmit consistently.

That’s a scary thought. But, flaws and all, civilian radio systems are among the best for after-SHTF communications so long as you can keep them powered. Nothing else comes close in effectiveness or convenience.

Below you can see the US maritime VHF channels:

Channel Number Ship Transmit MHz Ship Receive MHz Description
01A 156.050 156.050 Port Operations and Commercial, VTS. Available only inNew Orleans/Lower Mississippiarea.
05A 156.250 156.250 Port Operations or VTS in theHouston,New OrleansandSeattleareas.
06 156.300 156.300 Intership Safety
07A 156.350 156.350 Commercial
08 156.400 156.400 Commercial (Intership only)
09 156.450 156.450 Boater Calling. Commercial and Non-Commercial.
10 156.500 156.500 Commercial
11 156.550 156.550 Commercial. VTS in selected areas.
12 156.600 156.600 Port Operations. VTS in selected areas.
13 156.650 156.650 Intership Navigation Safety (Bridge-to-bridge). Ships >20m length maintain a listening watch on this channel in US waters.
14 156.700 156.700 Port Operations. VTS in selected areas.
15 156.750 Environmental (Receive only). Used by Class C EPIRBs.
16 156.800 156.800 International Distress, Safety and Calling. Ships required to carry radio, USCG, and most coast stations maintain a listening watch on this channel.
17 156.850 156.850 State & local govt maritime control
18A 156.900 156.900 Commercial
19A 156.950 156.950 Commercial
20 157.000 161.600 Port Operations (duplex)
20A 157.000 157.000 Port Operations
21A 157.050 157.050 U.S.Coast Guard only
22A 157.100 157.100 Coast Guard Liaison and Maritime Safety Information Broadcasts. Broadcasts announced on channel 16.
23A 157.150 157.150 U.S.Coast Guard only
24 157.200 161.800 Public Correspondence (Marine Operator)
25 157.250 161.850 Public Correspondence (Marine Operator)
26 157.300 161.900 Public Correspondence (Marine Operator)
27 157.350 161.950 Public Correspondence (Marine Operator)
28 157.400 162.000 Public Correspondence (Marine Operator)
63A 156.175 156.175 Port Operations and Commercial, VTS. Available only inNew Orleans/Lower Mississippiarea.
65A 156.275 156.275 Port Operations
66A 156.325 156.325 Port Operations
67 156.375 156.375 Commercial. Used for Bridge-to-bridge communications in lowerMississippi River. Intership only.
68 156.425 156.425 Non-Commercial
69 156.475 156.475 Non-Commercial
70 156.525 156.525 Digital Selective Calling (voice communications not allowed)
71 156.575 156.575 Non-Commercial
72 156.625 156.625 Non-Commercial (Intership only)
73 156.675 156.675 Port Operations
74 156.725 156.725 Port Operations
77 156.875 156.875 Port Operations (Intership only)
78A 156.925 156.925 Non-Commercial
79A 156.975 156.975 Commercial. Non-Commercial inGreat Lakesonly
80A 157.025 157.025 Commercial. Non-Commercial inGreat Lakesonly
81A 157.075 157.075 U.S. Government only – Environmental protection operations.
82A 157.125 157.125 U.S.Government only
83A 157.175 157.175 U.S.Coast Guard only
84 157.225 161.825 Public Correspondence (Marine Operator)
85 157.275 161.875 Public Correspondence (Marine Operator)
86 157.325 161.925 Public Correspondence (Marine Operator)
87 157.375 157.375 Public Correspondence (Marine Operator)
88A 157.425 157.425 Commercial, Intership only.
AIS 1 161.975 161.975 Automatic Identification System (AIS)
AIS 2 162.025 162.025 Automatic Identification System (AIS)

Simple Signals

Simple signals comprise one of the most discreet and multi-purpose methods of communicating changes in status between two informed parties.

Simple signals can be almost anything: it could be a colored or specially-shaped of a flag that is flown from a flagpole. It could be the absence of a flag on a flagpole.

It could be a light, or lights left on. A small pile of seemingly innocuous rocks might be a signal. A piece of furniture on a porch on one side of the door or the other might be a signal. The use of simple signals is limited only by your imagination.

Naturally, simple signals only work for people who are in the know: those who know what to look for, and furthermore who know what the signals mean.

If you don’t write down what the signals are, and don’t reveal it to anyone else, simple signals are a sort of self keeping cipher. Even an outsider who suspected something for purposes of notifying someone else won’t know what it means.

And what it means could be anything. A certain color of flag or sheet flown from a high place might indicate all okay, assistance requested, or an SOS. A specific pattern of flag might indicate general danger.

One might even request a meeting for real-time communication to the receiving party at the earliest possible convenience.

You can also use simple symbols to leave messages that are not easily deciphered by others. A series of colored potted plants left out near a planter could tell someone who came looking for you that you were forced to evacuate, what the condition of your family members are, and to which bug-out location you headed to.

The only real weakness of simple symbols is that the very nature of them makes them a little more vulnerable to disruption if they are not attended to.

Someone might not think anything of moving a piece of furniture for instance. Anything might happen that can break or knock over pots, or they could simply be stolen.

Even so, in times of trouble it is a great idea to establish at least a few sets of simple signals with your family, friends and fellow group members so you can discreetly tip them off that something may be wrong with no other action from you.

Dead Drop

A dead drop is a traditional spy skill that you can add to your own prepping toolbox to leave messages for or transmit messages between two parties that you don’t want to be found.

A dead drop is simply a message left in a hidden area by one party that will be picked up separately, without the first party being present, at a later time.

Spies use dead drops to maintain operational security. You can do the same thing order communicate discreetly when two parties find it difficult to meet up for any reason.

Dead drops are certainly effective in some niche situations but rely completely on both parties being in the loop, and the messages being retrieved by each in turn, preferably without being spotted by bystanders as this will compromise the hiding place and any future communications.

Typically, a dead drop will be hidden within, under or around any commonplace, everyday item or sometimes within a natural environment.

You can make almost anything a dead drop. Everyone has at least a little experience with hiding places and these hiding places furnish ample ideas for dead drops.

You can hide a message inside a ziplock bag beneath the soil in a planter. You could take a sealed, waterproof tube and stash it underneath the joists of a deck.

In urban settings, holes in brick walls, the undersides of benches and countless other hiding places await those who would make clever use of dead drops for communications with other parties.

Nature herself also furnishes plenty of good hiding places. Hollow trees, large rocks and even ponds and creeks can all be used as great opportunities to hide your messages.

A couple of classic tradecraft tricks are sinking a message tube into a pond, and connecting it to a particular rock or stick on the shore by thin, almost imperceptible fishing line. The recipient will know which one to look for, and can reel it in using the fishing line.

Another classic technique is to take a hollow tube with a spike on the end and a sealed cap and simply stick it in the soft soil of a yard or riverbank at a designated pick-up point.

The only real disadvantages of dead drops are it both the sender and the recipient must be playing from the same page, as with simple signals.

Compared to simple signals, a dead drop is far less likely to be detected or tampered with unless one party or the other is observed accessing it.

That’s the other downside: it is very difficult to play off accessing a dead drop. That usually looks suspicious.

Nonetheless, if you have a family member or a friend that is “written in” to your survival plan you should make them aware of a couple of dead drops where you might leave messages or instructions in case you cannot be contacted.

Some folks decry such emergency communication contingency plans as fantastical, but this is short-sighted.

You might not be able to get in touch with someone in the immediate aftermath of a disaster, and still have to react to your problems as they come.

This might mean your friend, family member or associate comes along later looking for you, only to find you missing.

Instead of guessing or fearing the worst, their next course of action can be to check one of several pre-designated, pre-discussed dead drops for messages or instructions from you, typically accessed in ascending order of how much time you had to leave a message.

Even if it is only a tertiary or emergency method of relaying a message, dead drops are an important insurance policy for maintaining continuity of communication with important people in your family or group when things are dicey.


You cannot afford to for you and yours to be left in the dark in the aftermath of a disaster. Timely, reliable communications, even if they’re not electronic, often spells the difference between success and failure, life and death, in a SHTF situation.

Take the time to learn and more importantly implement at least a couple are these emergency communication methods in your survival plan. You can’t stop the signal!

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10 thoughts on “Emergency Communications from A to Z”

  1. Good article. Thank you.

    I would like to make one comment, however. Kind of nitpicky, but I tend to be a purist.

    Purist Morse Code users, particularly Amateur Radio operators that use Morse code often, refer to the dots and dashes that represent the characters as dits and dahs. So, the SOS message would be said as dit dit dit dah dah dah dit dit dit.

    Just my opinion.

    • True that. Sometimes even using phonetic alphabet will work. I’m always amazed at the number of people that don’t get that. The wife and I used that on our kids after they learned to spell and they graduated and never did figure out what we were talking about. But adults are just a ignorant of it these days.

  2. GMRS can be used to communicate with ANY other GMRS licensee, and many FRS radios. The family aspect is that one license covers the whole family, which is good because it is about $80 for 5 years.

    Another type of radio is MURS (license free)

    • The thing to remember about these bands is the power requirements some ham radios will receive and transmit on these bands but you must be careful with the power at least while enforcement is intact
      The biggest mismatch we have with infraction and penalty is violations of the radio waves
      however it in an emergency you are free to use any frequency without a license to deal with that emergency but that does not mean you can be stupid about it
      Main thing with VHF and UHF altitude is everything and a better antenna than the stock rubber duck can double or triple the range of the radio when you want range, sometimes you do not not.
      On that subject you need an antenna system that will reach to every home that you are friends with
      Depending on your terrain and how you are situated on it will determine the height of the antenna you will require
      invest in a 2 m duel band mobile radio to use as a base in the home If connecting your handheld to the pole mounted antenna will not get the distance you need
      altitude is more important than power but sometimes the power will get you above the noise floor

  3. If you don’t have hours to spend to learn Morse Code, there’s an easier (but slower) code called Tap Code, which you can learn in a minute or two, as many soldiers have. You can send messages by flashing a mirror or piece of glass or even aluminum foil to reflect sunlight to someone in the distance, even miles away as long as they can see the flashes. Or flash a light at night. Or tap on a wall or even blink, any countable signals. To send the letter of a word, first tap (or flash) through the letters A F L Q V, stopping at the one which is before the letter you want to send (or the same as it), then pause, then tap through the alphabet from that point. For example, to send the word “HELP”, you tap twice (A F), pause, tap three times (F G H) and the receiver writes down the H. Then you tap once (A), pause, then tap five times ( A B C D E) and he writes down the E. Then you tap three times (A F L), pause, and tap once (L) and he writes down the L. Finally you tap three times (A F L), pause, and tap five times (L M N O P) and he writes down the P. You can use X for a period and Q for a question mark. Use the letter C instead of K: asc. If you make a mistake and need to start a word over, tap eight times. Sometimes people have even blinked secret messages in Tap Code!

    • Look into “tap code”. It is a 5×5 matrix
      If you need to be under the radar rearrange the pattern
      as long as your receiver knows which pattern you are using unlikely you will be intercepted

  4. Hello! Help, I’m overwhelmed with information. I am looking for an alternative communication system that can reach family hundreds of miles away, is under the radar, doesn’t cost a fortune and comes with multiple handsets or phones for 8-10 people. Does something like this exist? Someone has suggested a satellite radio system. When I read articles and search online, the options are overwhelming. I live in a major US urban area with limited prepping experience. Can you someone make a suggestion on brand, where to purchase and how to operate?

    • Lori,
      The article was pretty basic and you should have been able to duck duck go the various topics to flesh them out,
      Based on the information that you gave everyone needs to get at least a ham tech license, life will be better that way.
      All need their own dual band handy talkie as they are now called.
      I recommend the Baofeng UV 82 HP
      need the free chirp soft ware to load the frequencies
      each car needs a mag mounted antenna and each house may need an antenna mounted on a tree or pole
      Height depending on how far you need to reach. That will suffice for com inside 25 to 50 miles.
      You can stick to the family band frequencies with no license but you will be severely limited in frequencies.
      to reach several hundred miles you need to get a ham general license, preferably an Extra level.
      You will need an HF radio and i recommend the Kenwood ts480.
      runs on 12. volts
      need a power supply, coax, and an antenna
      also an Swr meter. One set per group as info can be relayed with the handy talkies
      budget $250 per 5 hand held units and near $2000 for an HF set up
      search for ham radio equipment on line to see what I am talking about.
      Plenty of info on the web if you can not find a local ham to help you


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