Listening for Information During a Grid-Down Crisis
This is an excerpt from my book Emergency Preparedness and Off-Grid Communication.
In a crisis, it’s essential to have information. When internet and cell phone services are unavailable, we must find alternate ways of gathering it. We can do that by listening to public broadcasts and emergency responder radio traffic.
AM and FM Radio
Some AM and FM radio stations have emergency backup power. During a crisis where cellular or internet service is not available, these stations should be able to provide information about the severity and duration of a crisis. Metropolitan areas typically have stations that are designated as emergency broadcast stations that provide information during a crisis. It would be wise to find out in advance which stations near you are designated as emergency broadcast stations. Write down their frequencies and keep them with other important information. Most vehicles have AM and FM radios, though some newer models may not have AM radio service. TIP: Many handheld radios designed for use by amateur radio operators, such as the Baofeng UV-5R, can receive FM broadcast stations.
A scanner is type of radio that can be used to listen to law enforcement, fire, and emergency service dispatchers and responders. Scanners do not transmit signals. Whether a scanner will receive radio traffic in your area depends on the type of radios used by public safety agencies. Some public agencies use radios that can be heard with a scanner, but many have switched to encrypted radios. Traffic on these radios cannot be scanned. Radio traffic that is encoded, but not encrypted can be heard with a scanner capable of decoding the signals. Before purchasing a scanner, find out what type of radios are used by the agencies in your area whose traffic you want to listen to. You should also decide whether you want to transmit messages in a crisis. Some handheld radio transmitters also have scanning capabilities. You could scan local emergency traffic and transmit using a single radio. Prices for handheld scanners begin at $25. Models capable of scanning encoded radio traffic can cost as much as $650.
In the U.S., you can listen to NOAA weather broadcasts with a radio capable of receiving one of seven channels within the frequency range of 162.400 through 162.550 MHz, collectively known as the weather band. The frequencies are 162.400 MHz, 162.425 MHz, 162.450 MHz, 162.475 MHz, 162.500 MHz, 162.525 MHz, and 162.550 MHz.
Hundreds of radio stations across the globe broadcast news, weather, and entertainment by transmitting signals that skip off the atmosphere, which are received by listeners thousands of miles away. (We will discuss this phenomenon in more detail in later chapters.) Many of these stations will be on the air during a grid-down emergency. You can stay abreast of current events if you have a shortwave radio capable of receiving these transmissions. Shortwave radios are not capable of transmitting voice messages, but they can receive them.
An inexpensive multi-band radio can receive transmissions from local AM and FM broadcast stations, weather channels, and shortwave stations. A radio requires a power source, and the usual power supply may not be available in an emergency. Kaito’s Voyager line of radios can be powered by a solar panel, hand crank, a home power outlet, and batteries. Some models come with a USB charger and 12-volt adapter.
C. Crane and Tecsun make more sophisticated shortwave listening radios that offer a broader range of frequencies and modes, such as single sideband, which amateur radio operators commonly use. For optimum listening, a long wire can be attached to the standard antenna of any radio. Some radios have an accessory port where an extension antenna can be connected.
A learning curve must be negotiated if one hopes to become adept at shortwave listening (SWL). It’s not as simple as turning your radio on. You must know what frequencies carry the information you need and when certain stations are on the air. That takes research and practice. Operating a radio is a diminishable skill. Over time, we tend to forget how to operate equipment. Wise preppers exercise survival skills regularly, and radio is no exception. If you want to be proficient in an emergency, practice using your radio at least once a month.
If you’d like to learn more about shortwave listening, check out the website swling.com. It has information about how to use a shortwave radio and program schedules.