Emergency communications if the phones and internet are dead

I’m new to all this. Ive been searching for a way to communicate should the internet and cell phones go down. I would like to put this in place ASAP. Been reading about MURS, FRS, GMRS, SSB CB and it’s a lot to take in. Hah, understatement!
Basically I’m looking for the most mobile system (for car switching) that could also be used inside a home. Also, ease of learning to use the product factors in. For instance, learning to use amateur radio would not be feasible under my time constraints.
Right now I’m looking at handheld CBs and the GMRS Midland GXT 1000VP4. I’m on a budget but willing to spend for something that will last. I’m not sure that is the case with either of those products.
Any suggestions would be most appreciated. Share your reasoning at length if you will, what you might get for emergency comms under those parameters.
Thank you. Happy New Year!

Well, without addressing any specific system or systems, as nobody can conclusively give you a best/optimal route as there is no such thing covering all bases and broken comma scenarios -

  1. Outside of telecoms (copper, fibre, ground-sat and sat-sat linked/networked gateways) based network distributed ‘telephony’ digital or otherwise, you won’t find a robust cross-nation alternative, not even a cellular based one as even cellular systems use some degree of land cabled backbones as well as wireless backbones to network the cell sites to each other and link/gateway into other non-cellular services.

Probably the closest you’ll get is maybe one of the sat networks that are primarily sat-sat relayed and networked, but that’s only assuming all parties involved use sat phone type equipment or voice-over-data (VoIP equiv outside of the internet regulars) via sat link equipped terminals.

I believe some cellular networks have the capability to retain cell-cell relay within the same network in the scope of limits that only active cells will be available, but I couldn’t quote a specific that I know had the fallback live available.

So that leaves us with simplex and repeater based radiotelephony non-cell based. Outside of commercial systems that licensing usually excludes repeater and gateway operations under the lowest paid licensed and license-free/exempt tiers, you’ll be looking at simplex only systems. In other words, station to station direct and with the usual range and degrees of LOS based range potential and reality.

So given that bit of cold reality, you are looking at which ‘system’ is both highly active normally, so ensuring that range/conditions permitting you’ll have the best chance of getting contacts to directly exchange info or get to relay for you.

If you are looking at emergency only standby and already have links/association with a comms network using a common system, then you’ll want to pretty much clone the lowest common denominator of their preferred setup or better.

If you are organising your own, think about availability and range and decide if you need a closed or publicly available system, as each has their own advantaged and limitations, but a publicly available system should be of readily accessible kit and frankly idiot proof to setup and operate/navigate.

Now as a rule of thumb, lower frequency range systems (longer wavelength) have better scope for range and more scope for extended range where upper atmosphere conditions aid EM propagation, but at the same time, optimal antenna systems can get quite bulky when you’re talking under 70mhz territory. I chose 70mhz as, based on UK (where I am), this was the VHF low-band land mobile radio territory.

When you get into 30-70 MHz territory, you’ll be pretty much looking at 49mhz restricted power ops or (if ham licensed, additional 6m ops 50-52mhz territory). Assuming non-Ham use, it’ll be 49mhz (analogue only where we’re talking ISM type license exempt use) and usually handheld equipment territory and usually without legal usage of external antennas and linear RF amplifiers, so talking (depending on region) double figures in mW operating power based case typically and fairly LOS operation within the associated range limits allowed by such low power ops at the frequencies in question. I did some good stuff on 49mhz under such limits as a kid, so it’s not beyond scope for inclusion but not high on the high availability list of options.

So unless you’re wanting to venture into ham radio ops (where there’s an unbelievable scope for long range ops due to many operation modes allowed and many frequency range to play with), you’re really looking at CB under whichever licence grade your country permits SSB usage on 27mhz, as the ‘long range’ option (not available here in the UK as it’s strictly FM only in our 11m CB allocation) that’s also readily accessible via ‘export model’ equipment more readily.

At 11m/27mhz, you’ve limited degrees of extended range due to propagation associated with HF operations, but most of the scope never is usable upwards of 21mhz where 21-30mhz straddles the borders of both VHF propagation at the higher frequencies and low grade HF propagation at the lower extreme of that range.

So, having got legacy analogue dealt with, modern digital and analogue ‘commercial’ and commercial derived systems are well into VHF/UHF territory, I’ll skip SHF stuff as SHF is dark magic territory to most and unless you are ready to venture into dark magic technicalities, beyond most people’s scope for patience to explore.

So that, assuming VHF/UHF ops, brings you back to the systems you mentioned and back to my advice about deciding if you need high availability public comms or a more closed group system. There maybe some repeaters used on some commercial/semi-commercial leisure systems that allow repeater use or have unlicensed operational availability for, ditto for trunked/linked inter-repeater cross linking, but the systems I’m familiar with don’t permit such fancy operation modes at license-free/exempt and loftier at-cost licensed levels.

So at that, I’ll hand this back to anyone who wants to add/revise this based on US/Canada based usage and scope and likewise for other regions, as the initial subject has scope for being investigated worldwide.

But the bottom line is - you won’t find anything remotely close to internet-backboned or land cabled backbone based radio relay systems in the more regular LMR systems if the internet craps out and/or the landlines die a copper death.

That’s one of the reasons I value my ham license, because whilst HF operations won’t replace regular telephony systems, I know there will always be contacts occasionally even if the world goes mostly dark :slight_smile:

1 Like

Unfortunately, as you can see, this is akin to asking how long is a piece of rope. There are no answers unless we know more about who you are wanting to communicate with, and how far you might need to communicate.

If you are talking about communicating at short range (line of sight distances) on public frequencies between your family, then you have many options. If you are talking about trying to get hold of someone for help in an emergency, then you have far fewer options. If you want private communication between users, then there are even fewer options.

Also, if internet and cell service is down, power may be out too, so you should also consider how you are going to charge batteries or fuel generators.

Based on what you are researching so far, CB operates in a lower frequency band than MURS, FRS and GMRS. It operates in the 27 MHz band, which means that readability and clarity of transmissions goes down, but potential for longer ranges goes up. Radio waves in the high frequency spectrum of CB can occasional bounce off clouds and you might be able to receive transmissions from hundreds of miles away, depending on sun spot activity, weather conditions and a million other random factors. Essentially, CB is used most by truckers these days, and reliable communication is not much more than a few miles in good conditions.

Handheld MURS, FRS and GMRS radios operate at higher frequencies. In the Very High Frequency (VHF) and Ultra High Frequency (UHF) spectrum, transmissions are much clearer and less prone to interference, but the range is very dependant on how far apart the radios are. Because all the ones you mentioned are essentially line-of-sight, that means no radio will be able to talk to another radio unless the antennas can “see” each other. This means that communication beyond the horizon is out of the question, and you MIGHT get reliable communication in a rural area of a mile in ideal conditions. In an urban area, you might be able to talk reliably to someone a few blocks away.

GMRS allows higher powered radios and mobile (vehicle-mounted) radios with higher antennas and more power, but it requires a licence to operate in the U.S. GMRS also allows the use of “repeaters” which are radios set up by private owners to listen to a transmission on one frequency and re-broadcast it on another frequency, usually with much higher ground-based antennas. In event of a communication failure event, if there is a network of repeaters in your area, and you can gain permission from the owners, you can talk at much greater distances. But you will always be confined to the same limited number of public channels as everyone else. That’s why MURS, FRS and GMRS were designed for easy access to publicly-shared channels for short range communication.

If you are looking for licence-free communication at short range on private channels, then you might want to look at frequency-hopping radios in the 900 MHz area of UHF. These are the Motorola DLR and DTR radios.

But regardless, all the radios you cite are limited to line of sight, and that means a mile or two at best when talking handheld to handheld.

So how can some manufacturers claim ranges of “up to 35 miles” etc in their advertising? Well, technically, a 1/4 mile falls in the “up to …” designation, plus if you have one radio on top of a mountain that can see another radio on top of another mountain 35 miles away, they can communicate with each other. Eliminate the horizon, plus buildings, trees, hills etc. and one can talk great distances. Theoretically.

Many people don’t know this but some lucky handheld amateur radio operators have been able to talk to the ISS for a few minutes at a time when there is a licenced operator on board the space station.

The question should always be “who do you want to talk to?” That’s the killer. If the phones and internet fail because of a disaster, this is key. So first priority is preservation of life. So if you have somebody injured, you need help. If you live on the coast - then the coastguard probably solves the problem - if you are in range, which is what? ten miles at most? If you live inland, then in a real disaster, the only community of people able to communicate will be hams, CB and the other services (the MURS, FRS, GMRS systems most countries have nowadays) However - most of these are very short range - a mile or two on a good day, and the ones with repeaters rarely have 24/7 battery backup operation. Lots are relying on mains power)

Frankly, the ONLY long range kit is HF radio - but the higher power stuff with decent antennas, and this also requires some operational skill, so not a case of dig them out and plug them in and anyone can work them - they can’t!

The authorities have networks that are in the main backed up and capable of limited time on battery power or generators.

CB and ham radio seem ideal, but they take time, money and effort to get working. The others are too short range and random in location to work.

We don’t have (in the UK) anything like the folk in the US who prepare for the end of the world. In the Cold War days, we had all sorts of systems distributed around the country, but it’s all gone now.

I’ve been working through this for exactly the same reasons as you. I have a few CB’s and I’ve found GMRS to be superior in most ways. I started using GXT 1000s for hiking and backing in the motorhome. When I decided I needed some emergency comms, I kept going down the GMRS trail. I have one in the Jeep now and will be adding one to the motorhome. I have a Wouxun 805G to use for a base at the house for now and will be adding a higher watt unit later for my 27’ antenna. I’ve been a scanner guy for 25 years and there are very few people using GMRS in my area. Errrrrbody has a CB and uses them constantly. Those are some of my reasons for choosing GMRS. I wouldn’t worry about repeaters and the like for now.