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:

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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.

Well it all comes down to, you’ll never substitute a proper telephone network style emergency comms system on a level that the average Joe or skilled ham has resources for.

So best case scenarios, groups could collaborate to create hotspot type repeaters to extended the usual point-to-point radio telephony that would be the mostly viable emergency comms. However, this will only provide a local repeater/digipeater of the regular radio repeater order. So say if each town had an emergency repeater setup and everyone had at least a radio transceiver access, it would be no more than local with any sense of range.

To link repeaters to create a mesh network, like DMR digital usage by ham operators at it’s simplest level, will require backbone links (hardened independent land lines or radio or a mix of) to create the links that would allow you to talk via one and traffic be heard on other linked repeaters and likewise their traffic be heard on your local setup.

So you’d then (and it’s possible to do without IP networking) still need some infrastructure beyond the repeaters themselves to manage/regulate and stop it all getting abused/hijacked.

But what you absolutely not get is a full duplex telephony substitute that retains direct dialling, switching and routing and other historical overlooked but commonly used features make modern telephony work.

So it’s at best going to be a CB/Ham radio net style radio comms at group level if you want to avoid all the fallibilities of repeaters etc (and they do fail).

And that’s not even touching range, variations of due to prevailing conditions and choosing a pretty bombproof unit to use that’s hardened enough to survive an human survivable environment that’s as RF/EM toxic as it will compromise the lifespan of the equipment even if it was fully immune (ie unpowered, power source disconnected, everything shielded/protected) to what created the situation and effectively nuked the regular comms networks.

Even then, if the event screws up radio propagation, I doubt many would realise their lovely idiot proof FM gear is about the worst choice ever to use under extreme QRM conditions and if the QRM caused in the UK and northern Europe when Chernobyl blew was any guide, you’ll see clear thirty plus mile FM comms reduced to the order of half a mile at 4w or less (so assume 2W or less since most portable/mobile gear uses inefficient antenna systems). This is where SSB, and very high readable telegraphy wins as human readable telegraphy and SSB comms are still resolvable well into the noise floor under normal conditions.

So if you want true conditions resistant comms for emergency/disaster, it’ll be TG based for max immunity or SSB for phone/voice and as robust as SSB comms can be, TG modes still leave SSB for dead in range over extremes terms.

So I’d look at sourcing some manpack or other military/emergency pro gear that has robust voice and TG capability. Of course it’d need to be legally adapted to use license-exempt public radio provisions etc for argument sake too.

So there’s a lot more than tick items in a catalog and mail order purchase an emergency comms system. A huge amount of success is making it bombproof and properly planned and chosen to suit whatever your worst case scenario is and at least double the impact you’ll be expecting.

The overall cost of one rugged/hardened HH used in pro emergency comms would make your average hyper-spec smartphone cost look like toy money.

I’ve used many generations of such gear, and repurposed surplus gear, so I’m no stranger to the stuff and have some background in that area beyond ham radio related crossover aspects.

There are easy cheap basic RT options, and my survival once depended on a cheapo Maxon 49mhz item so I’m no stranger to that extreme either, but if I was prepping a system, such ‘bubble pack’ radios would be my last ditch answer when the proper prep stuff failed.

Following my mention about how resilient TG modes are, and there’s plenty of evidence in the PD, and a ■■■■ load you’ll never hear of (commercially and in the ‘darker’ worlds, stealth TG & resilience are big research areas), I thought an example of a context might shed some insight -

One of the reasons modern TG modes are so resilient at hanging onto grim death efforts to complete a send EC’d is down to two main aspects inherent to them all.

A) Packet Data transmission
B) Optimised and adaptive use of packet data transmission.

Both are intertwined in the sense that A incorporates B on some level regardless of the protocols and modulation mode involved.

The very best of the ‘unknown’ examples, yet will never see the light of day for reasons that it’s way to dangerous because it has huge scope to be abused exploiting it’s inherent characteristics as negatively as it’s got inherent positive benefit, used a principle of near infinitely short packet size/duration and effective duty cycle where actual elapsed send time wasn’t critical but absolute bombproof transfer was.

In fact, it was an attempt to build a TG protocol that could still eventually work under very high QRM infested propagation conditions where the white noise factor was upwards of 98% S30+ of garbage and it could still work even if at a snails pace. In fact, the limiting factor wasn’t the protocol but sufficiently high grade ultra selective receiver tech which is it’s most demanding requirement.

Ultimately, it exploited the fact that under any degree of QRM even at near receiver blocking levels, the is always an finite narrow, short duration window (we could be talking a nano second or smaller) that could be constantly variable as and when it occurred, how frequently and if you could match packet sizes to suit these constantly near random windows or make a ■■■■ of a good predictive shot at so with super precision adaptive formation, there is pretty much no way it could be stopped or blocked due to those finite windows of reduced QRM always existing no matter how short, random in size/frequency/duration.

The author, who I know well having been a friend of since childhood, got inspired by the very thing that became my real world indication of how a lower proportion fallout impact on RF propagation really affected regular analogue radio comms - most of what things were based on, were on limited testing/simulation/mathematical modelling and theory, since there have been few examples of collateral fallout atmospheric contamination beyond nuclear tests. Chernobyl was a turning point in many ways but notably in the context of emergency comms, it was a live real world example of a limited level of what nuclear fallout impact on RF propagation would really be. So having himself witnessed the impact, like myself, he saw how much effect very distant airborne contamination of fallout could do to radio comms, tackled a workaround mostly as a technical exercise and actually got somewhere to the point where hardware development was beyond his scope.

I doubt anyone actually specifically knows where his work disappeared to, but I do have serious reasons to believe he was brute forced to abandon it against his will.

Sadly, beyond my vague recollections, the true scope of his efforts and the extent of his progress died with him a few years ago and with those who effectively robbed him of his project. I have infinite sympathy for his loss, and what the comms world was denied effectively.

Maybe it may still appear in the hardware flesh, since his dev resources went somewhere, it may well have happened as a black project somewhere else and become a usual reality. But I doubt we’ll ever really know.

But it stands as a good example that even if exploited at a fraction of what he envisioned, you can potentially make a super robust comms link out of something quite basic if you are ingenious enough to tailor a sow’s ear to be more than the sum of it’s parts and perceived garden wall of limitations.