Communication in a SHTF Situation a List of Options to Consider

Have a Backup Communication Plan

Communication in an SHTF situation is often overlooked by many preppers. Some think that their communication needs can be met with their cell phone. Anyone who lived through the 9/11 terrorist attacks can remember that cell phones were virtually useless due to network overload.

Just like any other prep, it is important to have back plans and backups to backup plans.

Your Cell Phone Won’t Work in a Disaster Situation

Emergency Essentials

When two bombs went off at the Boston Marathon on April 15, 2013, thousands of people frantically tried to contact loved ones in Boston from around the World. The networks were overloaded by the sudden surge in traffic. Many could not contact family and friends until the next day.

A similar situation happened during Super Storm Sandy on October 22, 2012, when the physical destruction of mobile network infrastructure combined with high cell traffic caused outages. Similarly, over 70% of the cell towers went down during Hurricane Katrina on August 23, 2005. Power and service were down for weeks and many still have not recovered from their pre-Katrina lifestyles.

This is just a few of the cases in recent history that show you shouldn’t rely solely on cell phones for your SHTF communication. So, before the next big disaster hits, let’s discuss some of the options we have for communication when SHTF and get ourselves prepared.

Cell Phones

Communication in a SHTF Situation
Communication in a SHTF Situation

Mobile networks have a capacity that is more than enough 99% of the time but in a time of stress, entire geographic regions can be inaccessible. Phone calls can become impossible, so most mobile carriers recommend that you use your SMS text feature to communicate. Texting tends to use less capacity than voice calls.

Cell Phones are a great way to communicate in day-to-day personal emergencies, but they are not to be counted on in large emergencies. Moreover, in an EMP/CME attack, cyber-attack or if the grid goes down for any reason, cell phones and most other electronics could become completely useless.

Citizen’s Band (CB) Radio

CB’s became popular in the seventies among truck drivers and were featured on many TV shows. If you are old enough, you may remember the “CB lingo” such as “10-4, Good Buddy!” or the song, “Convoy.” The big issue with CB usage in an SHTF is their range. The range of a citizen band radio is limited to a couple of miles. Moreover, fewer people are using CB’s for communication and opting for their cell phones and this is also true in the trucking industry. In an SHTF situation, I don’t recommend this form of communication, but it is there if you are interested.

Satellite Phones

The good thing about satellite phones is they will work in areas that your cell phone may not. If you find the need to call from just about anywhere, such as Mount Everest, the middle of the ocean, or stranded on an island, the satellite phone is your only option.

The downside of a satellite phone is the cost. They are expensive. After you find the funds to buy a satellite phone, you will need to activate it and pay for service. The cost of service has been coming down in recent years and should continue to go down but is still more expensive than standard cell service.

If a satellite phone is something you are interested in, I suggest you do a lot of research before you drop the cash.


FRS, GMRS, and MURS radios are very popular among hunters, campers, outdoorsmen, and businesses that need short-range communications. They are affordable and get the job done fairly well with many great features.

Family Radio Service (FRS) radios do not require a license and are small hand-held units. They can be purchased at most sporting good stores as well as many department stores. The downside is they are limited to just a couple miles at most. FRS radios operate at 1/2-watt, which is why they have such a short range. Hilly regions and other obstacles will limit their reach even more.

General Mobile Radio Service (GMRS) radios require a license to use so some extra time is needed to use these radios. As with FRS radios, GMRS radios are affordable and have a range of around 2 miles. They are a line of sight radio and are also affected by terrain and obstacles.

Multi-Use Radio Service (MURS) radios are 2-watts and can have a range of up to 5-miles. They offer more power than FRS radios, and like the FRS radios, they do not require a license.

As you can see, these radios are great for short distances and some require no license. If you need more range for your communications, you may need to get a license and move up to a HAM radio.

Amateur radio (HAM radio)

HAM radio is one of the most enjoyable of the options above and can become addicting. HAM radio operators do require a license to transmit but do not require one to listen, but it is recommended you get one. There are three different levels of licensing you can obtain:

Technician All amateur privileges above 50 MHz; limited CW, Phone, and Data privileges below 30 MHz
General Technician privileges plus most amateur HF privileges
Amateur Extra All amateur privileges

Should I Get an Amateur Radio License?

Getting your technicians license will get you up and running in the amateur radio world but it is only the first step. There is a fairly large learning curve with HAM radios and it takes time to learn how to use them. But the skill you gain by learning to use them will be priceless in a SHTF situation.

It is an affordable hobby/skill to get into with the price of hand-held radios going down all the time. You can get your feet wet with a Baofeng radio for under $30 or jump up to the newer version or under $65. To make your task even easier, you can purchase a programming cable and use your computer/laptop and software such as CHIRP to program your frequencies. This is much easier than trying to program the radio with the small buttons on the keypad.

HAM radio has long time been a beloved hobby among enthusiasts but the best part about this hobby is it could save your life or someone else’s in a disaster. I believe it is well worth the time and effort to get your license and start your journey into this unique form of communication.

You will need Backup Power in a SHTF Situation

Remember, all the forms of communication above involve electronics so you will need to keep them safe from weather, EMP attacks, and other types of events that can decimate electronics. You will also want to make sure you have a way to power these when the SHTF. The Baofeng radios are rechargeable so finding a way to charge batteries should be at the top of your prepping list.

The list I provided above is just a few different ways you can communicate in an SHTF. There are thousands of scenarios that may influence your decision one way or the other but choose what fits you best.