The very first thing you need to consider is, “Do I need or want some kind of personal communications? I have a cellular phone, a home phone, a work phone and hell, I’ve got the internet! What more do I need?”
Good question. I’m glad you asked.
Let’s cover that right now. A couple of assumptions we need to think about first.
Why are we considering alternative means of communication? Is it for our family? Is it for daily use? Is it for emergencies only? Will it ONLY be used when the SHTF scenarios arise?
First let’s get something straight. ANY radio system regardless of it’s use, or the license status of the user (or the happenstance would-be Good Samartian) can be used in ANY EMERGENCY given that it is a REAL WORLD EMERGENCY.
This means that if YOU are the poor bastard that happens upon a shot police officer who is still alive and needs help, your FIRST JOB if it is safe, is to HELP the downed officer. You would pick up his radio, which would be the most expedient means of communications with the Police department, tell them you are civilian and you are at the corner of Walk and Don’t Walk, and you have a downed officer. You require an ambulance and backup immediately.
The police dispatcher will then start quizzing you, at which time you will become frustrated and put the radio down anyway and perhaps render first aid if you know how.
Anyway, in this real life scenario which has been repeated across the country several times in my lifetime, you would not be prosecuted in any way for use of a radio which you’re not authorized to use. Instead you might have helped save a life, capture a criminal and become an instant hero in your little area of the world, and get your 15 minutes of fame. Don’t worry if this happens, we can all have more than one “15 minutes of fame” situation in our lives.
The point here is simple. If you’re in an EMERGENCY SITUATION anything you are doing to save life and limb, and perhaps even property is OK to do, if the situatition warrants.
With that IN MIND, understand that anything you do AFTER READING this must be LEGAL. That is, if you decide to purchase equipment for your personal use, make sure you’re licensed for it. In the real world, emergencies do not occur every day, and society doesn’t crash and burn once a week — or we would still be in the stone age.
So first decision. What do you want your MAIN use of your personal radio gear to be? Is it for your family? Probably. Consider getting a HAM LICENSE, no “fee” per se, but you pay a few bucks to the Volunteer Examiners to administer the test. Also, consider GMRS — which is I believe a yearly license fee of 75 bucks. A lot, but only once a year.
Consider also the free services of CB and FRS, neither requiring a license, but the equipment has limitations.
Answering the main question, “Do I need communications?” is our goal however. Do you want to contact your family if the cells go down? Perhaps a handheld radio is appropriate, or a CB or ham radio in your car. Maybe you’re too far for a short range walkie-talkie to get to your family? You might have to consider something different.
Most survivalists will have some kind of idea of why they want a radio, so I’m not going to give you any more reason. Assume you have a good reason and you’re going to look into the various radio services to see what you need.
In the mean time; what happens when everything pretty much stops working, there’s been an EMP, or something weird has happened and the power grid went offline? What if you’re home, how do you find out?
A regular AM/FM radio is good to have. If the problem is localized and local stations are out, then you need to consider a simple shortwave radio. Either way in the “Aftermath” you’re going to want to do a lot more listening than you are talking anyway. If there are enemy forces you don’t want to give away your position, but you’d like to know where they are. Scanners can be programmed to listen in locally. Shortwaves to listen to distant stations (DX) even in foreign countries – and if local comms are down, distance might give you some idea of what the hell is going on.
Some people won’t want to know, won’t care or just don’t want to be bothered. They won’t be reading this.
I’ll cover some other things regarding each of the services over the course of time. Expect short articles concerning the pros and cons of various radio services.