Gun Digest

The Day the Cell Phones Died – Emergency Radio Part 2

The author believes ham radio is the most versatile and effective form of two-way radio for emergency communications. Here, he operates his home-based U.S. Amateur Radio Station, W9NSE. The station operates on all bands and modes, from local and state coverage on VHF/UHF FM, to national and international on HF shortwave using the SSB and AM modes.

Editor's Note: This is the second of a 3-part series looking at two-way emergency radio for disaster preparedness. Click here to read part I. Click here to read Part 3.

Why Radio Works When Cell Phones Fail

The advantage of radio lies in its ability to send and receive a signal, with no help from others. Two-way radio has come a long way since the early days of Guglielmo Marconi’s historic transatlantic wireless transmission that must have struck people in those days as nothing short of magic.

Today, two-way radio transceivers (transmitter-receivers) are as technologically advanced as any other “tech gadget” — with amateur or ham radio leading the march toward integration with the Internet, GPS and exotic new data modes. But at its most basic level, radio is still radio. Like the basic Marconi set that transmitted the distress signal from the sinking Titanic, it works today for the same reason it worked then:  It relies on no one else to get a message out. Thus it remains the best, most reliable form of communication for emergencies.

Another advantage of amateur radio is the option to run vintage equipment. These World War II-era radios use tubes, which allows them to keep working after an Electromagnetic Pulse (EMP), unlike solid-state electronics.

Wireless two-way allows you to be a locally operated independent radio station.  You are the network, in essence, and can take advantage of built-in network redundancy, communicating with other independent operators. If one operator loses capability, the network keeps chugging along.  There is no middleman. And, other than initial equipment purchase and license fees, there is no cost, either.

Not so with commercial telecommunications systems. By their very nature, commercial communications are centralized. That means that all calls go through your service provider’s network.

If that system gets overloaded, which it will in the event of a widespread disaster, you’re out. These systems are designed to make private companies money, not to ensure you can communicate during times of uncertainty. So fickle are they that any event that gets people talking can spark telecomm gridlock.

Equally troublesome is the weather: An ice storm or a wind event such as tornado or straight-line winds can twist lines into high voltage pretzels — rendering your smartphone into nothing more than a fancy-looking paperweight.

Click here to read Part 3.

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