It is unlikely your team will all be in the same place when a disaster strikes. We are overly reliant on cell phone communication. In a moderate or extreme emergency, it is likely that this service will either be interrupted (lack of power, towers destroyed) or overwhelmed with too many people trying to call at the same time. On Nine-Eleven, many people were frustrated in their attempts to use their cell phones. Also, texts are more likely to get through and use less battery than voice.
If there is an extended power outage, even if service isn’t interrupted, will you be able to recharge your cell phones? Will cell towers still transmit?
When you consider using a GPS on your cell phone, remember that in many cases, the mapping information is being downloaded from your net if you haven’t already downloaded it into the memory. Thus if your service is interrupted, your cell phone GPS can tell you where you are, but it might not display the map. Understand that the GPS on your cell (and many apps) are a way you can be tracked by people who have access to the technology. Most people don’t understand that they are basically carrying a tracking device with them all the time (their cell phone). It’s also a listening device.
There are other options.
GMRS and FRS radios work well for short distances, but their range is limited. Suffice it to say, that any system you use, make sure you test it. A problem with these systems is they require power to work. These usually work line of sight. So while the manufacturer might state they work 30–40 miles, the reality is, in uneven terrain, their effectiveness will be more limited. If purchasing these types of radios, get ones that run on 12 volt DC or rechargeable battery packs. It helps if they can also run on conventional batteries as you should have a supply of those on hand.
At the end of preparation, I cover power. I discuss solar power which can be indispensable in keeping your cell phone and GPS working.
CB radios are also an option, with greater range. Again, power consumption is a problem. Also, no matter what system you use, remember that anyone can be listening in on your frequency or channel. If you don’t live near water that people boat on, a sneaky way to communicate can be to get VDC marine radios. The bottom line, however, is assume any transmission you make is being listened to by others in an extreme emergency. So don’t be broadcasting to a team member “oh my gosh, we have so much food here, we don’t know what to do with it. Hurry up and join us for the feast tonight.” You might end up with too many dinner guests.
I’ve gone many places where there is no cell phone coverage. While going to Hole in the Rock in Grand Staircase-Escalante National Monument, my clutch began to burn out. 120 miles from the nearest civilization. Luckily I managed to sustain in third gear out of there but it made me consider the situation. I now carry a SpotX 2 Way Satellite Messenging GPS Tracking system with me whenever I’m in my Jeep or even day packing.
There are places all over the country, including in the Smoky Mountains, with no cell coverage. I view the SpotX as a potentially life-saving investment. It also provides peace of mind as my family can get hold of me any time and I can update them on my progress. When I camp, I send a location every night before I turn in.
In Special Forces we encrypted all our transmissions. The easiest way for your team is to have a short list of code words that mean various things.
Mod/Ex: A-Team Code Word List
Bug Out Hide Site: BOHS:
I’ve been compromised and am sending this under duress:
Code name for each team member:
Code word for each day of the week:
Time zone (different from the one you live in) that will be used as code: (for example, if you are in East Coast time zone, everyone agrees to use Greenwich mean in commo, adding five hours):
Anchor Point for Team (described below):
Add whatever key words you believe you’ll need:
The key is if your code word for your ERP is Orange, if you say “let’s meet at Orange” no one else will know where you’re talking about. If you say “Orange is compromised”, the same thing. Your teammates know not to go to the ERP.
Have a system for days of the week and how many weeks. This allows you to coordinate a link up. If you sit for a few minutes and talk it out with team members, you will quickly realize there is a bunch of information you would want to transmit back and forth without someone understanding exactly what you’re saying. Make up your lists accordingly.
The Anchor Point is a spot you can use to communicate locations securely as long as no one else knows it: You can transmit: I am three-point-five kilometers from (code word for Anchor Point) at an azimuth of 127 degrees.
Not only do code words make your communication more secure, they can also shorten your transmission time, which is always a plus as it saves power.
Pick two times a day to make communication. Much like Will Smith in I Am Legend, pick a certain time when members on your team will know your system is on. This allows you to save battery life. It also allows you to focus on other things, rather than hanging around the cell/satellite phone or radio all day.
In Special Forces we had two communications sergeants on each A-Team, an indication of how valuable we viewed this skill. While we are now overly reliant on satellite communications, these men are trained on other types of radios, including high frequency. A local Ham radio operator would be a good person to get to know. They might end up being the only one getting information from the “outside” world. There is something that can seriously disrupt communications: Electromagnetic Pulse, better known as EMP, is a high-intensity burst of electromagnetic particles. I discuss this further on, under Solar Flare.