A family communications plan is essential for all kinds of situations – from every day occurrences to SHTF scenarios. The problem being, which one do you learn? Which do you use? Each given situation may call for a different train of thought regarding communication, so you’ll have to make the judgement on the fly. However, if you want to be sure you’re covering all your bases, you should try to learn and understand as many different types of communications methods as possible so you’re always covered.
Emergency Communications if you’re split up from your family.
The first thing you can do is create a “home base” – typically one person’s house that is well prepared to handle emergencies. If you’re a prepper with a large house, this may be you. Be prepared not only for yourself, but for your network of family and friends as well. You may need multiple modes of communications in order to communicate with different family members. This will serve as a communications hub. Everyone will report in to this location on set intervals to make sure home base knows the location and situation of each family member. Should emergency arise, this hub would also act as a dispatch center to send one person to another location for recon or retrieval of another family member.
Each person will need communication devices for different situations. Unfortunately most of these are prone to failure due to power loss or catastrophic loss due to an EMP strike.
Land Phones – If you still maintain a land line, this may be the best method of initial communication – especially for the family communications hub. You’re almost guaranteed a connection, so long as the phone lines are still operational. Even when the power goes out, phone lines still work (and actually generate a little power themselves, as well). Thinking about getting rid of your land line? You might want to think twice. The only issue with land lines is they would also go down if hit by a large enough EMP. The entire copper network is run via VoIP (Voice Over Internet Protocol (or in more common terms phone service over the Internet)) in North America now. It doesn’t matter if the copper from your house to the switch is fine if the gear at the switch is fried.
Cell Phones – Most everyone has a cell phone in today’s society – even children. Not only can you talk to someone, you can also text them (or for some of you, maybe that line should read “not only can you text someone, you can actually talk to them”). In fact with most cell phones, you can also access the internet (which we’ll talk about next). The biggest issue with cell phones is reception. If you’re in a bad spot, your reception may suffer. Severe storms roll in that could also rain havoc down upon your reception. But even if you have great reception, there’s always the possibility of a power outage. If the power dies, eventually your phone will, too (unless you have an alternate method of charging). Still the possibilities get rarer, but worse. If a catastrophic event takes out a cell tower, it will totally take out this method of communication (until you can get to an area covered by another tower). God forbid an EMP strike – your cell phone becomes an expensive paperweight – or a projectile if you’re in a real bind… or even a signalling mirror… but we’re getting off track here.
Internet – The internet has become the second most popular method of communication immediately behind texting (at least from my observation). With email, Facebook, Twitter, Skype, and a myriad of other options for communication, it’s an excellent way to stay in touch. You can hold a Google Hangout with all your family members to make sure everyone’s alright, or formulate an evacuation plan if things start getting too hairy. Much like cell phones, though, there are some drawbacks to the internet as well. If you lose your connection due to your ISP going down, the internet soon becomes the INERTnet. Likewise, power loss and EMP strike affect this option.
CB Radio – [easyazon_link asin=”B003EB38C4″ locale=”US” new_window=”default” nofollow=”default” tag=”survivalathome-20″]Citizens Band radios[/easyazon_link] (affiliate link) always make me think of my childhood. We had CB radios in every car and a base unit at home when I was growing up. It was the original social media! Lots of people still use them (truckers, for example). They’re great for local communications, and stronger antennae means better range. You don’t need a license to operate one, and they’re very affordable. If the power grid goes out, your mobile units will still work on battery (and you can hook your base unit to a car battery, as well). The only worry here is the EMP (or if your battery runs down).
Ham Radio – Admittedly, I don’t know a lot about ham, but learning and getting licensed is on my to-do list. With that said, I do know enough to tell you that they’re a widely used source of communication – especially amongst the prepper community. You must be licensed to operate a ham radio, but during a grid-down state of emergency, that’s not likely to matter as much. There are mobile and base units available, so this is also a viable option for all family members. You still have to worry about power, batteries and EMPs, though. To learn more about the ham radio, check out Graywolf Survival’s article.
Walkie Talkies – Every kid I know of wanted a walkie talkie at some point in their childhood. Heck, I’m [older than 30] and I still like playing with them. You can get good sets of [easyazon_link asin=”B008F57ICU” locale=”US” new_window=”default” nofollow=”default” tag=”survivalathome-20″]two-way radios[/easyazon_link] (affiliate link) that can reach up to 50 miles, so you can communicate with family members at mid-range distances. They operate on different frequencies, and you don’t need a license to operate a walkie talkie. Again, batteries, power and EMPs can take this method out, too.
Community Bulletin Board – This may sound primitive or ridiculous, but leaving a message on a bulletin board somewhere may get you closer to connecting with your family in dire emergencies. If the power grid is down, you have no other means of communications, you haven’t heard from your contacts in a while, and you can’t find them at any locations where they should be, you can always leave a message somewhere. Many local libraries and even grocery stores have public bulletin boards where you can pin advertisements, business cards, and other messages for free. If you think things might be getting hairy, set a time to start checking bulletin boards. Leave a coded message to your family so that other people won’t understand but your contacts will. The good thing here is that power won’t likely affect this mode of communication at all (unless they put the building on lockdown). The bad thing is that a natural disaster may render it impossible to reach your bulletin board checkpoints.
Family Communications in SHTF Situations
Let’s look into some severe situations where your family may be together in one place, but communicating by simply speaking could be a bad thing… like if you’re being held hostage. Yes, I know, this is one of those “this will never happen” situations, but what if it does? I’m not saying aliens will beam you up or anything, but if you’re being held captive by anyone, you’ll want some form of communication so that you can get messages back and forth to your fellow captives without your captors knowing what you’re saying (and in some cases, may not even realize you’re communicating at all).
Barring a capture situation, there are other times when you might need these communications skills – maneuvering through an unknown area with lots of people around, trapped on opposite sides of a field or other given area, or if you’re trapped in adjoining rooms. There are literally limitless possibilities where these skills could come in handy.
Learn a Different Language – Some of you may already know an additional language; some may know 3 or more. For those that do, that’s great! You may be able to chat with your family without anyone knowing what you’re saying… but be careful – you never know who may be listening to you that knows the language you’re speaking. If you all know multiple languages, you could rotate what language you’re speaking to throw everyone off.
Morse Code – As “old school” as this skill is, it still has its importance. You can actually use Morse code with signal lights, hand signals, taps, or even over radio waves. I have even heard of people being held captive that were seated next to one another but not allowed to talk who carried on conversations by tapping their feet on top of the other person’s feet in Morse code.
Tap Code – Similar to Morse code, the tap code has a different tap combination for each letter. It’s most commonly used by prisoners (and most likely originated from American POWs in the Vietnam war) to communicate by tapping pipes or the bars (and sometimes the wall) to communicate with one another. In a 5×5 matrix box, the alphabet is inserted letter by letter from top left, going across, then dropping to the next line. C & K are interchangeable, so they both reside in the top middle box. To communicate, you tap out the row, then column of the letter you want. For example, the letter G would be 2, 2. It’s up to the tapper and listener to figure out the spacing between taps, sets and letters. You can also shorten words to make things easier (think txt spk (text speak)). The tap code is very easy to learn and use.
Sign Language – Sign language is used every day all around the world. American sign language is probably what you’re most familiar with, but there are literally dozens of “dialects”. Military units use signs for all types of situations whether in combat or not. Even street gangs use sign languages (ever heard of someone “throwing up gang signs”?). This is one you can use across a distance or in close quarters when you’re trying to move as silently as possible.
Teaching Emergency Communication
Teaching your family members multiple communications techniques can be very helpful and could potentially save lives. The more you know, the better off you’ll be in the end. Just remember communication is a skill like any other – the more you practice it, the better you’ll be at it when the time comes to use it. The more comfortable you are using it, the more comfortable you’ll be in a high stress situation, as well. Like the old saying goes, “use it or lose it”!
For a great family resource geared toward kids, be sure to check out the article “Call a Family Meeting and Make a Plan!” on Ready.gov. They have free printables to help your children, too!