Sunday, July 23, 2017

40 Ways to Communicate During a Disaster

Do you have a communications plan?  Is it triple redundant?  Will it work during a natural or man-made disaster in your area?  Here are 40 communications methods that you may want to consider when you need to contact someone or receive information before, during, or after an emergency.

  1. Phone call to either a cell phone or a land line.  Don't forget that you can call a neighbor--ie: the restaurant next door--if you can't get a hold of your target--ie: the fire department in your town.  The next door neighbor can answer your call and run next door to alert your target to your call.
  2. Text message.  These often go through even when voice traffic isn't working.
  3. Fax.  Yep, some people still have fax machines and even occasionally use them.
  4. Email.  Self explanatory; have more than one email address for each person on your contact list in case one service is down.
  5. Social media.  This includes Facebook, Instagram, Pinterest, etc.
  6. Mailing a letter.  Slow but it is an option.
  7. Going over and talking to the person face to face.  If all lines of communication are down, you may need to literally run to seek assistance in person.
  8. Sending a runner.  Depending on the emergency, you might need to send one of your kids with a message to run and seek help.
  9. Dead drops and live drops.  These are espionage techniques but still a viable means of communications.
  10. HAM radio.  Get certified and practice with this method of communication before you need to use it in an emergency.
  11. Signage.  This could mean leaving a note on your door for someone, leaving a note on their door, signally SOS in a way that can be seen from the air, using FEMA search markings, tacking a note to a tree in the forest on a paper plate, writing 'help' on a sheet and waving it on your roof after a flood in the hopes that a TV helicopter will see you, etc.
  12. Satellite phone.  Expensive and occasionally difficult to use (depending on the satellite) but still a way to communicate from places where there are no other options.
  13. Satellite messengers and locator beacons.  In remote areas this may be your only means of communicating.
  14. Video games.  Any video game system that is connected to the internet can also be used for communicating with others.
  15. Online message boards.  From reddit to leaving comments on online news stories to 4chan, there are numerous public message boards that allow you to comment and/or leave messages for others.
  16. Check in sites.  After a disaster Facebook has a Safety Check in system, the Red Cross has a similar system called Safe and Well.
  17. The Red Cross also offers an emergency communications service for military members to alert them to family emergencies no matter where on the globe the military member is.
  18. Elected officials can be useful in an emergency as they often have access to alternate ways to contact someone in an emergency.  Find your elected officials here.
  19. If you are traveling abroad and have an emergency and don't know who to call, contact the State Department for further assistance.
  20. Television and radio.  These are the most basic ways to receive emergency information before, during, and after a disaster.
  21. There are a variety of ways to send and receive covert messages if needed.  Consider these.
  22. Through chat applications.  These include SnapChat, IRC, and similar applications.
  23. Sign language and/or an obscure foreign language.  Sometimes when you need to communicate in private while in public and you don't want to be overheard, these methods will work.
  24. An actual bulletin board.  Sometimes when disaster strikes (ie: the Twin Towers collapse, the Manchester Bombing, etc) people leave printed messages (such as missing flyers with a photo of the missing person and contact phone number) in a public place near where the disaster happened in the hopes that someone will have pertinent information and contact them.
  25. Weather radio.  These are one-way radios (you can receive information but not broadcast) that will alert you to imminent weather disasters.
  26. Emergency radio apps.  Apps like Broadcastify and Scanner Radio allow you to listen to emergency radio traffic and learn what is happening in your area.
  27. Short wave radio.  A bit old fashioned but it still works.
  28. RTL SDR.  In interesting and unique way to access a variety of radio systems on your computer.  This is an overview.
  29. Hand-cranked/solar radio.  Everyone should have one of these very basic devices to access information should the power go out.
  30. Two way radios.  These don't have a very long range (a couple of miles usually) but they don't require a license to use and can allow families to stay in contact when there are no other options.
  31. Audio public address systems.  This can be anything from having a bullhorn on hand if you need to communicate with a large group of people to knowing what the audio signals in your community are for tornado warnings and other emergency alerts.
  32. A picture book.  Believe it or not these books can be useful when communicating with people who don't understand your language or are unable to speak...simply point at pictures to get your message across.  Here's an example.
  33. Smoke signals.  I'm not kidding.  Using flares, building a fire that can be seen from the air, etc. are viable ways to communicate that you need help.
  34. Emergency Alert Systems.  This can range from Amber Alerts that show up on your cell phone to emergency broadcasts that interrupt your TV show which alert you to local emergency issues.
  35. The -11 system.  Everyone knows they should call 911 for police, fire, and ambulance help.  You can also call 311 for important but not exactly emergency police and fire questions, 211 for emergent social service help, 711 for telecommunications relay assistance, 811 for non-emergent public utility location assistance, 411 for directory assistance, and 511 for road and traffic information.
  36. TPS.  The Telecommunications Service Priority system can be accessed by emergency service organizations and will give them priority for phone service during a disaster.  GETS and WPS are similar services.
  37.  Morse Code.  Back in the dark ages when I was a kid, it seemed like everyone knew the basics of Morse Code.  Although it it not used much anymore, knowing this code can be useful in a disaster (like banging out a message on a pipe if you find yourself in a building collapse).
  38. CB Radios.  Again, back in the dark ages these were a viable means of communication (and entertainment) for the masses (or at least OTR folks).  They are still in use today and are a means of emergency communications for people who don't have a radio license.
  39. Online work spaces.  These include Slack, GoToMeeting,, and other online services used for communication between people and groups.  Families, prepper groups, and other can set up these systems as a check in point if phone and internet services are still working.
  40. SIPRNet, GCNs, NIPRNet, and other government communication systems are provided on a need-to-have basis.  Most civilians don't need to have access to these networks but should be aware of their existence anyway.

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