How to Communicate When the Grid Is Down

by Tommy Grant

We live in a very connected world where communicating with friends and family is easy, even for those who live a great distance away. However, when—not if—the grid goes down, our current methods of communication will go away as well.

This leaves a major communication gap which could mean the difference between life and death in many cases. How would we communicate? That’s what we hope to answer in this article; How will we communicate when the grid is down?

As we go through these possibilities keep in mind that each method may only be suitable for certain types of communication. How you communicate with your family on your homestead will be greatly different from how you communicate with family hours away.

CB Radios

How to Communicate When the Grid Is DownCB (Citizens Band) radios were our parents and grandparent’s version of the internet before computers became the norm.

Not only are they extremely easy to use, but they are also still readily available. They are good for communication between 1 and 25 miles, depending on the conditions around you.

Several factors come into play when it comes to signal range and effectiveness. Weather can wreak havoc on CB radio signals being able to get through and, while line-of-sight isn’t required, it does cause issues for longer distances.

However, you can learn here how to legally turn your CB car radio into a powerful transmitter capable of emitting and receiving communications from hundreds of miles away, unlike a regular CB radio.

Also, CB radios do not operate on a cellular network or internet connection, making them incredibly reliable in a grid-down scenario.

What makes CB radios even more useful is they require very little electricity, meaning even an off-grid homestead with solar panels or other forms of power generation can communicate with those around them. Also, most are portable, meaning being stationary isn’t required, such as with HAM radios.

Ham Radio

How to Communicate When the Grid Is DownHam Radio is what most think of when it comes to communication during a grid-down scenario, and rightfully so.

Ham radios can communicate over an expansive range. In fact, it’s not uncommon for Ham operators in the States to have the ability to communicate with others in countries across the globe.

The downside, though, is the technical capabilities and access to equipment.

Ham Radios can be difficult to operate, often requiring extensive technical knowledge to be able to operate effectively. With this technical knowledge also comes a large investment needed. To set up the equipment and antennas needed can often cost thousands of dollars. Then there comes the certification.

Unlike CB radios, HAM operators must be licensed with the Federal Communications Commission (FCC). This requires passing an examination that tests your knowledge of radio theory, regulations, and operating practices. When you add these hurdles with the fact that only about 700,000 Americans are currently licensed, it limits the ability to communicate with friends and family.

Another issue, too, is the need for repeaters for the signal to reach that distance. In the case of civil unrest from an extended period of the grid being down, this may impede the effectiveness of HAM Radio.

Walkie Talkies

How to Communicate When the Grid Is DownIn truth, these will likely be the most prominent form of communication in a grid-down scenario, especially for short distances.

Most communication needs will be on the homestead or with close neighbors.

Walkie Talkies become an excellent tool for this.

Their range varies depending on the walkie-talkies you use, but most can operate within a few miles. Weather and geography play a large role in how far these can work.

Another problem, too, comes in their power consumption. If you’re using these regularly you can expect to change the batteries almost daily. But if you have rechargeable batteries and the ability to recharge them, this may not be a factor.

Satellite Phone

These are good to have at any time but especially when the cellular towers begin to fail. If you and those you wish to connect with have a satellite phone, you should face little to no communication loss. Because they connect to the satellites directly, as long as the satellite is functioning, communications will be up.

Related: How to Turn Your Android or iPhone Smartphone Into a Satellite Phone

They do, however, have a hefty price tag and service fees. This may prevent the average homesteader from being able to afford them and if knowledge of you having one gets out, you may paint a target on your back during times of civil unrest.

Cell Phones/Computers

How to Communicate When the Grid Is DownLet’s not be so quick to scoff at the idea of using cell phones and computers when the grid is down. More likely than not you’ve already developed a way to generate your own electricity.

These items communicate with other like devices through networks that have been built worldwide.

The internet is just tons of computers linked together. Cell phones use cell towers to transmit signals. If you intend to build a community and be able to communicate with fellow community members, these may be the perfect option.

Setting up your own infrastructure that is off-grid is not difficult. For the average person it may seem daunting, but setting up a local Wi-Fi network for your community isn’t difficult if you have the proper equipment.

Each network point, however, will have to have a power source to function. Setting each up with a dedicated solar panel may be the best option.

While the communication devices listed above can be invaluable in a grid-down scenario, it’s important to remember that they will unfortunately be rendered useless in the event of an EMP unless they are protected from its effects.

An EMP can damage or destroy electronic equipment, leaving you without any means of communication. This is why it’s crucial to safeguard your devices with proper protection.

I highly recommend getting your hands on an EMP Cloth, a reliable solution to shield your communication devices from EMP effects. You can learn more and purchase it here: EMP Cloth.

Low-Tech to No-Tech options

There’s a reason why starting a fire and sending smoke signals has become cliché in survival movie scenes: at one time it was all they had. Utilizing smoke signals, flares, mirrors, and whistles are just a few of the no-tech options you must communicate. Especially if the need is simply to be seen or heard.

The key to any communication strategy is to be sure each person involved is on the same page. Having a written plan to share with family and friends on what to do and how to communicate in a grid-down scenario is key to communication success.

Be sure everyone on your homestead and in your network is capable of operating the needed equipment and knows when and how you plan to communicate. As these events unfold, it only makes sense to have dedicated times when family will communicate.

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