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  • The Importance of Radios

    The Importance of Radios in an Emergency

    During 9/11, I couldn’t call my parents for three days. I was at college in the Western US, but they were living thirty miles from Manhattan, and their region’s phone lines were all down or busy. It was a sobering reminder at a precarious time of how dependent I am on networks I cannot control.

    I’m sorry for starting this post with a reminder of something so sad (I know, 9/11!), but the reality is that when emergencies arise, we suddenly become aware of what we had forgotten or overlooked. And things that we took for granted—like being able to call family or turn on the cable news—may suddenly be gone.

    Fortunately, we can have back-ups. Even if we live our day-to-day lives on the communication grid, having emergency devices, like radios, can prevent us from being out of touch from family, news, or help in the moments we need to communicate the most.

    Emergency radios allow you to hear broadcast news during an emergency when you don’t have ready access to a working phone, computer, TV, or other grid-related digital device. Some emergency radios, such as the Kaito Voyager V1 Dynamo and Solar Radio, can be powered by hand cranking (where you manipulate a little arm to wind up the radio), solar power (requiring only the sun—no elbow grease!), or using three AAA batteries. Radios that can be powered without output electricity can go a long way in an emergency when the power goes out.

     The Importance of Radios in an Emergency

    As a plus, the Kaito Voyager Dynamo  allows you to charge some cellphones and other USB-charging devices, giving you another way to communicate with loved ones and authorities, as well as giving you up-to-date information in an emergency.

    Many emergency radios also have shortwave capabilities. Shortwave radios remain the only way to hear broadcast news without relying upon a satellite or cable service. This makes them incredibly valuable during a large-scale emergency that might affect your ability to access regional services, including traditional AM/FM radio stations.


    Ham radios, also known as amateur radios, are the most reliable way to personally communicate with people outside your immediate area. Ham radios can be operated from anywhere you can bring the equipment, and they can be very powerful, enabling you to communicate with other ham radio operators locally, nationally, or even around the world. To operate a ham radio, you need to obtain a license, but local clubs can help you learn what equipment to procure, how to operate that equipment, and how to join the active licensed ham radio operators community. For more information on amateur radio and how to get started, check out our Insight Article, “Getting Your Ham Radio License.”

     The Importance of Radios in an Emergency

    Two-way radios are what we often refer to as “walkie-talkies.” Two-way radios are a good choice for emergency communications because they are cheaper and require less know-how than ham radios. Unfortunately, they are also much less powerful than ham radios, and they operate on fewer frequencies (allowing more possibility for interference from other people trying to communicate on the same frequencies). It’s important to know that two-way radio manufacturers often exaggerate the broadcasting frequency of their devices; even if they claim to be able to transmit to a much wider distance, most walkie-talkies have reliable ranges of less than one mile.

     Pair of isolated UHF handsets

    During an emergency, the adage that “no news is good news” is flipped on its head. When so much is unsettled or is going awry, every piece of news is good news. If we have these kinds of radios on hand, we can stay in touch and be informed, no matter what else is going on. That sounds like good news to me.


    Have you had an experience like mine, when you were suddenly unable to communicate with someone you love or needed to talk to?  Please feel free to share your experiences with communication-related emergencies in the comments below. We’d love to hear your stories!


    --Sarah B.



    FAQs about Shortwave Radio, National Association of Shortwave Broadcasters, at http://www.shortwave.org/faq.htm.

    Website of The American Radio Relay League, at http://www.arrl.org/what-is-ham-radio

    "Family Radio Service," Federal Communications Commission Encyclopedia, available at


    "Family Radio Service," Wikipedia, at http://en.m.wikipedia.org/wiki/Family_Radio_Service

  • Could you Survive an EMP?

    Could you Survive an EMP?

    Are you ready for a blackout triggered by an electromagnetic pulse? Experts such as Peter Vincent Pry, the executive director of the Task Force on National and Homeland Security, warn that the civilian world isn’t as prepared as they should be.

    An electromagnetic pulse, or EMP, is a burst of electromagnetic energy that can come from nuclear missiles detonating in Earth’s atmosphere or from super solar flares (explosions on the surface of the sun) that reach our atmosphere. This burst of energy is capable of disabling or even destroying electronic devices connected to the grid (cellphones, computers, television, toaster, etc.) whether or not they are plugged in.

    According to Watchdog.org, “Electricity is the lifeblood of the modern world. Food, transportation, medical facilities, and communication systems all need it to function.” In our daily lives, we use electricity for even the simplest of tasks: cooking our food, washing our clothes, lighting the dark, charging all our technological devices, and more.

    Not only would an EMP interrupt daily tasks, it would prove detrimental to many people’s way of life. The kicker is… we could prevent it, but we don’t.

    To read more, check out Watchdog.org’s article “Experts: Civilians not ready for EMP-caused blackout

    If the electric grid went down in your area, would you be able to survive? Think about the following questions:

    • How will you keep your perishable foods safe to eat?
    • How will you light your home?
    • How will you provide warmth?
    • How will you communicate with loved ones?

    If you can answer these questions, then you are on your way to preparing for a blackout. Make sure you add the appropriate gear to your emergency supplies. Consider adding some of the following:

    Also check out these other categories for more gear that could help you survive a blackout:


    Adding the right gear into your emergency supplies will make a huge difference if you find yourself without power for days on end. Learn more about what you can do to stay safe and prepare for an EMP-caused blackout with some of our Insight Articles:

    What preparations have you made for a blackout?





    Photo Courtesy of WatchDog.org

  • Getting your Ham Radio License

    Getting your Ham Radio License

    Since communication is vital in an emergency, getting your Ham Radio license could go a long way in giving you up-to-date information during a crisis. Ham Radios, also known as amateur radios, give you access to hundreds of different frequencies and the opportunity to communicate in a number of different modes (voice, Morse code, or in digital/video).

    But before you can get on the air, you’ll need to pass a written test and know the rules to legally operate a Ham Radio. But don’t worry—getting a Ham Radio license is easier than you may think. Check out these six steps for getting your license and learning how to use your radio.

    1. Decide what type of Ham license you want. The Ham Radio network is regulated by the Federal Communications Commission (FCC), and they have created the operator test. There are three types of Ham licenses you can get—Technician, General, or Extra. Each license gives you different privileges on the waves. You have to get the Technician license first before you can get the General and Extra licenses.

    • Technician: The entry-level Ham Radio license. You must take a 35-question multiple choice exam, which is relatively simple. Each question comes from a pool of 400 questions. If you’re only interested in talking locally (city, town, community, etc.), you’ll only need a Technician’s license.
    • General: The secondary-level license. You must take a 35-question multiple choice exam, which is of moderate difficulty. Each question comes from a pool of 500 questions. This license is the one you’ll want for emergency communications. Having a General license will help you and emergency crews to communicate by using Ham frequencies when local lines are down.
    • Extra: This is the most advanced license and the most difficult to obtain. You must take a 50-question multiple choice exam. Each question comes from a pool of 700 questions. With this license, you’ll have all the privileges of the Ham Radio network. You can communicate locally, nationally, and internationally.

    2. Study for the test. We’ll focus on studying for the Technician license, because you’ll have to get that license first in order to obtain the other two. According to Steve Whitehead (NV7V), a volunteer examiner (VE) from Provo, UT, the Technician test requires you to know some frequencies, operating rules, knowledge of basic safety, electoral and electronic principles, along with some basic arithmetic.

    Once you pass the Technician test, you’ll be able to access frequencies above 30 megahertz, which allows you to communicate locally. This license also gives you limited privileges on shortwave bands. To learn more about the General and Extra licenses, check out this American Radio Relay League (ARRL) article http://www.arrl.org/ham-radio-licenses.

    All the questions and answers for each licensing exam are published online or in books, and many of these study materials are free. Here’s a list of some websites and resources that can help you study:

    • QRZ: Ham Radio News , look-up who is a Ham in your neighborhood, and a lot of other useful tools
    • Dcasler.com:  A complete and free video course is available online. The instructor uses the ARRL Technician study manual, but you don't need the manual if you use the free resources listed here.
    • Kb6nu Ham Radio Blog:"No Nonsense Study Guides”
    • A free site for studying made by Richard Bateman (call sign: KD7BBC): Ham Study.org keeps track of your studying, ensures that you see all 500 questions that may possibly come up on the 35-question exam.
    • Practical Amateur Radio Podcast:  Great for listening to the course while jogging, gardening, or doing other activities.
    • American Radio Relay League: At this site, you can purchase books to study for the test.
    • Join a Local Ham club. Local clubs offer classes to help you study for the test as well. Joining a club or talking to a local club member is helpful because they can help you find study resources, and they can teach you about radio lingo and equipment. Find your local club at the American Radio Relay League (ARRL) website (http://www.arrl.org/find-a-club). And if you live in the Utah County area, Steve Whitehead teaches classes in the fall, winter, and spring in Provo. If you have questions, contact him at nv7v@burgoyne.com.

    Remember: If you use online sources, keep in mind that the question pool for each of the three licensing exams changes *every two years. It can take websites a little while to update the question pool so make sure you’re studying the current one. The test questions for the Technician entry-level pool will change on July 1st, 2014.

    3. Take the test. In most states, the cost for taking the exam is $15 dollars, and exam sessions are available monthly in Utah and most other states. Again, you'll want to contact a local Ham Radio club to find out what the cost of the test is and when exam sessions are held in your state. Once you get your license, it is valid for 10 years. After passing the test, you’ll be assigned a “call sign” by the FCC (it’s like a code name or identifying marker that you use over the waves. For example, John Cunningham of hamradiolicenseexam.com call sign is W1AI).

    4. Get a radio. Taking the exam doesn’t cost much, but where you’ll really spend money is on the radio itself (as to be expected). Terry Buxton, an amateur radio operator from Virginia, said his first radio, which was a Handie Talkie (HT), cost $130.00. He also got an antenna for his car which was $40.00. He now uses a radio that cost $700.00. The price range changes depending on experience, what you plan to use the radio for, and where you plan to use it. If you plan to purchase a radio, but don’t know where to start, talk to club members. Club members can advise you on the type of radio to purchase and can also suggest places to buy them for a good price.

    5. Learn the rules of the waves. Steve Whitehead says that “just like any other community, there are established procedures and behavioral expectations using a Ham Radio. You need to fit in and know what others expect of you on the air. You gain this knowledge through using your radio and talking to other Hams. Swearing and CB “lingo” used on citizen band radios are not tolerated and are a violation of FCC rules. All communications must be “in the clear” and hiding the meaning of your communications is not permitted.”

    6. Practice, practice, practice. Like we always say, practice makes perfect when it comes to an emergency situation (if you have a plan and know what to do, you can make it through any emergency). The same applies to Ham Radios. If you want to become an operator, you can’t just use your radio once and expect to know how to use it in an emergency. Ham Radios can be difficult to use because you have to learn the various frequencies and how to connect with others, and for that you need to practice and know how to use your radio when it matters most.

    Learn more about the importance of emergency communications and the importance of radios by checking out article, “Communication During and After an Emergency.”


    *Editor's Note: According to the National Association of Amateur Radio, the test question pool is valid every four years, not every two years.


    The National Association of Amateur Radio http://www.arrl.org/ham-radio-licenses, http://www.arrl.org/getting-licensed,

    FCC website http://wireless.fcc.gov/services/index.htm?job=service_home&id=amateur



    Steve Whitehead, Volunteer Examiner (VE) in the Provo, Utah area

    Terry Buxton, amateur radio operator from Virginia

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