Your Startup SHTF Communication Guide

*** Due to some confusion regarding this article: This article is written by Dave Womach of The Survial Summit, not David Pruett who is the educator in our DVD, Survival Communications.


Let’s be brutally honest for a moment; virtually all people between the ages of 6 and 60 are addicted to their cell phones.  Don’t believe me?  When’s the last time you went a week without checking a facebook status, liking an instagram picture, or simply sending an email from your phone.  We’re social creatures, and this device has given us all the ability to stay connected from the farthest corners of the globe, but not without taking its toll.

As I write this, I’m sitting onboard a cruise ship headed back from Bermuda.  Internet onboard a ship is more expensive than a satellite phone call, yet kids and adults alike spend nearly a dollar per minute to post what they had for dinner, or that they saw a dolphin while at sea, all while surfing the net at slower than dialup speeds.

Your communications are such a vital part of daily life, yet this is the one area that virtually all preppers are seriously overlooking.

Cell networks can be taken out or bogged down to an unusable status by terrorist attacks, natural disasters, bad weather, forrest fires, power outages, and the list goes on.  So what’s your communications plan for when the SHTF?

How will you phone home to tell your wife and daughter that you were close to the Boston bombing terrorist attack but that you’re OK, when the cell network is bogged down?  How will you call your family in Oregon and let them know that the wildfires in Washington have moved beyond your danger zone and everyone is fine?  What will you do if a localized EMP or Solar Flare takes out your network, and you need to tell your family in Canada that you’re OK and will plan to use your VW Bus and you’ll be home in a week?

The Good News

There is good news… and that is the fact that radio communications can be safely and effectively used to communicate with family, friends, or complete strangers when all other systems are down.  Believe it or not, you can actually send email over HAM radio, and even text messages to friends who are anywhere else in the world.

Have A Plan

You need to first have a plan of some kind.  “If _____, then _______”.  This should be very detailed and start with your most likely scenarios first.  

For example; there were recently some very serious out of control wild fires in eastern Washington.  This fire took out many cell towers, and made it hard for people to communicate with eachother.  Someone in that area could easily have their communications plan be “Incase of wildfire, monitor and attempt to contact family on HAM Radio Frequency xxx.xx at 9AM, Noon, 3PM, 6PM, 9PM for three consecutive days.  This would be written on a card and laminated, distributed to each family member, and followed incase of emergency.

Another example would be for people in California who are frequently plagued with earthquakes.  Their plan would be very similar: “Incase of earthquake that takes out communications, monitor and attempt to contact family on HAM Radio Frequency xxx.xx at 9AM, Noon, 3PM, 6PM, 9PM for 5 minutes before the hour until 5 minutes after the hour.  Additionally monitor all police and ambulance frequencies and mark the emergencies on a map to monitor the hardest hit areas.

The same plan can be applied to FRS and GMRS radios if families live within close proximity to each other.

We recently produced a DVD called Survival Communications, which goes into greater detail about this plan, but this will get you started with a basic plan for now.

Get The Gear

Getting the right gear is a critical first step, but with all the gear, and all the confusing language, what do you buy?  

You should start with a basic set of 2 way radios, like you can find at almost any sporting goods store.  These are the FRS and GMRS radios.  These are the standard radios with channels roughly 1 through 25, and typically boast that they can go much farther than they can.  These are generally license free radios, and can be used to talk about 2 miles in most situations.  Many people buy these on the cruise ships, and are very disappointed to find out that they don’t have the ability to transmit through all of the metal on the ship, but they do work quite well outdoors.

Another item you should consider, and can get without a license, is a scanner.   It’s my understanding that you can listen to all radio signals without a license, but you must be licensed to transmit on “HAM Radio” frequencies (with the exception of the radios mentioned in the last paragraph).  A scanner is critical because it can help you get a good assessment of what the situation looks like around you.  Are their areas that are being looted (i.e. Ferguson, MO) that you should stay away from, or are there other areas where crime is higher.  If you monitor these areas via scanners, you can have a very clear picture of your surrounding areas, and start to map out and share this information with others in an emergency situation.

Other pieces of gear you should consider is an actual HAM Radio.  Generally speaking there are three different types of licenses you can obtain for HAM radio, and with your technician license (entry level and easiest to get), you can talk to the international space station, friends and family hundreds of miles away, and much more.
In my opinion, the greatest draw to getting your HAM Radio license is that you can lose all services in your area, and by using your HAM Radio and a computer you can send an email or text message in much the same way that you would if you had an actual internet connection.  This would be valuable in most situations.  Having spent much of my life at sea performing on cruise ships, I know what it’s like to not be able to have communications when an emergency happens on the ship… and I wish I would have had my HAM license early on.

A final pieces of entry level gear that I suggest, is a solar power charging station for all of your gear, and a Faraday cage to keep it all safe in.  You can learn some great DIY faraday cages in the Home EMProvements DVD.  If the phones are down, there’s a pretty good chance that the ability to charge your equipment may go down as well.  Having a backup power source for it will prove to be invaluable in a grid-down scenario.

Get Your License

The final stage of this is simple.  Get your license.  There are many HAM Radio clubs in towns across the world, big and small.  The big tip here is to study for your technician and general license.  Those are the first two levels of licensing, and are usually given at the same time… so study for both!

I hope this article helps to get you thinking a little bit about the various concerns that would make someone want to get a HAM License… but more importantly is to come up with a communications plan.  How will YOU get in touch with your family when the SHTF?

As always, we encourage you to share your thoughts and ideas in the comments below.

Also, be sure to check out Survival Communications by David Pruett, it’s available November 3rd at  It goes into great detail about everything related to radios for preppers.  

Stay safe!

Dave from The Survival Summit