Any professional who works as a first responder in the area of emergency response will attest to the critical value of dependable two-way disaster communications. Having reliable 2-way radio communications during and after any disaster provides many very important tactical advantages for relief teams and survivors.
Because the aftermath of some disasters can be long-lasting, it demands a high level of importance upon the need for durability and reliability in the disaster communications equipment that is selected by professionals and civilians alike.
Preppers/Survivalists certainly have the need for robust disaster communications and most consumer-grade radios are not in my opinion up to the challenge. Therefore, I recommend that people look past the value-priced equipment that chokes the marketplace, and instead focus on military, industrial, or marine grade gear.
The only issue is that you might have to obtain some sort of FCC license to operate these units on a regular basis, as opposed to the hobby-grade stuff, which requires no license. Of course, you can buy any of these professional-grade radios without any license, and according to my interpretation of the FCC rules, in a genuine emergency (life and death situation) radio operators are allowed to deviate from various rules, including the one requiring a license, during an emergency situation.
That said, in the event of a large-scale disaster (HEMP attack or severe geomagnetic storm) where the national infrastructure is down or in severe disarray, I personally don’t believe the FCC will be all that concerned about survivors using various radios without the appropriate licenses.
The important thing to keep in mind is that unlike cell phones, Internet-based and other communications that will probably no longer function after events like a EMP attack or severe geomagnetic storm, stand-alone radio systems and transceivers will continue to function if properly protected from the initial damaging event (see Hardening Prepper Communications)
There are many kinds of transceivers (handheld, base-stations) that operate on various frequencies. For the purpose of this review, I am focusing on handheld VHF communications. From a disaster preparedness point of view, the key is having a dependable transceiver.
What should you look for in a good disaster communication option?
What good is a radio if it accidentally gets wet and fails? Of if after a few months of heavy use, the rechargeable battery starts to lose it’s longevity? Or if it doesn’t have enough transmitting power to reliably reach out more than just a mile or so? Or if the circuitry is less than optimal and provides poor sensitivity and less than optimal spurious signal rejection (rejection of interference)?
The communications needs of post-disaster relief workers and survivors are very real and critical. Survivors need to be able to have the ability to have solid communications with their own group members as well as possibly communicating over many miles with other groups and possibly relief workers, like the USCG or the National Guard.
In some cases, survivors may need to monitor many frequencies continuously in order to discover others who may be operating on frequencies that are initially unknown to some survivors (a scanning function). If survivors are moving overland in towns, rural areas, or in the country, they may need to find each other and meet-up somewhere, which requires the ability to communicate while navigating overland and possibly over water.
As we begin to understand the many demands that must be met, it seems that few if any two-way radios can fit the bill. So if we made a list, based upon the foregoing discussion of desired features for an ideal handheld two-way communications device, what would it look like?
Optimal Features For A Handheld Two-Way Radio Communications System
1. Must be waterproof and have a wide range of operating temperatures.
2. High quality rechargeable Lithium Ion battery and charging systems.
3. Ability to operate as a scanner and monitor many frequencies concurrently.
4. Ability to transmit and receive on many commonly used frequencies.
5. Ability to transmit and receive on a known emergency frequency.
6. Ability to receive NOAA radio transmissions.
7. Selectable high and low power transmitter output.
8. Built-in GPS with navigation features.
9. Ability to float if accidentally dropped into water.
10. Lightweight and compact.
As we study the list above, if seems unlikely that any one radio can do all of that! But if we made that assumption we’d be wrong.
ICOM America makes such a radio and it is affordable! (about $300.00 online)
Of course, when I discovered such a radio existed, I had to have one. Recently I acquired the ICOM IC-M92D handheld VHF transceiver, which has all of the features outlined on our list, and a few more to boot!
The IC-M92D has a full three-year warranty and comes with a comprehensive operations manual and several adapters that allow the user to recharge it from either a 120 VAC source or a 12 VDC cigarette lighter plug. There are many additional accessories that are available that allow you to do many things such as:
- Charge multiple battery packs simultaneously
- Optional remote waterproof Speaker/Microphone; like the police/military use with their walkie-talkies…allows you to keep the radio in a backpack or on your belt and use it without touching the radio.
One feature that is certainly important for people operating on or around water is the fact that this transceiver will actually float! And if it is accidentally dropped into the water, it will begin flashing its LCD and backlit keys, making it more easily found in the dark. PH Adds: You can see a video of this useful feature below.
Another feature that this transceiver has is the ability to transmit using a full 5 watts of output power, or just 1 watt, which allows more battery time and keeps your communications profile to a more discrete geographical area of operations if needed.
There is a host of information already online about this amazingly compact, lightweight transceiver, so instead of recreating the wheel; here’s the link.
As I have mentioned before in other articles, I have used ICOM radio gear over the past 20 years, as have many other professional mariners. The reason is simple; you get the best quality gear at a fair price. The bottom line is this; when lives are on the line, I trust ICOM. I invite you to check it out for yourself! If you do, I think you will agree.
You can find your nearest ICOM dealer by going to this URL.