Emergency Communications: Nationwide Blackout, EMP, or Solar Flare
"We've lost contact ... with everyone."
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Think you're safe out in the surburbs? Think again. A major disaster including a wave of homegrown terrorists with chemical bombs will make several regions dangerous places to live. If you live ANYWHERE nearby where winds can carry toxic smoke you better have a plan for bugging out.
Besides, there are other potential threats too, such as the much discussed and warned about solar eruptions (solar flares that occur on the Sun) that can paralyze our entire global system of communications by frying satellites and communications infrastructure on the ground. In fact, that's what all these natural disasters can lead to: power loss, no phone service, and no internet.
Risk of EMP to Communications Networks, Fragile Power GridFinally, there is the risk of EMP (electro-magnetic pulse attack from a terrorist group or rogue government like Iran or North Korea). North Korea has made enough threats, haven't they? They have tested enough rockets that anyone with a pulse should realize that an EMP is a possibility that we may see in the next few years, whether that's from North Korea or a terrorist group that North Korea or another U.S. enemy has sold a nuclear weapon to. (For information on protecting sensitive equipment from an EMP with a "Faraday Cage", refer to articles on the EMP threat under How to Survive an Economic Collapse where a handful or EMP articles are featured.)
A Nationwide Blackout is a Real ThreatIn such a scenario, survival includes having the best alternative communication system for disasters. In this article we will look at several alternative ways to stay powered and a handful of ways to remain in communication with your loved ones.
But before we discuss exactly what these alternatives consist of, let's take a look at:
What damages can actually occur to the communications network?Understanding this part will tell you exactly why dealing with this subject is important when preparing for emergency survival.
Material damageThe network system is likely to fail when the lines of communication are damaged at their most basic level. For instance, a hurricane can actually break the cables and a solar flare can incur magnetic waves that disrupt and permanently damage equipment in orbit over the earth and our sensitive infrastructure on the earth's surface. The result? No phone, radio, TV, or internet service anywhere!
This sort of disruption is pretty hard to deal with because repairing the infrastructure is expensive and would involve multiple agencies and people. Besides, it takes a lot of time to make the repairs if only a single cell tower goes down and the disaster has been so extensive that a repair team can't even get access to it. And if it's about fiber-optic cables, the situation isn't any better: fiber optic cables run underground and you can't possibly know where the problem is without digging them up almost completely.
So the real problems begin when there's no easy way of access to the damaged equipment or when there's no crew left (or simply no crew reachable) to make the necessary repairs.
System overloadIf there are still some ways of communication available to the general public, you can bet these are the ones that everyone will use. It's normal that in a state of emergency people will try to reach their loved ones by phoning them or contacting them via social networks, etc. That's coupled of course with the networks being bogged down by mass amounts of photos and video uploads of whatever disaster or catastrophic event that has taken place. Finally, those who need medical help, police, or fire departments will also flood the lines.
All that communication clogs up networks, causing a network overload and therefore a complete loss of signal altogether. When that happens, the whole system may go down completely for a period of time (or permanently, depending on the severity of the disaster).
What happens if you can't communicate via the usual ways?If you're a loner of sorts, you may not have put a whole lot of weight on keeping in touch with the modern world. But not being able to connect means:
You wouldn't be able to contact emergency services.
No ambulance would come for you.
No police response to save your life if you were attacked.
You wouldn't get any news of what's happening on a larger scale.
You wouldn't know if the disaster has affected other parts of the globe.
You wouldn't know whether help is coming or if things are getting better.
You would have no news of your people and your people would have no news of you.
False rumors could spread like wildfire between communities ... leading to any number of consequences.
There would be a general sense of confusion and uncertainty.
Catastrophic Disasters and Rogue GroupsFinally, any rogue groups who happen to live and operate in a geographical region could take advantage of the situation and attack locals, some even attempting to seize power, seizing control of fuel stations, supermarkets, supply warehouses, armories, etc.
Basically, no means of communication equals no information and no official control, which would determine an increase in criminal acts of all kinds.
Are there measures being taken already?Of course, we're not the first people who've thought about what would happen to communications in emergency situations and how we would deal with that. That's why prevention measures have been already considered and the authorities have sought to:
Increase network diversityThat can be done by:
Using various network connections.
Employing different technologies.
Having various physical pathways.
Constantly checking the security of this equipment.
Making sure that the information conveyed is the same through each different network connection.
The different networks used are:
Dark fiber paths.
Wireless networks that use millimeter wave technologies.
You can also take this into account, and have various means of communication at your disposal.
Create arranged networksThis will happen in the event when the previous networks we've talked about fail or become overloaded. It's important to have fast communication especially in the areas that are more affected by the disaster. That can be done with a few wireless systems that are placed inside some sort of vehicle and activated inside the problem zone. These are called COWs and they stand for Cellular on Wheels. The advantages of these systems are:
The immediate response from authorities.
Ability to communicate fast with people in the affected area.
Increased control over the situation.
Focus and organization of efforts at the core of the problem.
Opportunity to search for volunteers.
What can you do?This is the focal point of this article, because while it's good to have confidence in the authorities, you can't solely rely on them to solve all your problems. As such, you have to prepare yourself with some sort of alternative system that you can use if a disaster strikes. But before that, make sure: You have an appropriate copper land line that doesn't need power to function.
You have access to a backup generator or way to generate electricity for up to several hours (several days would be preferable).
You have another type of phone that can work with batteries.
Always keep your phone charged and also have a charger that will work in a car or truck's cigarette lighter.
Stash spare batteries that aren't passed their expiration date.
Keep these batteries in different locations and periodically check to see if they still... replace those that expire.
Keep other gadgets charged and ready to go, like your laptop.
Have at least one USB cable ready to be used in case you can charge your smartphone from your laptop or a car cigarette lighter that has a usb port instead of a typical cigarette lighter port.
Buy an emergency radio that doesn't need power to work. Hand-crank radios, for example, are a great choice because you don't need to have a stash of operating batteries, nor will you need connection to solar panels. It is still good to have a battery powered radio on hand though as back-up, just in case the hand-crank radio fails.
Use your car charger sparing for charging your gadgets. Your car charger will only work as long as your car has energy stored in the battery. Letting your car idle will recharge it's battery, but do that sparingly so as not to deplete your fuel.
These are the things you're advised to do in case there's a breach in the communications network. But what you shouldn't do can be even more important than the things you have to do, because otherwise, you might put yourself or other people in danger. So:
Try not to overload the network by making unnecessary phone calls. Some people need the line free to call the police or an ambulance.
Don't call if you have the option to text or use the Internet to get in touch with family.
Don't use up phone batteries on useless things like listening to music to keep you entertained. A good idea would be to even turn it off altogether when you're not using it.
Don't use the redial option constantly, since that leads to an overload of the communication system.
Don't use the emergency line if all you want is new updates.
How can you make gadgets work?Having a substitute communication system in place also relates to having new ways to power your gadgets. The main ways you can do that are: Generators These are more expensive, but they can power up your entire house. They're better for a disaster that doesn't last too long, and apart from giving you a good way to get in touch with the real world, they can provide running water and heat -- though honestly, using a generator to power a heater or air conditioning unit for that matter is a bad idea. Your generator will quickly go through fuel. The better direction to take is to either layer up your clothing to keep warm or create shade and good ventilation to stay cool.
In the end, try to ration the way in which you use your backup generators, and to prioritize your needs. Batteries The marvel of technology, batteries can activate different sorts of gadgets, as well as chargers to keep them up and running at all times. For instance, it's always a good idea to have a battery-activated radio on hand in order to hear the relevant news and get updates on the emergency status.
Try to have a stash of batteries spread around your house, in your car or even at your workplace. You never know when and where trouble hits.
Another solution is to invest some money in buying a marine deep cycle 12-volt battery. This sort of battery has a price ranging from $50 to $200, but it can provide a couple of hundred recharge cycles for power consuming motors of various vehicles. Imagine how well that would work for a measly smartphone and a radio -- you could get more than enough power to see you through an average-length emergency situation. Solar panels If you need an option that you can use for months at a time, solar panels do the job. Even battery powered chargers will run out of battery power at some point, and your stash may end too. So you need something to recharge them with smartly, and this is where solar panels come in. You can even recharge your marine deep cycle 12-volt battery with this sort of solar panel, or you can use it on other stuff like your charger or a radio. Because there are solar panel radios too, you know.
Besides, solar panels work to provide electricity for your whole house if you reside in a sunny region and you have big enough panels, or can at least provide sufficient energy to recharge basic gadgets like a phone, radio, GPS, and laptop.
The downsides regard the fact that they need sunshine to work, and some of them can't wholly recharge your stuff, but they're definitely an option to consider.
What are the real alternatives?After taking all that into account, let's look at some real substitutes for your basic means of communication. The truth of the matter is that even if you have a smartphone or a laptop with enough batteries to work or enough electricity provided by a backup generator or solar panels, these ways of connecting might become useless.
That might happen if the communication networks fall at a higher level, and in this case, an emergency communication system is required. Granted, it costs a bit more than your average phone but it gets the job done because it saves you a lot of hassle. Since it can convey info without delay and without interruptions or jams, it's a lifesaver in a crisis situation. Besides, the best such systems are easy to operate even if you haven't read all their instructions and you can also receive feedback from authorities.
So the things you can really use are: Radio waves
Of course, you would need a radio to do the trick first. And for that radio, you would also need batteries, or you could choose an emergency radio that can be recharged with included solar panels or by a hand crank.
Apart from the short wave signals that can be used to convey messages at a large scale, the weather band is also a good frequency to follow. That will give you constant updates and new, reliable information from the authorities.
But the best thing to have is a two-way radio, which you can use to communicate with your loved ones every day if they have the same system. Satellites Because satellites orbit the Earth above its atmosphere and aren't affected by most disasters which occur on the surface of our planet, they're the safest bet when it comes to keeping the lines of communication open. In fact, when a catastrophic earthquake rocked Haiti in 2010, satellites saved the day.
So to be prepared for a catastrophic emergency, you can invest in communications systems that use the following:
- Geostationary Satellite Systems (GEO).
- Low Earth Orbit Satellites (LEO).
GEO are employed for various services like voice or even videos, and they're generally appropriate for public warnings during disasters. LEO are satellites that convey information at a lower speed and are easily used in almost every emergency if you have a satellite unit.
These devices come in different sizes, but only two of them can be owned by private individuals:
Satellite phones. They're pretty cheap and easy to operate. They're fast and you can communicate with other people, getting timely feedback.
Satellite car systems. If you need to talk while moving and get information faster even in the form of videos, you'll need something bigger. These systems fit in a car, from where they're handled and they're of course more expensive.
What's the plan?These are the main things you can use during a disaster from the point of view of communication, but it's always a good idea to have a plan in check. That's especially important when you'll be trying to connect with friends and family. You want your efforts and plans to synchronize so you can easily communicate. Besides, if you have kids, having and rehearsing various emergency/ disaster plans will likewise make things run smoothly.
The main steps you should take are:
Get the necessary alerts. Everyone in your family should have access to a means of receiving information regarding possible emergencies in your area. Whether Internet, TV or radio, you need something to get alerts.
Make sure you all have the important contact info. Besides making sure all family members know each other's phone numbers, emails, and social accounts, you should know emergency numbers for the Police, Ambulance, and Fire Department.
Work out a strategy. There are various disasters your region is more prone to. For example, some people live in an area mostly affected by tornados, while others are more concerned about earthquakes. Outline an escape route if something like this happens, and establish a pre-set meeting place in case you can't talk to each other in the meantime.
Improve your survival skills. It's also good to learn as much distress signals as you can, but the universal way requires giving out help signals in batches of three. It can be anything from 3 piles of rocks in the forest or 3 loud whistles. Making an "X" sign in a vast open space acts like an international help too.
Keep in touch with each other. ... but only as necessary; don't overload the network or unnecessarily use up phone batteries.
Make rehearsals Things can change, so it's important to rehearse your plan and take into account new factors, ideas or situations that influence the original strategy.
After discussing all these forms of communication, the conclusion is that you always need to be prepared.
Modern technology might not always be our ally, and if it turns against us we should be ready to get back to the basics. Having the necessary tools is a great help, so make sure your emergency backpack includes the basic things for your communication needs in case of a disaster.
As a retired security specialist, with over 20 years of experience David Dawson offers us a quick insight in alternative communication systems during disaster. This type of information is useful during survival situations that require you to find a way to communicate with authorities or loved ones.
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