Some of the links in this post may contain affiliate links for your convenience. As an Amazon associate I earn from qualifying purchases.
When a disaster hits and phones fail, you’ll still need to reach your loved ones. This list helps you figure out simple ways to communicate in emergencies, whether your phone is out or you have no power. You’ll be able to stay connected when it’s most important.
After setting up your Emergency Communications Plan, let’s explore more ways to talk if cell phones aren’t working. (Read this post to create your own Family Emergency Communications Plan if you haven’t done so.)
It’s a sad truth that our go-to communication tool—our phone—is also the first thing to fail in an emergency. This can happen due to damage or when too many people use their phones at once and overload the system. Callers get busy signals, even in areas with cell coverage. For instance, when Hurricane Katrina struck New Orleans, cell phone callers received a “busy server” signal; plus internet was sketchy. Let’s look at some alternative communication methods you might consider.
When Networks Are Overwhelmed, But Still Working
So there you are, a tornado just ripped through the next town and you need to let the people on your Emergency Communications Plan or who are part of your mutual aid group know you’re ok. Calling people gives you a busy signal and even texts are hung up. What do you do?
- Don’t give up. Phones calls, texts and email utilize different platforms so even when one isn’t working there is a chance that another will get through. Text will nearly always be more reliable mode than calling, so try that first.
- Look for public Wifi. Again, depending on the severity of the event and how widespread it is, internet may be working even if cell phones aren’t. A coffee shop, library, big box store, hotel lobby or even a medical building could have public wifi that you can use to get in touch with your emergency contacts.
- Social Media. If you can get on the internet you can use Facebook Safety Check, Instagram or X to post that you’re ok and to check on others. Disaster centers try to facilitate reunification and may have computers for this purpose.
- Change the voicemail greeting on your phone. Even if your phone isn’t sending or receiving calls, if someone can get through to your voicemail, you can use it to let them know you’re ok.
- Skip texting and try a messaging app. If you have Whatsapp, FB messenger and Instagram DM already loaded on your phone, skip texting and try one of them to see if you can get through that way.
- Use Zello. This app allows your phone to act as a walkie talkie over unlimited distances. It requires internet, but you can bypass phone service (which is easily overwhelmed) and actually talk to loved ones. Emergency workers sometimes use this during natural disasters.
When Networks Are Completely Down, But You Still Have Power
As long as you have power in the form of electricity, solar, batteries, or charge banks, you can use these methods of communication.
- Satellite Phone. This is the Rolls Royce of emergency communications because satellite phones can work anywhere in the world, no cell coverage needed. Their price, however, is commensurate with their convenience and technology. In short, satellite phones are beyond the budgets of most of us mere mortals.
- Ham Radio (Amateur Radio) The scope of Ham radios is well beyond this article. (See here for much more information on ham radios and how to become a ham operator. It’s easy!) Suffice it to say that Hams are the communication tools that will be left in a true SHTF scenario. Depending on antennae and atmospheric conditions, Ham radios can communicate over hundreds or even thousands of miles. However, to operate a Ham radio you must take a test and get a license before you can go on air. You can LISTEN to a Ham Radio without a license, but you can’t speak except in a life-threatening emergency. More importantly, ham radio equipment also requires some knowledge and practice.
- Two-way Radio (walkie talkies) Walkie talkies are an effective means of communication, but only in a very limited area. Range is wholly dependent on geography between the radios, such as mountains, trees, buildings or any obstacle. If you are close to loved ones, a quality two-way radio may be the perfect emergency communication tool. If you have clear access from rooftops or a hill down to a valley, you will get much farther range. Test it before you need it.
- CB Radio (Citizens Band) If you’ve seen Smokey and the Bandit (I’m dating myself) you know that truckers have long used CBs to communicate on the road. CBs are in less use these days since the advent of the cell phone, but they are definitely still out there. Some people report even seeing a rise in users in the last few years. No license is required and the radios are much easier to use, but their range is limited. You can improve range with a really good antenna, but definitely test out their range between you and your loved ones before anything happens.
When You Have No Power at All
This may be a temporary situation where power is down and you have no backups or a true SHTF scenario. The good news is we don’t need technology to communicate. We humans have always been able to communicate with others, even over long distances. It might be crude, but alerts to danger or calls for help can be sent. The following ideas are by no means an exhaustive list, but will hopefully get you thinking.
- Signal Flares. These can work as a prearranged message such as, “I’m ok” or “I found the location or as an emergency signal.
- Whistles. A whistle can be heard a surprisingly long way off, although generally not farther than a mile. If you are in range however, you can use Morse code or some other prearranged signal to notify others. Of course, you can also just blow it in an emergency to call for help.
- Line of Sight Methods: Mirrors/Flags/Signal Fires. These systems were commonly used on ships or from higher vantage points in the centuries before radios. You would need Morse code or a prearranged message system for them to make sense, but as long as the sender and recipient are in the other’s line of sight, it can be a very effective means of communication.
- Messengers. You can always use trusted people to convey messages back and forth between people or locations. It’s crude and fraught with issues, but it is a time-honored method of sending longer messages back and forth.
Establish a schedule for checking the charge level on power sources and topping off as needed. Even if you have no warning, such as if an earthquake happens, there’s a good change your devices will be well-powered. If you DO know something is coming, power up all devices and have portable charge banks and solar chargers on hand.
Put yourself on the list for emergency alerts in your area; even tornadoes and earthquakes have warning systems now and those extra seconds can mean the difference between life and death. Also, watch local news if bad weather is brewing.
Visit https://www.usgs.gov/faqs/how-do-i-sign-shakealertr-earthquake-early-warning-system to sign up to receive ShakeAlert-powered alerts on your phone.
Ready to level up your survival game? Join the Facebook Survival Mom Bootcamp group – ask questions, get feedback, and tap into a community super willing to share. Your journey to preparedness just got a whole lot easier!
Being able to talk to your loved ones during or after a disaster is super important. Whether your phones are acting up, you lose power, or technology isn’t working, knowing different ways to stay connected is crucial. This guide helped you figure out those methods, making sure you’re ready to reach out and stay in touch when things get tough and giving you a greater sense of security and connection when things are uncertain.