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Zello Walkie Talkie App for Emergency Communication: A Review

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You’ve already built the foundation of your Family Emergency Communication Plan (FECP), but how will you talk to each other when disaster strikes? Use this review of the Zello walkie-talkie app to explore how the Zello app can be a powerful tool in your emergency communications toolbox, helping your family connect quickly and reliably during emergencies.

woman using walkie talkie app on smartphone

What is Zello?

Zello (Friends and Family version) is a free app that converts your smartphone into a walkie-talkie so you can talk to anyone anywhere in the world, as long as you have an operating cellular network. You don’t need a lot of bandwidth, but you definitely need internet access through wi-fi or a cellular data network.

Remember walkie talkies when you were a kid? One person pushes the button and talks while the other person listens and you alternate back and forth. The Zello app makes your smartphone act exactly like a “push-to-talk” walkie talkie–only it’s way cooler because your range is pretty much anywhere in the world.

How Zello Works During a Crisis

A major benefit of Zello is that contacting someone through the app is faster than calling during an emergency. Zello only uses a fraction of the bandwidth of a phone call so it works even when calls are getting hung up with busy lines. You’ll have to test it to see what I mean, but you don’t wait for a phone to ring because Zello allows your voice to come directly through the phone. Honestly, it’s a little startling to hear a voice suddenly coming through your phone the first time you use it, but you get used to it. So Zello is as fast as a text, but you get the immediacy of a phone call.

Zello was first brought to the public’s attention by the “Cajun Navy” during flood rescue operations and is now widely used in natural disaster rescue operations. Like a walkie talkie radio system, Zello gives multiple people the ability to be on a channel at the same time. Participants can check in and hear critical information simultaneously, potentially saving precious minutes.

Another useful feature of Zello is that all communications are recorded and stored on the app. This allows you to access the messages later or replay them to confirm specific details. I imagine this is handy if stress levels are high or multiple people are on the line.

I think this ability to communicate as a group over vast distances is reason enough for families or prepper groups to have Zello as part of their communication plans. You can establish everyone’s status or confirm a rendezvous point with one “call.”

Pros and Cons


  • Fast and efficient
  • You can talk to–not just text–your people even when phone calls get hung up
  • You can talk to several or all of your people at once with a Group or Channel
  • Everything you say is recorded and stored and can be played back
  • If you are not available, the message is recorded so you can hear it later
  • You do not need Wi-Fi or a lot of bandwidth for Zello to work, just a cellular data network


  • Cell networks must be operating
  • Your people must have downloaded the app before an emergency

Our Experience with Zello in an Emergency

In an oddly timely turn of fate, my family had a chance to test out Zello when our power went down for two days during a massive wind storm. I can report that Zello worked as advertised! We were able to contact our children who live locally and one who lives across the country from us. Our son commented it was slightly disturbing to hear my voice unexpectedly coming out of his phone the first time. Definitely set up and test the app before using it for emergency communications.

The Verdict

Even taking into account its internet access requirement, for families building a Family Emergency Communication Plan, Zello emerges as a compelling tool. The app functions like a walkie-talkie, enabling reliable group communication across long distances. Even in areas with weak cellular signals, Zello allows families to quickly connect, confirm everyone’s status, or establish a meeting point with a single “call.” In situations where there is an ongoing threat, such as civil unrest or a full-blown riot where there is the possibility of being separated, it allows real-time coordination. While Zello shouldn’t be your sole communication method, it offers a valuable layer within a comprehensive plan for emergency communications.

Tips for Using Zello for Emergency Communication

  • Proactive Communication: When adding contacts to Zello, avoid sending a generic invite. Text them first to let them know you’re adding them to your family’s emergency communication plan on Zello. This will help avoid confusion and ensure they don’t dismiss the Zello invite as spam.
  • Test Zello Regularly: Don’t wait for an emergency! Test your Zello app with family members to ensure everyone can communicate effectively. Use it at public events, such as music festival or concerts, or at public locations like a shopping mall.
  • Explore “Channels” for Wider Communication (Optional): If your community utilizes Zello channels for disaster response, explore joining them for broader situational awareness.
  • Use Offline Messaging: Zello messages are recorded even if unavailable. Use this feature to leave messages for family members to hear later.

Non-emergency Uses of Zello

My husband and I are now discovering different uses for Zello outside of emergency communications. We use it to talk from different areas on our property or if one of us is under the house. It’s faster than calling, especially when we need help with something quickly. We also plan on testing Zello at some concerts and a music festival this summer. It’s faster and easier than texting and calls don’t always go through at crowded events.


Downloading the app is free and easy for both iphone and Android users. It’s slightly confusing to add contacts, but after a few minutes of fiddling around, my husband and I figured it out.

Once you add a phone number into the contacts list, the app will send a message to that contact asking them if they want to download Zello. It was an easy process from there to add our whole family. Hint: we texted people first so they wouldn’t think it was a spam and delete the text.

3 Ways to Communicate

Note that the app offers three ways to communicate:

  • one-on-one with a contact from your list;
  • create a Group; or
  • set up a Channel.

Groups and Channels

Groups are private conversations between contacts. Channels are a platform for communication with larger groups, including strangers. You can have up to 6000 people on a Channel. We are just using Zello as part of our Family Emergency Communications Plan so I didn’t explore the Channels feature.

Status Options

You can choose to keep the Zello app on “available,” like we do, without draining your battery. However, the app also has a feature where you can put your setting on “Busy” to silence messages coming in so you aren’t startled by a voice randomly coming out of your phone during a meeting. You are then notified that you have a message.

Once additional status mode, is “solo.” If you have multiple channels, this allows you to focus on just one specific channel. Messages received in other channels can be retrieved from History at a later time. If you are using Zello for non-emergency communication, then in a crisis, you may wish to silence those in order to focus on the one you’ve set up just for emergencies.


Why use Zello instead of a phone?

It offers a faster, push-to-talk connection, works in congested networks, and lets you create groups for quick family communication.

Does Zello record conversations?

According to Zello’s support documentation: “Your conversation histories are stored on the individual device where the messages were received and cannot be accessed by Zello staff. Messages are only stored on our servers when you send a message to a user who is offline. In this case, messages are stored for a maximum of two weeks until retrieved by the recipient.”

How far can you talk on Zello?

Unlike walkie-talkies, Zello has no distance limit. With an internet connection (cellular data or wifi) and the Zello app, you can talk to anyone anywhere on the globe.

How private is Zello?

Per Zello’s support documentation: “All voice messages sent privately to your contacts are end-to-end encrypted on Zello Friends & Family…[However] channels are open to the public. This means that voice messages sent within channels are not encrypted.”

Final Thoughts

Zello offers a fast and reliable way for families to communicate during emergencies, functioning as a walkie-talkie app on your smartphones. While it requires internet access via Wi-FI or a cellular data network, Zello can be a valuable addition to your Family Emergency Communication Plan alongside other methods. Remember, Zello is just one tool, but its ability to connect quickly and record messages definitely makes it an option to seriously consider for your emergency communication toolbox.

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