What Will Be the Best Form of Communication If the Grid Goes Down?

cb radio wikimediaWhat is the lowest common denominator of our civilization, or any civilization for that matter? By that I mean, what is the one thing no society can go without? Is it water and sanitation? Fuel and transportation? Food and electricity?

I would argue that absolutely nothing we have is possible without our ability to communicate. A society’s sophistication is directly proportional to the ability of its citizens to communicate with each other. Members of a primitive, nomadic society may only be able to speak to each other in person, whereas an advanced industrial society has telephones, radios, and the internet. And don’t think for a moment that high tech societies create these devices. On the contrary, these devices create high tech societies.

So we should ask ourselves what the most useful forms of communication would be, should the grid ever go down permanently; not only to keep in touch with other survivors, but to help rebuild society after the cataclysm has passed. Without some of these critical tools, we’re only prepping to survive, not to thrive.

Cell Phones/Computers

At first glace, there is little potential for these devices when the grid goes down. Without the multitude of servers that are scattered around the globe and the electricity that feeds them, our computers are nothing more than bulky hard drives. Cell phones might still work for a little while since some cell towers have backup batteries and solar panels, but their usefulness might be short lived.

However, don’t be too quick to scoff at the prepping potential of these devices. Computers might still be useful for communicating in some cases. It’s fairly easy to create a local wifi network (aka ad hoc network) between computers that are within range of each other. This would allow people living on the same street or in the same apartment building to talk to each other, provided they can generate their own electricity.

The better solution would be to create a local network with cell phones that isn’t reliant on any infrastructure. Their energy demands are far less than other computers, their range is longer than wifi, and they are of course, mobile. The technology for creating peer to peer networks between cell phones has existed for some time now, but unfortunately it has yet to be sold to the public. Companies like Terranet have been perfecting it over the past few years, and they estimate that about 30% of cell phones will be capable of making these networks with a simple software change. So right now, cell phones will be pretty much useless when the grid goes down, but that may change before the end of the decade.

Ham Radio

When most preppers think of communications, ham radios usually come to mind, and for good reason. They can communicate to other radios over hundreds of miles, and they may be the only form of very long distance communication when all else fails. Unfortunately, they wouldn’t be very useful for the average person.

They use a lot of electricity, the equipment can be pretty expensive, and only about 700,000 Americans are licensed operators. Still, if even a fraction of them are up and running after a major disaster, they will play a crucial role in the relief effort. Due to their limited numbers and the amount of resources that are required to keep them running, you won’t see them being used for casual conversation, but you will see them used by communities for conducting commerce and coordinating reconstruction efforts.

CB Radio/Walkie Talkie

I suspect that CB Radio’s and Walkie Talkies will be the main form of communication for the average person, and they are the best candidates for filling the gap that cell phones and internet providers would leave behind. If anything, CB radios were our parents version of the internet. They were affordable and accessible, you had to learn the lingo to use them, they allowed you to communicate anonymously, and much like the internet, they were used to skirt the law from time to time.

There are millions of CB radios lying around, and many of them are still being used by truckers today, so they will be available to many of the survivors. More importantly, they don’t use too much electricity, they’re more user friendly than ham radios, and some of them are portable. Depending on the conditions you’re using them in, their range can extend anywhere from 1 to 25 miles.

As for walkie talkies, I don’t have to tell you how useful they could be. Much like the wifi network I spoke of earlier, these will be pretty handy for staying in touch with your neighbors. Together, CB radios and walkie talkies will be most common form communication after a disaster.


If the grid is down long enough, eventually some enterprising citizens would start to provide courier services. Whether it’s by foot or by bicycle, they will fill an important niche that other items on this list can’t provide, and that is a secure form of communication. If you had to send a message to someone who lives out of the range of your radio or wifi network, and you needed that message to remain a secret, writing that message down and sending someone out to deliver it by hand would be the only way to do it. Wifi just doesn’t have the range, and radios are too easy to listen in on.


So how do you plan on keeping in touch with your friends and relatives after a cataclysmic event? Are their any other methods or technologies that should have been included in this list?

Joshua Krause was born and raised in the Bay Area. He is a writer and researcher focused on principles of self-sufficiency and liberty at Ready Nutrition. You can follow Joshua’s work at our Facebook page or on his personal Twitter.

Joshua’s website is Strange Danger

This information has been made available by Ready Nutrition

Originally published June 5th, 2015
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48 Responses to What Will Be the Best Form of Communication If the Grid Goes Down?

  1. FalconMoose says:

    Nice, timly article. I am training with a group of others on the benefits of the hand-held HAM. Studying for the Tech license. The little BoeFeng 5 is the beast, and will do HAM and GRMS (walkie-talkie).

    • The BoeFeng will be confiscated by anyone who knows that it isn’t type accepted by the FCC for GMRS use. How will you program it without an operational computer?

      • Bill Kelly says:

        You can program it by direct entry on the keypad. And, who is going to confiscate it? In a SHTF situation, who gives a rats a$$ about the FCC? I think they will be looking for all the guys with the license and their name in the feds data base. They will NOT want you to communicate with each other. Get real.

      • Licenses are academic during a national emergency, and TPTB will confiscate whatever they want, whenever they want, regardless of whether there is a law to allow or prohibit it, or not.
        Looking in a database won’t secure anything any more than feeling up granny in a TSA checkpoint. You said it yourself, they won’t want us to communicate with each other. Why would they let YOU keep your crappy BoeFeng if it can communicate with anyone else? By crappy, I mean just that. The BoeFeng is a expensive crystal set with fancy lights. There is a reason why they are inexpensive. You are the one who needs to come out of your fantasy world and get real.

      • Bill Kelly says:

        It works just as well as my Icom and Kenwood, you get real a$$hole

      • In what way does being vulgar improve your veracity?

      • Bill Kelly says:

        And it’s Baofeng moron. And the database contains address’s and city’s and states. And dont forget call letters with your name attached. And they will only take what you let them take. You must be a spineless democrap liberal

      • You are one of the hundreds of hams like yourself that constitute the reason why I don’t want to become one. I get really tired of hearing you and your sorry bastard buddies tuning up out of band on top of shortwave stations I’m trying to copy. All of that data is available online, no need to buy a piece of Chinese junk. There are no call letters attached to my name, just a registration number for my GROL. How you can discern my political position from my refusal to share your technocrapical concepts is best left to the ouija board you probably use for tech support.

      • Treading Water says:

        William, perhaps I’m wrong sir! I truly hope I am. Because I so much enjoy meeting and chatting with other hams! But, ham operators are usually friendly with each other—not contentious and argumentative like you seem to be. William, NOBODY GIVES A PHUK ABOUT ALL YOUR HIGHER LEVEL KNOWLEDGE, AND YOUR CONSTANT ATTEMPT TO DISPLAY YOUR COLLEGE LEVEL EXPERTISE OVER OTHERS!! Frankly sir, you sound “boorish”! I gave you my Email earlier, but you needn’t bother unless you learn some humility. And YOU CAN NEVER “ELMER” ANYONE WITH A PRICKISH ATTITUDE!

    • But it won’t do anything without a computer to program it.
      Walkie talkies were carried on the back before they moved to museums.
      Maybe you’d have more credibility if you used the correct terminology, like HT.

      • Treading Water says:

        OOoooohhh Don’t be so “crotchety” William. Nobody likes a snooty techno-nerd!

      • If you think a walkie-talkie and a handi-talkie lack any important historical differences, you probably wouldn’t have known enough to become a ham before there was an FCC.

      • Treading Water says:

        What I KNOW BILLY, is that the real difference nowadays is strictly grammatical. The difference between the two is like when a mechanic calls a car engine a “motor”! I understand he means the same thing, BUT A MOTOR IS ELECTRIC—NOT A GASOLINE ENGINE!! If I make a big deal out of something so unimportant, it only makes ME appear PETTY, ARGUMENTATIVE, AND TECHNICALLY *”SNOOTY”*!!! DO YOU UNDERSTAND BILLY—NO ONE CARES ABOUT THE DIFFERENCE—AND I DID PASS THE FCC TESTS. OK? DROP IT!!

      • What I do know, Mikey, is that you don’t know the difference between grammar and vocabulary. And you are right, you appear petty, argumentative, and snooty because you won’t admit your ignorance. That is not my problem. Not only that, but it is something that I’m used to encountering with hams that think they know something when they have passed a test that anyone who could memorize the answers to could have. I’ve done work on telecommunication equipment that you couldn’t identify. That doesn’t make me petty, argumentative, snooty or anything else but less ignorant than yourself.

      • Treading Water says:

        Whatever Billy! All I DO KNOW was that it was YOU that began this war of words by your self-inflated ego, and inferred derogatory snarky remarks aimed at me! Well, In my years as a ham I’ve only met maybe three other hams I couldn’t get along with, and now it’s four! Don’t bother writing back. I’m up to my chin in non-ham jerks! I don’t need another!

      • Good riddance to your chronic internalization.
        This is another monologue for you.

      • Treading Water says:


      • I dropped it and you picked it up, SHOUTING!?
        Congratulations, you are the owner of this new monologue.

      • Treading Water says:

        Negative on the shouting Bill! I would simply print the words I want to emphasize in bold or underline–if they had that option. I am not even a bit angry, so why would I SHOUT??? I’m simply pointing out that a person who constantly demeans others, demanding they show a very high knowledge the same as you, and correcting them on such trivial differences as whether they call something a “walki-talki” or an HT and implying that because of that, they couldn’t have the smarts to pass their FCC tests—all I mean is you are a very hard man to like!!

      • FalconMoose says:

        Not seeking credibility. Mine are programmed.

    • Any of the BoeFengs (sic) will transmit on enough spectrum to earn an ignorant user a ticket for unlicensed operation on a unauthorized frequency. A walkie-talkie is carried on one’s back, not in one’s hand. A handie-talkie is a handheld.

  2. Speaking as the holder of an FCC General Radiotelephone Operator License, a Commercial Drivers License, and an original (if now unnecessary and obsolete) Citizen Band radio license, I can say that ALL non-portable CB radios operate on 12 VDC, like the ones in the trucks. Most amateur radio equipment is made, not by its user, as the original premise called for, but by the same factories that make all of the other state of the art electronics. While working as a broadcast radio engineer, I encountered several “hams” who knew more about talking around the world than they did about across town or counties.
    Cellphones would be useless without cell towers, because they are nothing but computer terminals under the complete control of the networks that use the towers. There are some systems (goTenna) that use the Bluetooth capability of the smartphone to turn it into a low grade VHF handie-talkie (a walkie-talkie is something soldiers carried on their backs, not in their hands) which (in the case of goTenna) can only do text, and voice is the best in an emergency. IMO, if you want to be in touch after TSHTF, your best bet would be a CB or FRS/GMRS handheld, because they are cheap and plentiful. If you want something with text and/or GPS capability, the pricey but handy Rino from Garmin would be my choice.
    To call couriers secure, they’d have to be invisible to be immune to being physically interdicted in the mobs that will inhabit the streets.

  3. Hams have this habit of disappearing when they are asked to be VEs. Why is that, when we have such a desperate need for Elmers instead of Houdindis?

    • Treading Water says:

      My ham club has held yearly licensing classes in places like public library meeting rooms, and other non-profit areas that can be utilized for free. Then after we took practice exams, an official VE was brought in for the actual exams! By the way–the requirement for Morse Code has been dropped, in favor of technical knowledge of practical operating procedures. Even a “Dummy” like myself can get a ham license now! And it’s all FREE!! So go for it! Michael KA0HSS

      • Does KI7HYI sound like a non-amatuer call?

      • Treading Water says:

        +3Br, (three bedroom?) LOL,
        KI7HYI is definitely an Amateur call sign, Bill!! Congratulations on your new License. Next, get your general ticket so you can talk on 20 mtrs. I’ll look forward to a QSO with you.

      • My Disqus handle was assigned by them, so I’m assuming it is pseudorandom.
        It will be several months before the VEC appears in my town again, and I passed the aa9pw sample tests 6 out of 7 times without studying. I almost passed element 4 the same way.
        It was the third FCC test I’ve passed. The first two were the Second and First Radiotelephone tests, back in the mid 70’s.
        Since I already had experience with skip on 11 meters, and that is the only HF transmitter that I have, I’m looking for a schematic for a 10 meter SSB transmitter that I can use with the Icom IC-R71 that I’ve owned since the early 90’s, bought to do SWL in the sleeper of the tractor-trailer I was driving. My voice was heard on 10,000 watt AM stations and 100,000 watt FM stations while I worked in broadcasting for a decade.
        I doubt I’ll ever do much QSOing on HF unless I can DIY the appropriate transmitters. I’m more interested in Elmering and emergency services than in contesting. On the other hand, I’d like to try some of the experimental antenna designs that have popped into my head over the last 50 years…

      • Treading Water says:

        Are you still driving OTR?? There have been several articles in QST magazine about converting your CB to 10 meters. But, in my experience you won’t be talking much on ten. The band is open only at certain times. When it IS OPEN, YOU CAN TALK AROUND THE WORLD ON 10 WATTS. Phenomenal performance, but you wait a while to experience it. I’m not huge into electronic theory, and because I’m usually poor, I purchased my older Kenwood 820 at a hamfest for $250–they are plentiful, just be certain to check it over. Mine has worked flawlessly and kept me on the air now for 6 years. BTW my Email is mihesworks (AT) yahoo dot com. Chat with me there

      • I had a First Phone in the mid 70’s that grandfathered into a GROL in the mid 80’s. I was a CBer when I was 17, before I could get a license, becoming KFK-8036 when I could. I spent a decade in broadcast engineering and two-way radio. I would have had a Novice in junior high if there hadn’t been a mandatory code test.
        I missed upgrading to General at the Quartzfest testfest by one question, having last studied Gordo’s General test guide several months earlier. Having attended multiple ham club meetings and had my offers to Elmer and perform maintenance on the club’s repeaters ignored, I’m not finding any reason to buy a radio or climb the license ladder. I’m more satisfied to be a SWL than a ham. I find appliance operators as annoying as ignorant CBers.

      • Treading Water says:

        That is really too bad that you don’t want to get your general. You know you can still be into SWL AND be licensed as well!

      • I was listening to shortwave before I blew off the Novice because of the code. The silliness I hear on 3840 makes me wonder why I should go through the cost and effort to get on HF when halfway decent mobile antennas are so onerous.
        One of the 3 VEs that gave me the Technician went on to give up amateur radio because of the way he was treated by those in ARES. He was going to be my Elmer for the non-technical parts that are made so impenetrable by the pervasive snobs.
        I may use the same VE team to stairstep into the General and Extra that got me the Tech, if they don’t run me off next. On the other hand, testing is usually free at any number of hamfests and I can always memorize things.

      • Treading Water says:

        Sadly, Disqus, the ham bands are more and more resembling the CB band! And you can directly blame the relaxation of the licensing requirements for that! Rudeness, absolute foul language, open defiance of FCC laws about decency, and other flagrant behavior!!

        The old guard that used to self regulate is dying off. The honor that was the difference between the well regulated, and privileged ham bands, and the rowdy, lawless, anything goes CBers, the thin dividing line has been disappearing!

        Used to be regarded as an HONOR to be a part of “Amateur” radio! When getting a CB license (remember those antiques!) involved only filling out a form, a person wanting a “ham” license had to dedicate months learning the code, and the electronic theory! But, afterward, after passing all the tests, you had great pride in your accomplishment. THAT’S GONE NOW!

        All we old-timers can do is try our best to maintain law and order on air. We old-timers remember the glory!

      • Neither amateurs nor CBers have ever had to prove that they have any technical skills in any way. The tests have never tested anything that can’t be memorized and regurgitated.
        If I set up the tests, the Novice would require an extensive working knowledge of AC/DC electronic theory and the ability to solder and operate an VOM. Each subsequent test would require an increase in knowledge and technical ability. Ownership of a call sign would be proof of having demonstrated more than a good memory. On average, the CBers I knew were at least as technically competent as the hams I’ve known. Fox hunts were a weekly activity, and we enforced the rules better than the FCC ever showed the interest in doing.
        One time, we had a guy who was doing what the pottie-mouths on 3840 routinely do, as well as threatening people who tried to get him to cool it. We tracked him down and observed him spewing his filth through his living room window. His career was ended by someone tying a rope around his coax and a towball and dragging his radio and antenna down the street. He was never heard on CB again.

      • Treading Water says:

        NOT TRUE! When I made application for my CB license (before when, because of first lady Nancy Reagan using her CB set to actively chat and promote her husband’s election–which immediately resulted in the FCC relaxing their former rules about idle chit-chat, and because she also wasn’t licenced (which FCC agent wanted to be FIRST to cite the president’s wife for illegal operations?) Anyway, before the CB license became a worthless relic as relaxing of the rules made it, I applied for and was granted a CB call sign. All I had to do for it was to fill out the one page official form and mail it in.

        When I applied for my “novice” licence which no longer exists–the technician licence is now the entry level–I was in Portland visiting my granddad for the summer, and I took a publicly offered free course at the science center that trained in CW up to 5 words a minute, and beginning electronic theory and basic band and frequencies allotted! Never did CB regulations require such training. And by your own admission you failed to pass your general theory testing and acquire your general class ham ticket, so it must be more difficult than what you said.

        YES, I agree if you memorize all the possible questions they might ask, about 900 possible I think, and they test using about 50 of those, but you don’t know which ones, so you STUDY! And during that study time, going over and over all the information you will actually LEARN shit!

        When I took my test for general, I missed one less than what would have failed me! And to get there I studied! Even though I wasn’t required to do the 13 WPM code test, I already knew the code as I did have to learn it to a profficiancy of 5 WPM to get my novice ticket.

        So however you want to denigrate the knowledge a “ham” operator has vs. a CBer, the ham’s were required by regulation to study and pass tests the CB requirements didn’t!

      • EVERY amateur radio license test study program is based on memorizing the questions and the answers. The best ones are based on memorizing the questions and the correct answers.
        I have yet to find an single ham that would know how to use a communications monitor that someone donated to the club I belong to, who doesn’t have a professional telecommunications background. Rote memorization doesn’t teach anyone anything except recognition of the patterns in the material memorized.
        Neither license is based on any telecommunications knowledge that would make one a technically qualified telecommunications technician, which is what I became after my CB career and before my broadcast engineering career. Those who acquire the commercial FCC licenses don’t do anything different from those who become hams. The broadcasting school that I attended got me past the FCC test by having me take a 309 question test repetitively until I didn’t miss any. All the ham test study guides do the same thing.

      • Treading Water says:

        Hey Disqus, we’re just going back and forth! It doesn’t matter how much “senseless” rote memory is required to get a person through! Hey congratulations on your high levels of knowledge gained by having those tech jobs. I admit that my mental storage isn’t adequate. If it came to having to working on my equipment, I will find someone else to do it! Even my 1980’s Kenwood tranceiver with very little sub miniature components.

      • Treading Water says:

        I meant that the way they ask a frequency question, as an example, you can’t guess and get it right. Several of the answers are close to being right. Another is where they give a sample of a circuit.

  4. Stu Pendisdick says:

    “Ham Radio…They use a lot of electricity, the equipment can be pretty expensive, and only about 700,000 Americans are licensed operators….”

    So much misinformation in such a short few words.

    I suggest the author visit a “field day” exercise and see what off-grid communications really looks like.

    As to the costs involved, perhaps the author needs to visit a Hamfest in his area, where one can buy very good equipment second hand at very reasonable prices.

    Lastly, if it all goes to hell, who is really going to give a damn about needing a license?

    “Badges? We don’t need no stinking badges!”

    • John Tahoe says:

      Makes sense to know as much as possible. The Boefang with ear and speaker for mobility @ $50 is a no brainer. After the SHTF I don’t want any “friends” to “help” me for the first few months; true colors will show in a couple of months then alliances can be formed. People you grew up with might turn on you; the person you least expect may be a hero. COMSEC

    • Intelligence? We don’t need no stinkin’ intelligence.

  5. mike slaney says:

    You forgot one, THE PONY EXPRESS!

    • In that case, you probably forgot carrier pigeons as well.

      • Treading Water says:

        Actually Bill, I have watched several specials on PBS that featured the still active hobby of homing pigeons. As long as they weren’t intercepted and killed for food, homers isn’t the worst idea for communication. Strictly in the case that there is no longer any electricity I mean!

      • I haven’t watched much television since my last one was stolen in 1987. I’ve been off the grid since before the television was stolen, and if electricity ever disappears, all electronic communications will go with it. Reliance on Tesla’s original technology is perilous in a world where few understand it or could repair it. Edison’s approach is more survivable on a local scale, and there is no more local scale than my personal one.

  6. ron17571 says:

    2 meter hand held.Using rechargable batterys.Around 50.00 bucks. Repeaters use solar and should stay up. Much better than a CB or a GMRS type radio. MURS is another to check out.

    • Bill Leaming says:

      I have a both a 2m and GMRS repeater running, with battery and solar backup power. Between the two I provide good communications over a 90 mile radius.

  7. Again, in an emergency, any unused spectrum can be used for emergency traffic.

  8. 1555 says:

    The article forgot to mention a transmission of thought.
    I have been thinking about this since I was 13 , and saw a movie about the” end of world”, where just a few people are left , trying to rebuild.

    It sounds hoaxy, but it is not at all …one can actually measure the waves of thought activity in the brain. So as one INTENDS it to go toward outside, and DIRECTS it toward a person of intent, it can be received.
    I was in school later, and part of our training was scientific experiment, documented in writing, on transmitting thought. Highly recommend it to you. Choose a buddy, choose a time to calm down, sit quietly and breathe, while your buddy in another location sits down, closes their eyes as well, focusing on breath. After about 5 minutes, focus on a color – you can use a color paper, color sticky note, solid color T-shirt, or such. Your buddy sitting quietly is to think about you, and write down any thought the buddy may have about color.
    Later compare notes. If you succeeded, pat yourself on the shoulder. If not, pat yourself on the shoulder as well for doing this, and do more experiments. We did not learn our ABC on the very first attempt either. In my class success the first time was about 70%, and we gone all the way up to 100% after a few attempts. – After you master color, you might focus on smell – like ammonia, lemon, orange, etc. Some very simple , distinct smell. Eventually you will be able to get what someone is communicating to you. Like – call mom. Go to the post office. In our small town that is where we all seem to meet when thinking about contacting someone. Simple thoughts, like seeing a traffic jam – do I stay, or should I take this exit ? – All of those, when confirmed helpful keep you trained in mind to mind communication. Many countries actually did scientific research on this subject. Mind to mind is real. Once you practice, it might save your vacation, or perhaps your life.

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