Enter our challenge and you could win this prize package worth over $200 courtesy of CountyComm!
Let’s imagine that your area suddenly loses power–as well as cell phone and internet service–for an indeterminate period. Home and personal electronics remain unaffected, but must be powered off-grid (without mains power). Moreover, you may be required to evacuate your home…perhaps even on foot.
In preparation for this event, what portable radio kit would you assemble?
Submit your answer to this question and you could win a preparedness prize package courtesy of CountyComm!
All entries must be received by November 21, 2015.
This time we’re taking a slightly different angle, but nonetheless representative of a quite significant (and growing!) number of reader queries: What is the best radio for use in an emergency? Or, as we’re often asked,”What is the best prepper radio?”
There are many ways to answer this question based upon the scenario a reader is confronting. To help define a scenario for this challenge–perhaps the first in a few similar radio challenges–I enlisted the help of my good friend, David Cripe (NM0S). Dave, an engineer and radio/kit designer, is something of a modern day MacGyver and preparedness expert. Not to mention, a very cool guy.
Dave agreed not only to help author an emergency scenario (below), but has also agreed to judge the reader challenge responses. Dave will select his favorite from among the best entries.
As is often said, stuff happens. Indeed, our modern communication infrastructure is a fragile thing. Let’s imagine that your area suddenly loses power–as well as cell phone and internet service–for an indeterminate period. Home and personal electronics remain unaffected, but must be powered off-grid (without mains power). Moreover, you may be required to evacuate your home…perhaps even on foot.
Does the above scenario seem far-fetched? Actually, this is just the sort of scenario we often see occur in regions throughout the world as the result of natural disasters (and occasionally human sabotage), and it’s the scenario we’ll mentally prepare for in this exercise.
In preparation for this event, what portable radio kit would you assemble? In particular, you’ll want to look for an optimal combination of features and portability for price, ($400 US for all your kit). And it isn’t just the radio we’re interested in, but also how you intend to use it.
Therefore, how do you intend to:
obtain information about local and world events?
communicate within your local region to assist emergency services?
pass messages to friends and family over long distances?
power your kit for an indeterminate amount of time?
Rather than making this virtual challenge restrictive, the following limitations are designed to make the challenge more fun and create a level playing field for all participants.
Once again, you’re limited to a (virtual) budget of $400 US to procure your supplies; ideally, this will include the shipping costs of all purchase(s) you make.
You may select new, used, or homebrew gear, but you must base your choices on reality (i.e., actually find item(s) online and document the price and time of availability). If you “shop” eBay, for example, make sure you’re using the final purchase price, not the current or opening bid. If you do locate something used on eBay, QTH.com, QRZ.com, or at Universal Radio, for example, do include the link to the item (just to add to the fun). If you enter a homebrew radio, it should be based on something you’ve either built or used, and must include a photo. Of course, you can use multiple radios, but keep in mind the amount of space and weight these will consume in your evacuation or “bug-out” bag.
The prize package
Click to enlarge
CountyComm is generously offering the selected entrant of this contest a prize package that includes the following items, useful whether there’s an emergency or not:
This challenge will continue for one month, ending on November 21.
To enter, simply describe the kit you’ve chosen and how you would address the scenario above. Please be specific, but also as concise as you can. If you’re describing a radio or gear you already own, consider sending photos, as well.
If you’re active in a preparedness group locally or online, please help us spread the word in your group! Although there is a serious element to this exercise, in that it might really help you or another reader in an emergency situation, it’s intended to be fun; enjoy the challenge, and good luck!
Gizmodo touches on several preparedness basics and specifically mentions tucking away a shortwave radio with your survival gear:
Several preppers suggested keeping shortwave receivers handy, preferably of the hand-crank or solar-powered variety (because, you know, the grid’s out). “Personal two way com should be stored in metal boxes in each family vehicle,” one individual recommended. Another source emphasized the value of hunting down older, “tube type” communications gear. “Modern amateur radio gear is hugely susceptible to EMP,” he said. “Amateurs who have made it a part of their hobby interest to rebuild/salvage discarded military gear, especially heavy receivers, and transmitters, are thought to be very survivable.”
I have opinions about the ideal receiver to keep on hand for preparedness reasons. While it’s true that older tube type gear is less susceptible to EMP damage, much of this gear requires 110-220 volts AC to operate. If the electrical grid is down, you’ll need to have a reasonably robust power supply to bring these rigs to life.
I’ve had a prepper radio post in the hopper for nearly a year now; indeed, this is one of the most common questions I’m asked. Perhaps it’s time for another virtual radio challenge to flesh-out more options? There are a number of Post readers who are experts on this topic.
Lifehacker believes the small bag used is the Maxpedition M-2 Waistpack. I like Maxpedition packs: they’re very durable, typically military grade, and reasonably affordable. But the M-2 is small–quite small.
This led me to thinking about über-portable shortwave radios I would carry in such a small pack for survival purposes. If I were a foreign operative, ideally, I’d want a shortwave radio that has SSB mode, in case my home country’s numbers station broadcast in SSB.
In reality, there are very few good radios that are so compact they could fit in the M-2 Waistpack.
A few that came to mind were the Tecsun PL-310ET or Tecsun PL-380, but the fit would be very tight, if at all; both radios are slightly wider and taller than the M2’s main pocket, which measures 5 x 3 x 1.5 inches. I then remembered the Kaito KA1102 that I owned a few years ago–a very portable radio, but it, too, would be too large at 143 x 88 x 28.50 mm.
But then, it hit me: there is one radio, which, though no longer on the market, would fit the bill (and the pocket)…
The Holy Grail of über-portable receivers: The Sony ICF-SW100
Then there are the lucky few, like my radio-listener buddy, The Professor. Remarkably, he tracked down (and knows I’ll never forgive him for it) an ICF-SW100 on Craig’s List for about $50! That was a steal.
Performance is superb for a radio this size. Not only does it have SSB mode, but selectable sideband sync detection.
One note of caution, should you be lucky enough to acquire one: the ribbon cable that connects the lower portion of the radio with the display (especially in the mark 1 production units) is known to fail. Fortunately, there are a number of videos (like this one) which walk you through replacement.
The ICF-SW100 predecessor, the ICF-SW1S (above), would easily fit in the M-2 Waistpack–it measures a mere 4.75 x 2.785 x 1 inches. Like its younger brother, it is highly sought after on the used radio market, and usually fetches $300+. The ICF-SW1S does not have a sync detector and lacks SSB mode. Still, as a broadcast receiver, it is truly superb for its size.
If you purchase a used ICF-SW1S, do ask the seller if all 6 original electrolytic capacitors have been replaced. If not, you may have to replace them in short order as the originals were known to fail. While not a repair for the faint of heart (as parts are quite small), there are several instructional sites and videos to help you. Alternatively, you can send your ICF-SW1S to Kiwa to be professionally re-capped.
Last year, we published two popular articles on preparedness. As I mention in the articles, I’m no hard-core survivalist, but I certainly believe in being prepared.
This year, on New Year’s day, I got tested. Big time. Here’s what happened:
Our hero on New Year's Day 2012
We had planned a New Year’s day lunch for twelve, which meant quite a bit of food preparation. I was chef for the day. At 11:00 am, right after I had just begun searing a large pork roast with the intention of cooking it in the pressure cooker, the lights went out. I thought perhaps a circuit breaker had tripped. One glance at the power meter, though, and I knew there was no electricity on tap.
So–although we’re not talking life and death here–I had a huge, raw (and frankly expensive) hunk of locally-raised pork to prepare, not to mention all the vegetables I intended to cook; no lights; no water (i.e., no toilet flushing); no auxiliary heat–and a herd of guests, all of whom had driven at least an hour’s distance, en route and looking forward to a delectable dinner. I didn’t even have time to call the power company to report the power failure. What’s more, as we live in the middle of nowhere, in a best-case scenario it would take the company at least two hours to get here…and on New Year’s Day?
I have a 5550 Watt portable Genrac generator that we use in case of power failure –mainly to supply power to our water pump, lights, and a few appliances (like a microwave). It’s at least six years old, but works beautifully for those modest energy requirements. BUT: I had never tested the generator with the stove top. And looking at my raw dinner, and at the clock, I decided I was going to. No way was my nice cut of pork going to be crammed into our microwave.
So I washed my hands, and zipped around the house turning off all unnecessary power loads and sensitive equipment (radios, computers, router, modem, lights, etc.). I then stepped outside, poured about two gallons of gas from the 10-15 gallons I keep on hand for emergencies into my generator, and fired her up. Though this unit doesn’t have electronic ignition, it did start almost immediately, because I test it every couple of months.
Our external generator connector box
I plugged the generator into our breaker box via an external junction and 12′, 240V cord that we had installed by a certified electrician earlier this year. This system included a fail-safe switch that forces us to disconnect our house from the grid, prior to permitting the generator to do its job (lest our power hurt someone working on the power lines).
I flipped the switch, walked back into the house, and saw that the generator had restored our lighting. Still, the lingering uncertainty in my mind was, “Will the generator power the stove’s burner so that I can at least cook the pork and veggies?” I listened to the generator hum as I turned the burner dial on…it barely strained. Whew!
This switch, located on our breaker box, prevents the generator from being connected to the house while the grid is connected.
Over the course of the next hour, guests started arriving; I continued to cook as if we had grid power. It was amazing. Everyone looked a little puzzled when they drove up and heard the generator running, but inside, found us enjoying lights, music, warmth, and the delightful aroma of the succulent pork and apples. Happily, the meal went off without a hitch.
Mind you, I don’t think the generator could have handled the load of the water pump and the stove top if we didn’t have solar hot water and passive solar heating. An electric furnace and electric hot water heating elements in a traditional water heater would have simply been too much of a load.
So what’s my point?
I know people who go through a nasty power outage and say, “never again!” They either:
Install an extremely expensive automatic propane or diesel backup generator
Buy a portable generator like mine, but fail to keep spare fuel on hand, or to test it on occasion
Obviously, neither is ideal.
Preparedness is as much about testing and understanding the limits of what you have–running a few “real-life” scenarios to flesh out anything you might overlook in an actual outage–like fuel, a non-functioning generator, power cords, etc.
And my radios? Not only will the generator power all of my tabletop receivers and ham radio transceivers, but I keep a separate 40 aH sealed battery fully charged, and at-the-ready, at all times.
After all, every seasoned radio hobbyist who lives in a populated area knows that the best and quietest conditions for catching a little DX is when all of your neighbors’ power is out!
Always keep spare batteries and power for your radios when the grid fails. Don’t just do it for preparedness’ sake, do it for your listening ears!
Of course, there’s more to the art of being prepared than simply purchasing a few radios. Being prepared is about having enough supplies, making a plan, and knowing how to get in touch with family/friends, where to meet and what to do should you lose contact. Fortunately, a great percentage of the time, being prepared is about dealing with a few days–not months–of difficult conditions.
Don’t feel like there’s a financial barrier to being prepared, either. It’s easy, and you can gather everything you need in one day.
I find that the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) has a well thought-through list of items you should have in your preparedness “kit.” I have listed them below (courtesy of FEMA) and included my own comments under some of the suggestions.
FEMA Recommended Items To Include In A Basic Emergency Supply Kit:
Distilled water is inexpensive and very easy to store.
Water, one gallon of water per person per day for at least three days, for drinking and sanitation
I suggest purchasing inexpensive gallons of distilled water from your local store. When you bring them home, mark them with the date purchased. Over time, you can use and replace them with new ones.
Food, at least a three-day supply of non-perishable food
Include a lot of shelf-stable foods ready to be eaten without preparation–trail mix, dehydrated fruits and vegetables, etc.
Dust mask, to help filter contaminated air, and plastic sheeting and duct tape to shelter-in-place
Moist towelettes, garbage bags and plastic ties for personal sanitation
Wrench or pliers to turn off utilities
At least have a Gerber or Leatherman tool with a built-in pair of pliers.
Can opener for food (if kit contains canned food)
Very important–have you ever tried opening a can of food without a can opener? They’re cheap–buy one specifically for your kit
Cell phone with chargers, inverter or solar charger
Many of the radios above can charge a USB-based cell phone. If you are looking for a durable solar panel, consider the Goal Zero foldable panel or any roll-up/foldable panel by Power Film Solar.
Additional Items To Consider Adding To An Emergency Supply Kit:
Prescription medications and glasses
This is extremely important–you should certainly stock up on medical supplies if you’re in the path of a natural disaster like a hurricane. Pharmacies may be closed for several days and you certainly want your prescription heart medication on hand!
Infant formula and diapers
Pet food and extra water for your pet
Don’t forget Rover or Whiskers–!
Cash or traveler’s checks and change
Important family documents, such as copies of insurance policies, identification and bank account records in a waterproof, portable container. You can use the Emergency Financial First Aid Kit (EFFAK) – PDF, 277Kb) developed by Operation Hope, FEMA and Citizen Corps to help you organize your information.
Emergency reference material, such as a first aid book or information from www.ready.gov.
Sleeping bag or warm blanket for each person. Consider additional bedding if you live in a cold-weather climate.
Complete change of clothing, including a long-sleeved shirt, long pants and sturdy shoes. Consider additional clothing if you live in a cold-weather climate.
Household chlorine bleach and medicine dropper – When diluted nine parts water to one part bleach, bleach can be used as a disinfectant. Or in an emergency, you can use it to treat water by using 16 drops of regular household liquid bleach per gallon of water. Please do not use scented or color safe bleach, or bleaches with added cleaners.
Matches in a waterproof container
Feminine supplies and personal hygiene items
Mess kits, paper cups, plates and plastic utensils, paper towels
Paper and pencil
Books, games, puzzles or other activities for children
Often overlooked, but quite important–you may be without power, television and internet for days. You should have a back-up plan for your children. Board games are fun, burn a little time, and require absolutely no batteries!
Other recommendations I would add
Fill up your vehicles with fuel. Indeed, it’s not a bad idea to top-off your fuel on a regular basis.
Listen to local radio stations and follow any directions from local officials who are coordinating recovery.
Know potential evacuation routes and emergency contact information. This is especially important if you live in an area prone to hurricanes or typhoons
Making a plan and being informed
Being prepared, as I said earlier, is more than just having supplies. It’s about being prepared mentally and having your close family and friends on the same page should disaster strike. Also, you should be well aware of how things are handled locally.
Ready.gov has an excellent guide to making a plan (including downloadable forms) and general information about being informed.
SWLing.com has a lot of guests (almost half of our guests!) who visit us from outside of the USA. The information I have posted above may not be relevant to the place you live (for example, NOAA weather radio). Still, keep in mind the following:
Check to see if your national weather service has specific frequencies with weather or emergency information. If so, make sure you have a radio that can receive these broadcasts.
Check with your local emergency management office. If you have any specific needs (medical or otherwise), make sure your local authorities know.
Summary: Preparedness is crucial!
This is, perhaps, one of the longest posts I’ve ever written on the SWLing Post; you can probably tell that I’m an advocate of preparedness. I hope I’ve shown you that there’s a lot to think about prior to a disaster, whether natural or man-made. It’s not expensive to prepare, but does take a bit of dedicated time and energy. Once you you do it, though, I promise that you will feel better prepared and more secure than before. And one more thing: once you’ve taken care of your own or your family’s needs, please be prepared to help others however you can–sharing and caring is part of any disaster recovery process.
Today is the 10th anniversary of the 9/11 terrorist attacks here in the US; also, here in the US, September is National Preparedness Month.
Hurricane Katrina (photo source: NOAA)
These two facts, coming as they do on the heels of several recent natural disasters in the US (hurricane, flooding, fires, an earthquake) have meant that I’ve received several inquiries about what radios (and supplies) are best for emergency preparedness.
So, I’ve decided to offer a comprehensive guide to preparedness. It includes specific suggestions for radios and other supplies (food, medical, etc.) one should have in stock in case of an emergency.
This is a lot of information, so I have broken it down into two posts:
Emergency Preparedness Part 1: Choosing the right radios (this post)
I’m no preparedness expert–and I’m certainly not a devotee of apocalyptic thinking–but in the rural area where I live, in a passive solar home, preparedness is an everyday fact. Power from the grid goes out here frequently, and when it snows, we can be stuck out here for a day or two at least. When weather or other problems occur, as they invariably do, we’re guided by the three emergen-Cs: we simply stay calm, use common sense, and solve any problems creatively. We keep several days of food in stock, have on hand emergency lighting, a generator (which we regularly maintenance), and spare fuel for the generator; meanwhile, my ham radio station can run on a fully-charged battery bank for days. Our refrigerator and freezer are solar-powered with battery back-up as well. When the power goes out, we may notice it, but only just.
We also believe in helping the neighbors whenever we can. Oh, and a sense of humor helps keeps things in perspective.
In the wake of natural or man-made disasters, radio is your friend
As this thought-provoking video points out, no matter where you live in the world, communication is one of the most important ways you can maintain control when the world around you is out of control.
What type of radio do you need? More than one type, in my view, if you can afford them. At a minimum, you should keep on hand the following:
One self-powered (hand-crank) radio with AM/FM and emergency flashlight. If you live in the US, this radio should also include the NOAA weather radio frequencies.
One capable digital portable shortwave radio with SSB (single-side band) mode.
Several sets of fully-charged rechargeable batteries to power the shortwave radio and other devices like flashlights
Solar or DC powered battery charger
Other non-radio supplies (see list at bottom of page)
I’ll start with recommendations of self-powered radios, then suggest a few portable digital radios and self-powered shortwave radios. Finally, I’ll also include FEMA recommendations for supplies that should be kept on hand for emergencies, just in case.
Review of the best self-powered emergency radios
Below, I’ve laid out what I consider to be the best self-powered radios on the market today. Note that many of these radios cannot receive on shortwave, but do receive AM/FM and NOAA frequencies (NOAA weather frequencies are only helpful in the USA, please remember). During natural disasters or in times of emergency, local AM and FM stations tend to be more information-relevant than international broadcasters on shortwave. Of course, I believe you should have a shortwave radio on hand as well, so I have also provided a list of self-powered shortwave radios.
The Eton FR160 self-powered AM/FM weather radio with USB charger
Self-powered AM/FM NOAA weather radios
The Eton FR160 ($30-40 US)
The Eton FR160 is a durable, portable hand-crank and solar powered AM/FM Weather Band radio. It’s quite easy to use and does a fine job tuning in local stations including NOAA weather radio (you can chose from a selection of all seven frequencies). The FR160 has another very useful feature–you can connect any USB-based charger into its built in USB port and use the radio’s hand crank to charge your cell phone or other portable USB device–very cool! Be aware that it takes a lot of cranking to charge a typical cell phone enough for a 5 minute phone call, but in an emergency, it’s worth the trouble. The built-in LED flashlight is also very bright and lasts a long time on 2 minutes of cranking. The solar panel is adequate for charging the radio or for playing it (in full sunlight).
The Eton Scorpion self-powered AM/FM Weather radio with built-in caribbeaner and bottle opener!
The Eton Scorpion ($50-60 US)
The Eton Scorpion is very similar to the FR160, but has the added features of an auxiliary line-in input, a larger solar panel, and is splash-proof. The Scorpion has an aluminum carabineer to attach it to your belt or pack, a bottle opener, and is overall a very rugged device, so is ideal for camping, too.
Other self-powered AM/FM/NOAA weather radios worth considering
Eton Corporation also produces the Axis and Rover–I have never used these, but assume they would be worth considering. Eton is certainly the king of self-powered radio technologies and produces many of their radios branded with the Red Cross. They’re sturdy and effective. I know of no self-powered weather band radios as reliable as those produced by Eton.
The Grundig G3 or Sony ICF-SW7600GR (in background) are both reliable and have excellent SSB reception.
I strongly recommend you have a capable, full-fledged digital shortwave radio tucked away for emergencies. If you already own one, just make sure you always have fresh batteries for it standing by.
While these radios lack SSB and the advanced functionality of the modern digital portable, they can operate with the turn of the crank. This is great, just in case you forget to have a set of fresh batteries among your supplies. All of the radios below have excellent reception characteristics for an analog radio. Why did I only choose analog radios? Mainly because I have yet to find a self-powered digital shortwave radio that has the sensitivity of the analog ones, or the battery longevity. Digital radios look cool and are great for casual use, but I wouldn’t rely on one in an emergency. Stick with these analog units instead:
Still on the market as the Tecsun Green 88, this little self-powered radio packs a big punch.
Tecsun Green 88/Grundig FR200 ($25-35 US)
My all-time favorite self-powered shortwave radio is the Grundig FR200 or Tecsun Green 88. This radio used to be widely available as the Grundig FR200, but Grundig has since stopped producing it. The radio can, however, still be purchased by Tecsun Corporation from vendors in Honk Kong on eBay (link provided below).
What do I love about the Tecsun Green 88? It is:
covers the shortwave spectrum down to 3.2 MHz
sensitive, even just using the built-in telescopic antenna
has fine-tuning control
runs for 40 minutes (with fresh NiMH battery pack) off of 2 minutes of hand-cranking
Other notable self-powered shortwave radios
I’m also very fond of several other self-powered shortwave radios, but none of them quite match up to the Tecsun Green 88 (Grundig FR200). I’ve listed a few below that are certainly worth considering.