Communications: Why do we care?

There are a lot of videos discussing emergency communications out there, but not a lot of them actually addressing why emergency communications are important or why radio is the primary mode for those communications. As we kick off our series on radio and other communications, we thought it would be best to address those question up front before we got into the details of gear and tactics with radio comms. Hopefully this lays some solid groundwork that we can build on as we move forward.

Why Comms are Important

Simply put, communication is important because information has a very limited use if it is not shared and integrated into decision making. The more information is gathered and shared, the better the decisions. The better the decisions, the better the response to the emergency. Yes, there are obviously caveats to this, but we’re talking at a fundamental level. This is background on emergency comms, not a decision making class.

Communication also makes coordination of effort more effective. When response efforts are coordinated, the limited resources available can be used most efficiently to deliver the greatest help to those in the most need. Without communication and coordination, efforts can be duplicated and areas can be missed. At best, this results in overworking response resources. At worst, people who need help get missed and may die.

In an incident, everything boils down to communications. It may not be the sexiest thing out there, but you will use comms in almost any mission, whether disaster response or neighborhood protection. When it comes down to it, communications is going to be far more valuable in most emergency situations than any firearms or tactical gear you may own.

Why Radios?

So, we all understand that communicating information is important. But why do we harp on radios? Radios are old tech, after all. It’s the era of the cell phone. Why do I need a walkie-talkie when I can carry a computer with the internet in my hand?

A Baofeng UV-82 handheld radio

The simplest answer is that cell phones require a significant amount of support infrastructure that can be damaged or overwhelmed in an emergency. Radios, on the other hand, require very little infrastructure. Realistically, you can set up a radio and talk to the next state over with just what you can carry in a backpack. An unskilled radio operator can be taught the basics in under an hour. A skilled operator can talk to another country. Depending on equipment and licensing, data can be transmitted and satellites can be used. All with minimal infrastructure, especially compared to cell phones.

That’s not to say that cell phones can’t be useful during an emergency. The cell phone grid may not go down. If there is damage, it’s possible that limited service may still exist, especially for burst comms like text or the voice message apps. GPS navigation will still work on your phone, even without cell service. And your phone can sometimes be integrated with your radio or a mesh network to do burst messaging and position broadcasting.

So if a cell phone isn’t completely worthless, why do preparedness advocates harp on radios? Because while we can probably train you to operate a radio in a short amount of time, to be proficient you need to practice beforehand. In addition, if you have any thoughts of using the radios with other people, such as a mutual assistance group, you all need to practice beforehand, just as you would with any other skill. As we’ve said in other articles, you need to take your gear out and shake it down to make sure it works. That applies to your kit, your survival gear, your response gear, and your radio gear.


This article was designed as a brief backgrounder on why comms are important and why radios get emphasized so much. As we move on through the series, we’ll discuss more specifics on basic frequencies, equipment, integrating cell phones, mesh networking, and planning. I’ve already got Baofeng accessories and Meshtastic boards at the house and ready to test.

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