From personal experience, I’ve been in a situation where we experienced an earthquake on the East Coast in 2011, and all the cell phone communications went offline. I was living about 250 miles from the epicenter of the quake, but the shockwaves damaged a main node for our cell carrier’s services. This was a rough situation as I wasn’t able to communicate home to see whether my family was alright. If the cell carrier wasn’t having issues, I would of been able to get in touch with home. There have been other situations (i.e. Hurricanes, Tornadoes, and Earthquakes) where being a licensed, Amateur (HAM) operator would come into play.
If you aren’t familiar with either ARES or RACES, you probably aren’t an Amateur Radio Operator. These two organizations allow for Amateur Radio Operators to communicate with other licensed operators during times of crisis or emergencies. RACES (Radio Amateur Civil Emergency Services) are generally a group of licensed HAM (Amateur) operators whom work with the local EOC (Emergency Operation Center) to communicate with others to gather information and to relay it as well. They will usually work with the Emergency Coordinator to work DX and gather neccessary data. During Hurricane Katrina, there were a lot of Amateur Operators relaying necessary information to the EOC; to coordinate aid, search and rescue, and recovery.
ARES, the Amateur Radio Emergency Services group, are a group of Amateur Radio operators whom on a volunteer basis, communicate during urgent or emergent times. They primarily run the same as RACES, and are backed by ARRL. ARRL stands for the Amateur Radio Relay League, which plays a big role in helping people get licensed. ARES is a membership based program through ARRL, and you must go through training before being allowed to join ARES. They generally have an Emergency Coordinator, for which you’ve got to contact.
If you aren’t interested in becoming a “HAM” or Amateur Radio Operator, you can always get a set of FRS/GMRS radios and get a GMRS license through the FCC. Most GMRS/FRS radios are limited in range, due to the lack of sight between each handheld. These will work in a pinch to communicate with your group, especially during an amergency situation.
If you still have access to your data package through your phone carrier, another program to use would be Zello. Zello is a PTT (Push-to-Talk) walkie talkie system that is available on the iOS, Android, and PC platforms. You are able to create your own private channel and share it with those on a need to know basis. This allows you to communicate in a group setting, and reach other members of your group and public within seconds.
Communicating during a SHTF moment is essential and needs to be taken seriously. Without communication, you’re either going to be limited in contact with your group or they are still lost in translation. Communication is a key so everyday preparedness and survival, especially in a SHTF moment.