You’re sitting on the couch, watching TV, and the lights go out. Your TV and all your other appliances turn off. It’s dark outside and you’re suddenly without power. You peek out your windows to see the street lights off and the neighbors’ houses are dark. What has happened?
These possibilities run through your mind:
- A squirrel just fried the nearby transformer
- A car hit a power pole nearby
- Terrorists just detonated a dirty bomb downtown
- The power plant cooling tower is melting down
- An electromagnetic pulse just took out the entire country’s electrical grid
The answer is most likely the first or second choice, but who knows? How will you find out?
Maybe you can listen to the battery-powered FM radio you’ve had charging. You DO have an emergency radio charging, right? Anyway, the FM radio is working and all stations, including the NOAA weather, are broadcasting as if nothing is wrong. Or even possibly no station is broadcasting at all and all is silent. Now what?
To find out what is happening, you have two choices. The first choice is to get in your car and leave. Drive around to see how far away the power is out. Meanwhile, who knows what is now occurring back at home. Let’s back up. Don’t leave until you find out what is happening!
Your second, and only reasonable, choice is a battery-powered Amateur (ham) radio and training on how to tune and monitor the correct frequencies. Did you know that one of the main goals of ham radio is to provide information in an emergency of any type? Yep! Whether weather-related with volunteer spotters or interacting with and reporting on government emergency action, the ham radio is the way to go.
Why not just a scanner? Scanners are good for listening to emergency dispatchers and responders, but they won’t tell you the bigger picture like ham radio operators will. Also, larger cities use a trunk-based communication system that requires expensive models of scanners to monitor.
Doesn’t ham radio sound expensive and time-consuming? It’s not. You can get a hand-held battery-powered ham radio for $25 on Amazon Prime. Here is the Baofeng UV5R that I own and use regularly. It works on two local ham frequency bands, FM radio, non-trunked emergency bands, NOAA weather, marine, and even aircraft coms. After a little studying and a $15 test fee, you can have your Technician class license that lets you talk on the local frequencies needed during a disaster. You can monitor the emergency net or just get on available frequencies and ask “What the heck is happening?” That little radio will reach within about 5 miles of other hams directly and it will also reach 5 miles to a repeater that, probably on backup power, links people within 15 to 20 miles.
The coolest part of being a ham is being part of the solution! When things go sideways, you can be one of the few people explaining to others what is happening. There are organizations in place specifically for that purpose and they love new members. You can learn about those from your local ham club.
Here are the simple steps to make this happen:
- Go to the Amateur Radio Relay League website here.
- Find a club nearby
- Study for your test
- Take the Technician class test at a local club meeting
- Buy a cheap hand-held radio like the Baofeng
- Keep it in its charging cradle
- Turn it on when the lights go out!
By now, you must agree that the only easy way to find out what is happening when the power goes out is to get on your inexpensive ham radio and hear the news from a group of people who will surely know.
Be safe by being smart,
FJ (Extra class ham radio operator)
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