Long Term Disaster Communications
Let's discuss and set up a scenario that could happen. A major grid down takes the whole US grid off line. It could be from a terrorist attack on the grid, an EMP or Carrington Effect, a major economic collapse, a weather related disaster, etc.
Let's say it was only a month ago when it suddenly happened with no warning. Here's what will have failed or disappeared: No grid power for residential service. Your houses are dark. Depending on if you live in rural parts of the country or in the inner city, the result will almost be the same. No lights, no heat or cooling, no refrigeration, no communication-phone or entertainment, no sewer. Indirectly, no law enforcement, food, water or security.
We could go on and on about other necessities like life support - hospitals, dialysis, and oxygen, etc., but let's concentrate on communications.
Communications in such a scenario is crucial for survival. The anxiety of not knowing how long the power will be out is priority, communications welfare with friends and family is also crucial. Being isolated in your home by way of communications will be stressful.
During this month all of your fresh food will be gone. Water will be scarce. Being "locked up" in your house will start working on your nerves. If you live alone the quiet will drive most people to the brink. If you happen to have your family with you it will help in certain ways but it will be hard to cope. In both cases you need to find out what's happening to the rest of the area, region, country, or world.
If you live in the city, many of you will form groups since you have the power of numbers however there will be conflicts.
After a month priorities are food and water. Then security. But both require some kind of communications. Small portable transceiver radios will have their place but what happens when the batteries are dead? Remember, no power to charge them. Most stocks of alkaline batteries will be gone. Hopefully you will have a solar panel or two to keep them operating and providing light. Also remember no generators after a month. Gasoline will be gone.
Questions will arise. How long is it going to be before power could be restored? How will you find out? You must plan ahead if the grid will be down for a few weeks, or months, or maybe years.
Since the grid is down for a month, no broadcast radio and TV stations will exist. I have been in the broadcast industry for over 40 years. I have worked as an engineer in many TV and radio stations throughout the country. I know first hand that over 90% of the stations do not have any source of backup power. Those that do only have about a week or two of fuel to stay on the air. Less than a handful across the country could stay on for a month. Even if the transmitters were on it is unlikely the studios would have power or be manned for official news and information.
There will be no satellite or cable TV. No landline telephone service, absolutely no cellphones will work. No internet. Police and fire communications will be severely diminished if not all together gone. Remember, police and fire personnel have families too. Unfortunately many police and fire systems have gone digital. They rely on repeaters, internet, and digital links which will cease to function. It is unlikely they will be there for you. Even the military and National Guard will have given up. There just won't be enough people and supplies to go around the whole country. They also have family priorities. FEMA and their supplies will be mostly depleted and/or pulled back for their own use..
After a month what communications will there be? Since most everything else runs on batteries, no CB, GMRS, FRS, MURS, and most Amateur Radio will fall silent after a month. Some people that have prepared may have a solar powered shortwave radio. This will allow them to hear possibly some distant broadcasts from other regions of the hemisphere or overseas depending on what caused the outage.
Tuning around the bands after a month you might stumble on a "pirate" station popping up now and then with some officials trying to disseminate valuable information and possibly calm the nerves of the citizenry. FEMA does have in place ample food, water and power to provide a select a group of personnel enough support themselves but not much more. They may have the technology to broadcast some information to the country but only on certain frequencies. But what if no one hears them?
So after a month, how will you get news in and out of your community? Remember, portable radios such as Walkie-Talkies only have a range from 1 to 3 miles at best. Also remember, no repeaters. So what will you use? The only long distance communications will be via HF Amateur Radio. But remember, no power to operate your 100 watt HF base or mobile rig.
One method is using QRP type radios. QRP is an Amateur Radio term for "low power" communications. QRP on the HF bands will most likely be the only method of reliable communications. HF bands, 80 thru 15 meters will allow you to communicate almost all over the world with just a few watts of power and thus the power requirements are very low. You could operate almost forever with just the power from the sun using solar panels.
Solar panels are plentiful and not that expensive. A 30 watt panel could cost less than US$50. A few panels could simultaneously run your rig and recharge batteries and lights for night time use.
QRP rigs come in SSB (voice) or CW (Morse Code) modes. CW is by far the best and easiest to implement for long range low power communications. There are a lot of mostly kits available. There are many individuals, groups, clubs, and internet forums and websites dedicated to QRP technology. A decent QRP CW rig can be had for less than US$100 and some less than US$50 if you shop around. Having a decent long wire antenna and knowing Morse Code can be a challenge to some but not impossible.
A more detailed and convincing lecture can be seen on this page. The system described will have the capability of running virtually forever.
This author makes 40 and 30 meter CW kits available on ebay and direct. The ME40+ and ME30+ are very popular and sold wordwide. This single band kit has been used to communicate thousands of miles away during good conditions. In average conditions you can communicate with other hams hundreds of miles away.