Stray Signals

There’s No Better Time to Be an Amateur Radio Geek – WIRED

Haggerty-Sollars and her neighbor, Judy, were never far from each other, but first Judy lost her cellphone signal and then Haggerty-Sollars lost hers when she drove through flames—despite being in a rag-top convertible—because at that point there was no turning back. It’s not surprising they lost service. Seventeen cell towers burned the first day of the fire, which became the deadliest and most destructive wildfire on record in California.

Two-way handheld radios could have provided a backup option, and some GMRS radios can transmit text messages and GPS locations, though only to other GMRS radios, not to cellphones or computers.

If Martin and I have to evacuate, we’ll each have a walkie-talkie in our car in case we lose cell service. Evacuating is a realistic possibility as the worst of fire season hasn’t even started in California. Even so, between August 15 and 26, 1.3 million acres have already burned, which is two-thirds as much as what burned in 2018, the worst year to date.

On the other side of the United States, East Coast residents brace for what the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) anticipates to be a more active hurricane season than usual. Forecasters predict the number of named storms to almost double this year, and they may extend into the Greek alphabet.

Martin and I have been practicing using the radios room-to-room within the house and around the neighborhood, which is not exactly fun, because aren’t we already close enough during quarantine?

Another option for two-way radio communication is Citizens Band Radio Service (CBRS), which you may know as CB radio. Films like The Cannonball Run and Smokey and The Bandit popularized CB radios in the 1970s and 1980s. Since most new cars come hardwired with modern technology, it’s unlikely those devices will once again be mounted inside passenger vehicles (though truckers keep the CB dream alive), but they are an option for those living in high-risk areas who want to stay connected.

People from coast to coast use dozens of apps, all dedicated to emergency preparedness. When hurricanes churn in the Atlantic and Gulf of Mexico, apps can help with navigating evacuation routes, locating temporary shelters, finding gas stations, and tracking the storms themselves. A phone full of apps feels like security, but when cellphone signals are spotty or lost entirely, they’re more like a debit card without a PIN.

That’s where CB radios come

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