Products You Should Know About: Emergency Radios

Night Sky with WildfireDuring a countywide blackout a few years back, I quickly realized my cell phone was all but useless. I managed to get a text out to my hubby and get one back from him and that was that for a long while. Over the hours we could intermittently get a call in or out. But for the most part there was no way to communicate. In another scenario, a wildfire threatened the business where I worked at the time, and we lost the land line phone and all power before we received notice to evacuate. I remember how cut-off we felt without an information source.

During these times many of us had to resort to starting our cars and listening to the emergency station on the car radio to get any information. That experience made me realize that having an emergency radio should be a necessity.

But when I started my online search, I found the volume of information and products out there too overwhelming to sort through—especially since I know nothing about what I need.

Lucky for me, Matt found my blog, and I learned about his website:

Emergency RadioHe’s done all the hard work for us and has reviewed all the top contenders for the best emergency radios on the market. Having had hands-on experience with these products, he gives you the scoop on what features make each radio different from others on the market. He also rates the radios using specific criteria and discusses the reasons behind the criteria.
Check out his site:

It’s a great resource, including a Primer about radios and manufacturer information. It will make my life easier about choosing which emergency radio(s) to ultimately purchase–hopefully you too.

I asked Matt if he could answer a few questions for my readers and he generously agreed to the interview below.
Thanks Matt!

Interview with Matt:

Q) Have you always had a preparedness mindset, or did something happen to make you reconsider this part of your life?

A) No, like most people, I was not always prepared. Not at all. That ‘something’ that happened, for me, was 9/11. I was living in a big east-coast city with my wife, and in the panic of it all, we decided to ‘bug out’ (before we even really knew what that meant) to my sister’s house in the country.

As we packed up to go, I realized that between the two families, we had a sack of flour, a few bottles of water, a flashlight without batteries, etc. We only had enough dog food to last a day or two, and only a ¼ tank of gas. My wife and I looked up at each other and said ‘oh no, we are so not prepared for this’ and decided to hunker down instead of braving the grocery stores and gas station. I decided, in that moment, that being prepared for an emergency – or even a minor storm – was my sacred duty going forward. And sharing what I know with anyone who will listen (and most won’t), plus learning all I can from others, is part of that duty.

Q) Everyone has different needs, but in your opinion are there some basic points we should consider when looking at all the available options that are out there?

A) An emergency radio is a pretty specific device – the goal of the radio is to 1) warn you of an impending emergency and 2) keep you informed during that emergency. And an ’emergency’ can be anything from a train derailment (there’s been several recently), to a manhunt for a fugitive (think of the hunt for the Tsarnaev brothers in Boston), to a sudden spate of tornadoes. You can easily venture off into HAM radios, weather radios, even CB radios – but for your first radio, keep focused on basics:

  1. Ability to use standard batteries. There are some radios out there that use their own rechargeable batteries that are either entirely proprietary or are specialized. And that’s fine. But your radio must be able to take regular, standard batteries too.

Chances are likely you are going to hang on to your radio for years to come – will those special batteries still be available? Will they even still be charged when you need them? If not, the ability to pop in a few AAs will be invaluable.

This is even more important than having a crank or solar panels. A crank only delivers a few minutes of radio time, and solar can be a very slow charging experience – especially if you are in a cloudy place.

  1. Ability to charge a phone. Charging a phone during an emergency can be critical, of course. The only ‘gotcha’ about this is making sure the radio has the right type of adapter for your phone: when you get a new phone, make sure that the adapter will still work, or get a new one that’s compatible. Apple products seem to keep the same type of charging ports over time, so if you’re an iPhone person, you’ll have an easier time of it.
  1. A NOAA or SANE alert function. These alerts are primarily weather-oriented alerts (they cover civil disturbances and child abductions as well) that will play automatically. SANE (Specific Area Message Encoding) is more specific to your area, as it gets programmed in to the radio, whereas with NOAA, you set up the station to monitor in your local area. It’s a critical function of an emergency radio to alert you to emergencies, and NOAA and SANE are the communication methods for these alerts. Make sure your radio has them.

Q) Should we consider having more than one emergency radio—for different scenarios? I’m thinking of home use in a disaster setting vs. backpacking or camping.

A) At first, I thought one was good enough. And it is certainly better than none. But if you can budget for a couple of radios, by all means, do it. We do.

We have a big, older, radio that stays in a Faraday ‘cage’ in the house. It stays safely tucked away – just in case of an EMP issue. It used to be our primary radio, but when we upgraded, we re-purposed it instead of trashing it.

We also have a radio that’s easily accessible inside the house and is set up to receive alerts via SANE. This is the most modern radio we own, and can charge a phone, has a crank and a solar panel, etc. It’s our main radio and we keep it charged and at the ready.

And finally, we have a third one that goes camping with us – and ‘camping’ can also mean bugging out (although we’re bug-in types at present). This is a tiny radio – so it’s perfect for this purpose. If you’re a camper or backpacker (or both) – you’ll want a small radio, but one with an alert feature so you can be made aware of any emergencies coming your way out in the bush, woods, desert, etc.

That concludes the interview – I hope you find all this as helpful as I did!
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I’d like to say Thank You again to Matt for sharing his time and expertise with us!

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