So as you perfect your disaster preparedness planning, consider how you will establish a solid means of communication with your out-of-state contacts. Texting with your cell phone is usually more reliable than voice calls during a crisis because of system overload, but the inReach satellite communicator may just be your best option.
Responsible disaster plans always include an arrangement to get in touch with a friend or relative outside your local area. Whenever there is a natural disaster, one of the first things to break down is our system of communications. I have participated in several debriefing sessions following disaster exercises and the one problem always discussed is that of communication. If the Incident Commanders can’t get their messages out, then the entire mission is hampered. Getting messages out of your local area is often easier to do than calling across the street. Power outages affect the commercial radio stations and cell phone systems usually get jammed up with an overload of calls. Ham radios can work when all other communication equipment is down, but that option requires licensing, training and a fair investment in specialized equipment. Fortunately technology keeps developing and searching for the perfect solution.
Enter the DeLorme inReach. Described as a satellite communicator using the Iridium satellite system it will send messages via text. The inReach SE will operate either on its own or paired with a mobile device. (Yes there’s an app available: Earthmate.) There are different versions but the SE (screen edition) includes a dedicated SOS button to send an emergency message to DeLorme’s 24/7 search and rescue monitoring center. Other features include a rechargeable 100 hour battery and an impact-resistant, waterproof case.
There are several devices on the market that provide grid-down communication, but none with this kind of two-way satellite communication. The goTenna is an excellent product, as is FMRS radio technology, but both are limited in effective distance capability. Ham radio operators are quick to point out, and correctly so, that their systems are capable of worldwide voice communication and can operate independent of the electrical grid. As a licensed ham myself, I can tell you there is a substantial investment required to come up to that level of capability. All these systems have benefits but all are limited in scope in at least one important aspect..
The inReach technology does carry a price. The SE version retails for $300.00 (that’s a single unit, two may be required) then there is a maintenance/service fee. Maintenance fees vary widely depending on your choice of service options but can be as much as $99.00 per month. The fee programs are flexible, thus bringing the costs down considerably, depending on how much you plan to use the system. (Remember how outrageous cell phone fees were for 60 minutes per month?) I would expect that as the system grows and technology increases, those fees will become more reasonable.
As always send your questions and comments to firstname.lastname@example.org. Previous columns can be found on my blog at www.disasterprepdave.blogspot.com. Dave Robinson is the Postmaster in Bandon, Oregon, and the author of “Disaster Prep For The Rest Of Us,” available on Amazon.com, Barnes and Noble and other online booksellers.