Letter Re: Communications and Monitoring for Disasters–Are Scanners Useful?

Hi Jim,
Last week you discussed your preference for communication modalities for use in disasters and their order of importance. Obvious by omission were two modes that I thought might have distinct utility: a radio scanner (to monitor weather, traffic accidents and attendant backups, police and fire activity, etc.) and a transceiver with frequencies in the amateur bands (160, 80, 40, 20, 10 and 6 meters and the centimeter bands).
Will you please provide your thoughts on the utility of these devices and whether or not you think they are worth the trouble (expense and licensing)?
Thanks for your input. – Jim H.

JWR Replies: I previously strongly emphasized the importance of owning a scanner, but I consider them less important now. There are several reasons for this: First, and foremost, the majority of police and sheriffs departments now use scramblers or encryption devices for all but their most mundane traffic. Even some fire departments now use scramblers. Second, one of the other major uses of a scanner was the ability to receive NOAA weather broadcasts. But most MURS radios and 2 Meter handi-talkies can be programmed for those frequencies, so if you own a set of MURS band walkie-talkies (such as those sold by MURS Radios), then this is a redundant feature. Ditto for most of the recent production digitally tuned general coverage shortwave receivers. (They usually have a one touch “WX” button.) Lastly, there is the “information overload” factor for someone manning a Charge of Quarters (“CQ“) desk. Scanner chatter is just one more distraction for someone that is concentrating on monitoring field telephones, intrusion detection sensors, security cameras, and a local CB or MURS security coordination radio network. And since less and less of what you will hear on scanners in the future will relate useful tactical/situational information (because of increasing encryption, as previously noted) then I recommend that if you have a scanner that you leave it turned off most of the time. Yes, a scanner does have its uses and each family should probably own one. There will often be Public Service Band traffic that will be broadcast “in the clear” (unencrypted) that will have significance–adding to your situational awareness. But, in general, scanners are considerably less important for TEOTWAWKI planning than they were a decade ago. Put one on your purchasing list, but fairly far down the list. BTW, the scanner model that I like the best is the old reliable (but sadly discontinued) Bearcat 800 XLT. Used ones can often be found for less than $50 on eBay.