Over the years, I have read many articles on communications in a grid-down situation. Those articles typically focus on using ham radios or CB radios to communicate with other like-minded folks in a TEOTWAWKI scenario. I have also read articles focused on the importance of gathering and accessing important information that you would need if the Schumer hiints the fan (TSHTF). These articles typically discuss the importance of having hard-copy books and printed planning information, contact information, and other important information that would be valuable to have.
I first suggested the importance of a cell phone in preparedness efforts in a previous SurvivalBlog article: Preparedness Planning: The Business Trip. During that trip, I brought my iPhone which is my Everyday Carry (EDC) phone. Since I wrote that article, I prepared a second phone that could function as a backup, serve as an offline repository of information, and could also be utilized for communications in the event that I could obtain access to wifi, if my EDC phone was not available. At first blush, this exercise may seem to be a low priority in preparedness planning. However, I believe that it could be a helpful preparedness tool while traveling.
Many people have proposed that important documents and information should be kept on a flash drive. However, accessing that information would require that you have a computer in which to insert the flash drive. A cell phone is extremely portable. Wouldn’t it be easier to access it directly from a phone on which you have stored that information on the SD Card? This could be helpful if you were bugging out in a hurry. If needed, you could remove the SD card and plug it into a computer.
Scenarios where it might be useful:
- Your primary cell phone is owned by your employer and you want to keep your preparedness life separate from your work life
- A natural disaster causes widespread regional electricity and cell service outage
- A grid down event while traveling
- As a backup in the event that your EDC phone is stolen, lost or broken
- As a backup in the event that authorities illegally confiscate your EDC phone
For this project, I used an old Alcatel One Touch Conquest phone with 8G Ram and a 32G expansion SD card installed. I obtained this phone several years ago in order to use a freebie phone service that was being promoted. I was not happy with the service quality and canceled my service. This phone had minimal memory, even back then. However, it had some features that I really liked and which were lacking on the more expensive phone and service that replaced this one:
- It is far lighter weight than my iPhone
- It is waterproof – Once, I accidentally dropped it in a trout stream for between 5 to 10 minutes before I realized what I had done. I picked it up and it has worked fine for several years since then.
- I really value the ability to listen to live FM radio offline with the Nextradio app in an emergency situation. It is my understanding that this capability is built into all cell phone chip sets, but many of them (like Apple) lock you out of this capability.
- It has an SD card expansion port
Another reason that I chose this phone was that the price was right. I already owned the phone and I wasn’t using it. Since I am a cheapo, it seemed to make sense to use this phone.
My basic strategy is to have this phone loaded with important information and apps that work offline so that it is still a useful tool in the event that cell service becomes unavailable, while also being useful in the event that I am able to obtain functioning wifi with internet access. The primary use for this phone is as an emergency resource while traveling. It allows me to have offline access to various documents that I might need, since it would not be practical to carry bulky books and binders with me on most trips. It can also serve as back up in the event that my EDC phone is stolen, broken, or lost while traveling. I do have a non-active SIM chip installed in the phone, since it is my understanding that you can use non-active cell phones with SIM chips installed to call 911. This would be useful in a non-grid down emergency.
Apps that are useful offline:
NextRadio app – This app allows you to hear FM radio stations in the same manner as a traditional radio.To use this app the phone cannot be in airplane mode and you must have physical earphones (not bluetooth) plugged into the phone as it uses these as an antenna. This would be very valuable in a natural disaster or national emergency.
Google Maps app – Google maps allows you to download maps which can be used offline. This information could be of critical importance if you need to change locations but are unable to access a cellular network.
Compass app built into the phone – This is a great backup to a real compass.
Red Cross First Aid app – Important information on Illnesses, treating wounds, medications, etc.
Army Survival Handbook app – Valuable resource with core survival information.
Oneread app – Allows you to read downloaded Word, Excel, and PDF files. I have downloaded many documents that might be helpful to me, including the SurvivalBlog “List of Lists” which can be found on SurvivalBlog.com.
Bridgefy app – offline bluetooth mesh messaging app – I have tested this with other nearby devices. It seems to work but would only be helpful if other people have this app on their phones and are within 330 feet of you.
Built in Phone app – 911 calls only, since an inactive SIM chip has been installed. I have not tested this as I am not going to call 911 unless there is an actual emergency. This would be helpful as long as cell service was still available.
Other useful utilities;
Built in Flashlight app
Built in Camera
Built in Sound Recorder
Built in Calculator
Built in Notes app
These offline apps could be useful on a phone with more memory, but I deleted them due to low RAM availability;
Google Play Books
Google Keep Notes
Apps that are useful when Wifi/Internet is accessible:
Broadcastify app – Online scanner with access to Police/Fire/EMS/NOAA Weather radio
Simple Radio app – Online radio app to listen to online and broadcast radio stations that have an Internet feed
Web browser – Access to survivalblog.com as well as news websites and everything else you can do on the internet
Google Voice app – VOIP phone calls and texting
Gmail app – Email access
Loading the phone
Some planning is involved in determining which apps, maps and documents should be stored on the phone. If you already have documents stored on a computer, flash drive or cloud drive, it should be fairly easy to copy them to the phone. In determining which apps you should download to your phone, some research is involved. You must find apps that you think would be of value and which are fully functional offline. Many apps could be valuable but are only functional online while accessing cellular data. You should also experiment with the memory capacity of your phone. I would recommend using a phone with significantly larger RAM than mine. However, I think that what I have summarized above will provide me with the most important resources that might be needed.
Battery life considerations
In a grid-down situation, you would need to use the phone sparingly to preserve the battery. It would also be advisable to have a couple of lightweight, charged power banks and a charging cable. You should also consider carrying a small solar power charger and cable. I have a foldable one that is designed to be used while backpacking.
Where to store your offline phone while traveling:
In order to make use of the phone if needed, it must be accessible. I keep mine in my EDC kit, which is a briefcase that converts into a backpack. However, in the event that I were to travel to a high-crime area or an area that has a more leftist local government, I will keep this phone and other prepping items in a separate kit from my briefcase to avoid theft or confiscation. This would likely be a locked bag which I will check with the bellhop or front desk of my hotel.
You may be wondering if I have most of the apps, maps, and documents that I mentioned on my EDC phone as well. I do – two is one and all that. However, the ability to listen to FM radio stations offline is not available on my iPhone. If you plan to utilize an offline phone for the purpose I have discussed, I would recommend using a newer one than mine, with more RAM. I would also recommend utilizing a phone in which you can insert an SD card for additional storage. Be aware that apps stored on an SD card still take up some space in RAM phone storage and apps stored on the SD card run slower.
It is wise to understand the local radio Emergency Alert Radio Service plan. Your state’s plan should be accessible on the web for download. It lists the activation procedures for national, state, and local alerts and lists the frequencies of the various radio stations broadcasting the alerts in the event of an emergency. I have downloaded my state’s plan to my offline phone.
It is also important to download google maps for any area to which you will travel and periodically update them. Obviously, all downloads of documents, maps, and apps can only be done while you have wifi and internet access so it is important to do this ahead of time, like all other preparedness projects.
While having a backup offline phone/information solution should not take priority to the core preparedness issues, such as food storage, gardening, self-protection, radio communications and knowledge building, I believe that there is value in the project. Additionally, it is pretty easy to do if you have an unused phone in your home. Downloading the documents and apps could easily be completed in one day, with proper planning.