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Wednesday, April 16, 2014

Emergency Comms On The Road - What Works, And Doesn't Work

Every so often I hop in the car and head out to a place I call "Down Home".  Down Home is a good three to three and a half hours away, depending on traffic, so I always make sure I have as many communications possibilities with me when I go.  I took this trip just about 2 weeks ago, and had some car trouble on the way back...the kind of car trouble that stops you dead in your tracks.  As soon as I noticed that my car was about to come to a halt, I took the first exit off of Highway 40...towards a town called Yamachiche.  This is not a big town by any means, and with a population of about 3000, a traveller passing through at 11PM can pretty much find the sidewalks rolled up and the entire town closed.  I found myself pulled over on an off ramp, needing assistance with no one in sight.  I had three ways of communications with me, a cell phone, a CB radio, and my 2 meter ham HT.  This was the perfect situation to find out which would be most useful.  Here is a rundown...

CB Radio - A citizen band radio can come in handy, especially for preppers.  One of the reasons that a lot of preppers like the CB, is the fact that they are cheap to get because almost no one uses them anymore.  This proved to be the biggest downfall.  I turned on the radio and tuned to channel 9, which is supposed to be the emergency channel.  This being an emergency, I keyed up and called MAYDAY, MAYDAY, MAYDAY...nothing but static.  This came as no big surprise, the reason I have CB in the car is to be able to talk with my home base, and others that have CB within my group.  Any means of communication requires there to be more than one person using it...you can call out all you want, but if there is no one else on the air at the time, well, it's pretty much useless.

2 Meter Ham - This requires a little more efort than just keying up a mic.  My 5 watt HT gets some OK range, but the likelyhood of there being someone on the air locally was slim, and finding out what frequency they are on makes a set to set contact next to impossible.  Enter the road atlas and my printed out list of repeaters from repeaterbook dot com.  Within a few minutes I was able to identify the closest repeaters to my location and began to try to get one...with some success!  Although I could hit a repeater not far from me, again, there was no one else on the air at the time.  I also keep a list of emergency services frequencies, but these are out of the ham band, and I really didn't want to find out how the provincial police would react to me transmitting directly to their dispatch frequency.

Cell Phone - This is where I had the best luck...actually I knew it would be, but wanted to test out my other comms first.  Along the highways there are signs posted for the numbers to call for help.  On long trips, you simply can't avoid them being drilled into your head every few kilometers.  So to the cell phone I go and call the emergency number, which connects me to a provincial police dispatch center. I explained my problem, told them my location and they sent the cavalry right to me to take care of my every need....NOT!  There was no accident, no real danger of an accident, I was simply broken down, so there really wasn't anything they could do for me even if they did send a car.  They did however, have the phone number for the closest tow truck company.  This is important, so please, please, take this advice to heart...CARRY A NOTEBOOK AND PENCIL WHEN YOU TRAVEL.  You will need to write stuff down like tow truck numbers, garage numbers, etc...

So, does this mean that I will no longer bother with CB and ham radio when I travel?  No, of course not, each as it's merits and I assume that some of my issues with them were related to the late hour.  I often listen to CB on the highway for truckers passing on info about traffic and other issues and the ham radio conveniently tunes to police bands so I can get a sense of any emergencies (read speed traps) that are in progress.  It does mean that I will make sure my cell phone is charged and that I have a way to recharge it, and I will always have a notebook and pencil in the car with me.

As a side note, cash is as important as anything else I mentioned earlier.  Tow trucks, auto repairs, and hotels rooms add up, so make sure you carry money with you when you travel.

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