How to Get in Touch with Your Family Post-SHTF

Communications are an essential part of any disaster plan. Certainly for anyone, and especially for preppers, getting in touch with the people you are responsible for and the people you care about in the aftermath of a disaster will be critical for ensuring a good outcome.

woman and kids on top of some bales of hay
woman and kids on top of some bales of hay

No one that I know would leave anyone they gave a damn about flapping in the breeze when it is time to go wheels-up and bug-out.

For that reason it seems a little odd to me that most preppers’ plans always begin with the entire family, or at least the entire household, being together when things kick off. It might be a forgivable assumption, but it is a total fallacy and the fact remains that it could be a deadly one.

Contrary to this thinking, it is actually likely that you will not all be together when the SHTF. Everybody, including kids, have lives and itineraries of their own. The kids could be at school, both of the parents at two different jobs, and so on.

Heck, one or more members of the family might even be traveling well away from home when the skies darken and the sirens howl. Have you considered how that might impact your plans?

Getting in touch with your family in the immediate aftermath of a crisis situation is imperative, but will rarely be simple.

Just like anything else you will have many obstacles to contend with, and you will need plans A, B and C in order to guarantee success. In today’s article I will share with you multiple methods for getting in touch with your family and other loved ones post-SHTF no matter what the situation is.

Cut-Off and In the Dark

Picture this scenario: You’re out of town for business reasons. You have left your partner and your two children at home to go about their lives while you take care of business and bring home the bacon, several hundred miles away.

Then, it happens. What it is doesn’t matter. It could be a massive and coordinated terrorist attack, an outbreak of extreme social unrest and the accompanying violence and chaos, or a devastating natural disaster, a literal act of God. Your home is directly affected, or it will be soon, and you have to reach your family, pronto.

After a few desperate attempts to call your family members by phone, you give up in frustration, as all lines seem to be busy or out of order.

You drop everything and try to head for home, but you find that flights are canceled and the highways and interstates are already clogging with panicked people and refugees. What reports you are able to glean about the overall situation are sporadic.

You know it is going to take time, effort and grit in order to make it home however that happens.

Based on your previous plan you discussed time and time again with your family members they will try to head for your parent’s cabin to the west, but that is also going to take them closer to the epicenter of the event. You think the best play is to head south in order to meet you halfway.

But you cannot reach them! Will they think to head your way, or will they just stay put and wait for you? What if they do head west towards the cabin and put themselves in greater danger?

What if they go somewhere else and become just another set of haggard faces among the teeming, tattered masses of humanity? How would you find them? Should you waste valuable time and try to get in touch with them or just leave now and roll the dice?

Think quickly; time is a-wasting.

The Importance of Communications to SHTF Planning

In all kinds of high-pressure, time-is-life endeavors, timely and accurate communications will often spell the difference between success and failure.

Even if you are only responsible for yourself, getting the right information from an accurate source early enough to affect your decision making process could entirely change how events unfold for you.

That is just for one person! Imagine how much more important rapid communication is when you’re responsible for more people than just yourself. If you’re trying to take care of two, four, ten or a hundred people you had better have your communication plan down-pat and backed up.

Since time immemorial communication disruptions or slowdowns have spelled disaster in war, in politics and during times of disaster cleanup. Failing to get the right information to the right people quickly enough means that soon folks involved in the endeavor will get out of sync with one another, hampering efforts.

At worst, they might be working off of information that is now outdated or even completely erroneous. This could see people actively making decisions that will lead to death or mission failure.

The situation you and yours are dealing with post-SHTF will have serious implications to both life and limb, to say nothing of ongoing survival. The things you do, or fail to do, not to mention when you do them or don’t do them, will directly impact your outcomes.

This is further complicated by the fact that your family must attempt to survive as a unit if at all possible; when individual members are separated from each other, confusion, fear and doubt will reign, reducing effective decision making and increasing the chance of a bad ending.

But when everyone can keep in touch with everyone else, even if they cannot speak directly, they can be brought up-to-date on the family survival plan: what is the overall threat, how they will deal with it, what procedures they need to take, when, and where they need to go. This will help to instill control in a situation that is decidedly out of control.

You might be the King of Prepper Mountain and have the best, most foolproof survival plan in the world come the apocalypse, with alternate, contingency and even double-dog emergency plans on top of that, but if you cannot relay any of that to your people when it is required from them it will count for naught.

Baofeng HAM radio, walkie-talkies, flashlight and two chemlights
communication devices inside bug out bag: a Baofeng HAM radio, walkie-talkies, flashlight and two chemlights

Post-SHTF Communications Methods

Remember, if you are the “Guy/Gal-in-Charge” of the lion’s share of the prepping in your household you cannot count on your family members to commit all your various plans to memory.

You’ll need to be the quarterback, if you will, calling the plays from the huddle. It’s tough to huddle if they cannot hear you! Use the following sources of communication to increase the chances of contacting and communicating with your family after a SHTF event.

Keep in mind that some of these methods will be your primaries, ones you will attempt first and keep attempting, and others will be esoteric or special-purpose. That’s alright! They are all tools in your prepping toolbox.

Electronic Communications

Cell Phone

It is a common idea in personal preparedness circles that your cell phone is going to s**t the bed at the first sign of trouble.

The idea is probably to wean people off of something that we have all become so hopelessly dependent on. That is an okay idea, but it is not necessarily grounded in reality.

As it turns out, cell phone networks are actually surprisingly resilient, and their distributed nature and built-in redundancy means that many of them will continue to work, if only in a limited capacity, for the duration of an event.

Only something like a total, major power outage or direct takedown of the infrastructure coordinating the network will offline them on a permanent basis.

Also, the modern smartphone is supremely adaptable, capable of making a call over a dedicated cell phone network or using a standard internet connection.

Simply being able to connect to the internet opens up a plethora of other communication options that we will get into just a little further down.

Chances are during any crisis or disaster worth the name you will find it almost impossible to complete a call using your cell phone, at least if you are near the affected area.

That is okay; don’t throw your phone away and don’t give up, simply try some other method of communication using your phone and you will likely have better success. And, furthermore, you will be glad to have your cell phone, contrary to the preaching of some preppers and survival instructors!


Again, this might come as a surprise to some of you who have been drinking the all-electronics-will-let-you-down Kool-Aid, but sending a simple text has a better-than-average chance of reaching the recipient than a phone call when there is major trouble brewing.

Depending on the messaging service or app you are using, it might be able to go out over the cell phone network or via the internet if you can get connected to one or the other.

But let us say the cellphone networks are functional but merely degraded or just completely, hopelessly clogged with traffic. That is where sending a text is going to be your best bet.

A text uses only a fraction of the bandwidth necessary to connect and maintain a call, and you can click “Send” on a text knowing that even if it can’t get out right away, so long as your device maintains a connection to one network or another it will squirt it out when it can.

Your mileage may vary on that last bit, so check your phone’s or your app’s settings to be sure it will keep trying if it is unable to send initially.

Sending any form of text instructions is also beneficial because people do not have to remember what was said and will not fail to hear or misunderstand things you say. So long as they can receive it on their device and it has power they can refer back to it.


Email is another form of communication that many preppers assume will just automatically go down during a disaster, or be completely ineffective.

While it is true that that intricate conglomeration of tubes we know as the internet is a fantastically complex array of systems that most mere mortals could never hope to figure out or truly understand, it is generally too widely distributed to be knocked out in its entirety all at once.

This makes email a fairly reliable option for getting in touch with people during a crisis.

This does not mean you should assume your email will arrive in seconds or minutes, however.

We have all experienced the aggravation and hassle of emails getting lost in space, arriving way too late, or some other mishap due to internet troubles from something as common and everyday as bad weather or botched maintenance.

You will likely not be enjoying the same browsing experience that you would be in kinder, normal times during a SHTF situation. But you should still fire off an email all the same.

This should not be your first or even second choice when the chips are down since it takes a little time to compose a meaningful email, and a little bit of time for it to transmit, but it is definitely worth your while.

Landline Phone

No matter what is happening, it is still worth your time to attempt to call someone on a landline phone if you have one available.

It is true that landline phones are all around more vulnerable to disruption due to physical destruction of the lines themselves and their switching stations than cell phones are, but I would be willing to bet these networks see far less traffic than cell phones in our modern era.

If you cannot raise someone on a cell phone, try it on a landline! You have nothing to lose.

Other Internet-Based Sources

Assuming you can get on the internet, there are other worthwhile ways to communicate with the people you care about.

Social media is one of the most pervasive, ubiquitous and obvious. Many social media platforms include a check-in function for those who have been affected by major events or disasters. This is an easy way to ascertain whether or not the person you are trying to raise is nominally okay.

You can try making a post on their profile or sending them a direct message using one of several social media platforms. Remember, just because one goes down that does not mean that all of them will go down. Don’t give up if at first you meet with failure!

It is fair to assume that these social media sites you are trying to use will be experiencing extraordinary traffic from people who are trying to figure out what is going on, as well as reach other people in the affected areas.

Combined with the increased strain or degradation of the infrastructure needed to keep the internet functioning at tip-top speed, you should expect some slow down, connection timeouts and other mishaps.

If that is the case, try to steer clear of those sites and leave a message for someone on a lesser used website, or even in the pre-agreed section of a forum. This could take the form of a message on Craigslist, the off-topic chat section of a shared interest forum, or even an old fashioned chat room.

Be creative, and use your head. Did might be an inefficient way to carry on a conversation under the circumstances, but it is great for leaving messages and checking back in later if that is the only option you have.

Satellite Phone

Satellite phones are another method of point-to-point communication that is damn-near disaster-proof, since the mass of the system that keeps them operational and viable is tucked away safely in orbit around Earth.

While the service that runs them might be disrupted temporarily, only something truly cataclysmic will permanently offline these systems.

Satellite phones, as you might expect, are completely independent of traditional terrestrial wire-based and cellular telephone systems, and typically as long as you have a view to open sky you can place a call.

These systems do have some disadvantages though, namely that they are very expensive and require a little bit of know-how to use them to best effect.

But if you are serious about staying in touch with your family, with your base camp, or with anyone else that is really important satellite phones are an essential tool for the modern adventurer and prepper alike.

baofeng gt 3 handheld ham radio


The O.G. piece of communications equipment for preppers (and anyone else who wants to keep in touch during times of trouble), radios can take the form of anything from a completely self-contained handset, a compact in-vehicle or backpack mounted unit with accompanying antenna, or large base stations with attendant antenna mast, typified in civilian circles by the ham radio.

Radios might be as easy to use as a walkie-talkie, or as complex as an app or aforementioned ham radio, and that means you will need training, practical experience and some theoretical know-how to get the most out of them.

The advantages of radio though are manifold for preppers. So long as the set is powered and the person you are trying to reach is able to receive, your message will likely get through.

A comprehensive knowledge of radio theory and an appropriately powerful set in the right location can let you get a message a very long way, and this is without even relying upon such advanced tricks as bouncing a signal off the atmosphere to get it over the horizon or using repeater stations.

One significant disadvantage of radio, though, is that anyone listening on the same frequency will be able to eavesdrop, but in most situations the tradeoffs are definitely worth it.

The bar for entry in both cost and knowledge might be high if you want to get the best use out of radio, but it is an entry fee that most preppers would be wise to pay now before judgment day comes.

Non-Electronic Communication Methods

Courier Message

Remember, communication is all about getting a message to the recipient and doing it in a timely fashion. You might not be able to reach your family, or even get to their vicinity, but someone else might be.

Sending a written or verbal message along with someone who can hopefully get it to your family can be an option, just hope it isn’t your only option!


In a truly chaotic situation, you might have to resort to the proverbial message in a bottle, a dead drop.

This system actually works best when the nominal receiving party leaves a message for you, the seeking party, just in case they have to call an audible and evacuate or take other action in response to the emergency. This is the note left on the kitchen counter that you find when you come home.

This could also be left in some other probable location they could expect you to find, but no one else could or would think to look in, perhaps in an agreed-upon hiding place or some other landmark that is not likely to be destroyed but is still accessible.

Visual Code

One often forgotten method of communication is the use of simple visual signals that can be seen and interpreted over a long distance.

Powerful lights are an excellent option, but assuming there is not much atmospheric “clutter” and there exists long sightlines in and around the area where your family resides, this could even take the form of smoke or even potentially a balloon.

Anything that can be seen over a distance and interpreted based on prearranged signals will do.

If using a flashlight or some other powerful light source, you could blink out simple codes from a high vantage point that your family knows to look for periodically at agreed upon times.

A smoke signal appearing from a certain direction at a certain time could likewise be an acceptable method of communication, though probably a one-way method.

Either of these work best with simple messages: Stay, go, etc., but if both parties are proficient in more advanced forms of communication (something like Morse code) they can be used to good effect and have the advantage of allowing efficient and intricate two-way communication.

Obviously over great distances this system breaks down quickly until it becomes totally ineffective. Additionally places with short sightlines or a situation in which your family does not know to look for these signals you are unlikely to meet success.

Family Comms Plan Procedures and Tips

This part at least should come as no surprise to most of you. Just like any other facet of prepping, proper previous planning is essential for success and a good outcome when it comes to SHTF communications.

This, more than most other preps, is an important hedge against total disaster and chaos when that fateful day finally arrives.

Contingency Planning: “If this happens, we’ll do this.”

The biggest part of it is simply gaming out scenarios with your family and coming to agreed-upon responses for the major variations of events that are likely to happen.

You don’t need to start splitting the atom and having a plan for events V through Z, as too much complexity is only likely to confound and confuse your efforts. Instead, set out guidelines on what you will do if you are away from the family when things break out.

If you are across town or out of the state, how will that affect things? How long should they wait to hear from you before they act, if they are able?

Integrate this with the rest of your family preparedness and bug-out plan. If they have to leave, where will they go; first choice, second choice and third choice? This can give you a trail to pick up if you arrive to find them gone.

Institute a Family Itinerary

Another big part of preparing for this sobering but likely scenario is understanding the itinerary of your family members intricately. Do you know where they are, or rather where they should be, at any given time on any given day?

Who are they with and who if anyone is responsible for them at that time? If you don’t, you need to rectify that, and making a proper family itinerary and agenda part of your life goes a long way towards instilling this value.

If you cannot reach your family members directly, you might be able to try the organization or agency that they were with at the time.

Make Contact Lists a Mandatory Part of BOBs, GHBs, Go-Bags, Etc.

This is an analog trick that will save the day when all of your digital devices decide to take a crap on you. Let’s get real: the vast majority of people (and, yes, that includes a significant chunk of the readership!) will not remember even a handful of important phone numbers, if that.

They rely entirely on their personal devices to remember it for them. That is completely unacceptable when you consider that several forms of electronic communication will remain viable even if your personal device is smashed, lost or just out of juice with no recharge in sight.

And this goes beyond phone numbers. You should include email addresses, physical addresses, typical radio frequencies, and times they are on the air for any radio set users you know, anything at all you can think of that will help you get in touch with people you need to get in touch with.

Include the phone numbers of local, state and federal agencies and NGOs while you are at it. Keep these lists up-to-date and keep weatherproof copies inside every bug-out bag or related survival kit belonging to every member of the family. This is a pain in the butt, but is very cheap insurance.

This is also a great document to include a simple reminder list of what procedures they should follow, and what alternate methods of communication you might employ that have been previously discussed.

It is also a good idea to force the members of your family to memorize the most important phone numbers and email addresses, and periodically quiz them on them to make sure they have it down pat.

Utilize Gov’t. Agency and NGO “Check-in” Rosters

Depending on what has happened, how bad it is and how full their hands are, government agencies at all levels and non-governmental organizations are likely to offer check-in services for survivors who are affected by various events.

The people dealing with the calamity at the time might not have access to any services, but you can bet your bottom dollar the major government entities and NGOs alike have the infrastructure, the manpower and the backing to keep the technology running and the databases humming no matter what is going on.

This is a boon for preppers, since your family could check in with one of these agencies that you could later check on via the agency’s app or website to confirm that they are okay, and potentially other information such as their status and current disposition. Again, this is not a 100% reliable option, but nothing on this list is.

You might be thinking that this does not technically qualify as a type of communication, but in the face of a total comms blackout just knowing that your family is okay and where they are could be all you need to know when it comes to informing your own decision and heading.


Getting in touch with the family you have been separated from in the immediate aftermath of a disaster or some social crisis is going to be priority number one for pretty much every prepper.

Unfortunately, you might not be able to rely on the typical methods you would use to accomplish that. Network overload, physical damage and general chaos will greatly degrade once reliable and dependable communications networks.

Having alternative means to fall back on, both electronic and non-electronic, is an essential part of any personal preparedness plan.

getting in touch with family Pinterest image

6 thoughts on “How to Get in Touch with Your Family Post-SHTF”

  1. This is a good need-to-know reference on communications post-SHTF. I’ve bookmarked it and will print it out as soon as I can. Some things I never thought to tell my family. Thanks!

  2. My thoughts on communications when the repeater systems are down

    Communications in the PAW are going to be critical to the success and safety of a community. There are quite a few non-repeater-based communications systems that can be used if/when local repeaters go down due to whatever circumstance. Some of the over-the-air electronic signal systems can only be used beyond their intended uses if the situation is one in which rule-of-law is no longer in effect, and radio communications rules can be sidestepped in order to get needed communications through. There are also several non-radio methods that can be used that do not rely on electricity or electronic devices, though the electronic and electrical methods, and radios are the most efficient, by far. Some of the non-radio methods are more secure than others, though by using fairly simple codes, if needed, all can be made secure from casual listeners/readers/watchers. Some are one way only, and others can be one-way or two-way, or available to a group.

    Some radio communications methods not dependent on established repeaters:
    While many repeater systems are high-reliability systems with decent backup power systems, everything is fallible. We do, however, have alternatives to these oft-used systems. They are quick and easy, and give very wide area coverage considering the VHF and UHF bands in which they operate. When they are down, for whatever reason, however, a person and especially a group needs reliable methods with which to communicate among its members, and with the rest of the community.

    Many people already regularly use the simplex frequencies set aside for communications between stations that do not need to go through a repeater or set of repeaters in order to have reliable, understandable communications between two or more stations some distance from one another. Each Amateur Radio Band, and each of the special service bands have designated Simplex Calling Frequencies (or channels) assigned, which stations can monitor, and upon hearing another station, can then communicate another separate simplex frequency to which they can both go to continue communications without tying up the Calling frequency.

    This applies to the Amateur VHF and UHF bands, of course, but also to the HF, MW, and LF frequency bands Amateurs regularly use. While some of the bands are not all that useful for short-range communications (beyond line-of-sight to ten miles or so), they can often be used at very-low-power for line-of-sight and slightly beyond communication if no other good options are available.

    There are plenty of other options for the shorter distances that repeaters are often used to cover with inexpensive, low to moderate power VHF and UHF radios. Mostly using the same bands, but not in the sections of those bands set for Amateur Radio Operations.

    FRS – Family Radio Service (a UHF band); GMRS – General Mobile Radio Service (a UHF band), MURS – Multiple Use Radio Service (a VHF band), and CB – Citizens’ Band (an HF band) are all systems capable of providing communications during many emergency situations, whether or not the Amateur Radio Service repeaters are up. They are especially important for those that tend to rely on Amateur radios for their communication.

    If a group sets up a plan with a set of protocols that can be followed by those within the group, with provisions to communicate in other ways with those not in the group, reliable communications can still be maintained, no matter what the condition and operating status of any repeater system might be.

    There are many other radio services in many different bands that might be used, such as the VHF and HF air bands, the maritime VHF and HF bands, and various VHF, UHF, and HF Land Mobile (business band) service bands, during disasters and situations when the Amateur Radio repeaters that most preppers generally use are not available to them. However, these can be pretty tricky to use without getting into subsequent trouble when things return to normal. And most things that preppers will deal with that can cause normal communications to go down, will be fairly temporary. So, I suggest that if one has an interest in any of these systems, then pursue the interest, but do not think that it will be a reliable way to communicate with other preppers that do not already share that interest and operate legally now.

    However, there is one system that might be of use to a group that is not spread out too much, or that has more than one person willing to invest just a bit of money and time to acquire the right equipment. This is to set up so the group can use their own repeater when the regular systems are down.

    Now, a group can easily set up the same types of repeaters that are in use now, with expensive equipment mounted on mountain peaks or on top of very tall buildings, or on very tall privately owned tower. It is expensive, and there must be people willing to set it up, maintain it, and regularly test it. This is much to ask of individuals within a group.

    The alternative I have chosen, though certainly not legal to use now, WHICH I DO NOT DO, I would be willing to set up and use in an obviously long-term situation where there is not, and will not be, rule-of-law for such things, is not too expensive and is relatively easy to set up and use.

    The system does not have nearly the range of the repeater systems we currently use, however, with proper antenna placement, this DIY repeater system using inexpensive Baofeng handheld radios and a repeater cable, can, with good remote antenna placement, cover a few square mile area that group members can access and communicate with each other using the same techniques now in use.

    If anyone is interested, I have an article that describes the other radio bands and systems that are available as mentioned above, that includes typical ranges and other information that could be useful. Just respond to this post and I will add another post to include that information.

    Now, on to some non-radio, non-electronic communications methods that could prove useful to a group in the event the local VHF and UHF repeater system is down.

    Some non-radio/non-electronic communications methods:

    Sound Powered Phones: While technically I suppose this could be considered electronic, Sound Powered Phones are kind of in-between. Yes, they do have electronic circuitry inside to make them work, it is very simple and very reliable, and most do not require any type of power supply. Thus, the Sound Powered moniker.

    There are some systems that do use a battery to work a simple ringer system so one knows when a call is coming in without constant monitoring of the line, and a few use a battery to drive the microphone and speaker elements to increase the range and reliability of the units. The main thing is that they are independent of any outside lines and power.

    They all do need to be connected with a set of wires. These can often be fairly small gauge, and can be quite long, depending on the particular phones and the gauge of the wires, and how well insulated and installed those wires are.

    Switchboard systems can be set up so all stations go to this point and then are connected by an operator to each other as needed; or a system can have every station connected to a single pair of wires in common; or multiple point-to-point systems can be used with messages being relayed to the next station after being received on the point-to-point system from the previous station.

    These systems work best when set up by a group sharing common property, whether it be a rural area, or a large building or group of buildings in an urban or suburban area.

    Even systems in good shape, from before WW II can be very effective. Modern versions using microelectronics can be quite sophisticated, though more susceptible to EMP if not protected, and use standard telephones, even old rotary versions in some cases.

    Simple powered local site telephone system: Another partially electrical and/or electronic, but not over the air system. Standard telephones can be connected to a fairly simple local network, using some electronic devices available on-line. From very simple to actually pretty sophisticated, these systems can work quite well, though they are susceptible to EMP if not protected.

    Telegraph system: Another wired system, but very simple. Does need a bit of power, more for longer distances. Batteries, with solar, generator, or crank re-charging, or as used originally, earth battery system, can be used for the longer distances. Mostly used with well known Morse Code dots and dashes (more appropriately dits and dahs), if there is much chance of someone tapping into the wires somewhere between the points that are supposed to be communicating with each other, a code of ones’ own making might need to be used to avoid anyone that does tap into the line from understanding what information that is being transmitted actually is. Still probably dits and dahs, at least of a fashion, there can be far more variations, and if one has working computers at each end of the line, very sophisticated codes can be created and sent, coded and decoded by the computer. And the computers can be very simple ones from the early days of home computers, to the single board computers now available for less than $50 each.

    Body signals: If two or more people are within sight of each other, close enough to make out reasonably well different body positions at least, with the ability to see hand motions even better, pre-arranged information can be conveyed without sound. There are several ‘standard’ sets of hand signals for just about every type of situation. Making up some for a group will work, without giving anything away to anyone familiar with the standard ones. If the hands cannot be seen well enough, larger body motions can be used.

    Messengers: travelling by several methods from foot to human powered conveyances to motorized transport on land, water, or air.

    Couriers: Similar to messengers, except will be carrying documents or other items rather than just simple word-of-mouth or simple written messages.

    Animal couriers: These can be problematical. Carrier pigeons, if well trained for the purpose can work very well, though are not absolute. They are trained to fly home from where they are, within the area in which they are trained. They are not a two-way communications system. Only one way. And if/when it becomes known that they are being used, every bird seen in the sky will be destroyed if possible. And they can be lost due to various natural dangers, including raptors and other predators, and weather factors.

    Well trained dogs can be just about as effective, for shorter distances, for some messaging situations, but they are also at high risk. However, many can be trained to go to and from a small number of locations on command, unlike pigeons, but that depends on the specific animal. They can also usually carry much larger objects, as opposed to the small micro coded slips of paper pigeons usually carry.

    Small pets, including a few rodent types, can be used to send messages through enclosed passages, such as pipes, HVAC conduits, and such, within buildings or between connected buildings, when using the passages as voice tubes is not viable.

    Any messages sent by animal couriers of any type should be encoded and multiple forms of getting the message to the receiving party should also be used, if at all possible.

    Signal flags: Hand held, either standard or custom designs. Including marine signal flags. And even a simple flag, on a flag pole, can be raised and lowered in specific patterns, much like a semaphore works, to transmit information.

    Semaphore: pole, vehicle, or building mounted with direct hand control, mechanical or electrical remote control.

    Panel/area signals: Use of cloth or panels made from other materials can be used, much like the standard set of panels packed in military survival kits and can be effective. If larger versions are used, they can be seen from further away. And not just from airplanes. If they are laid out on sloped ground or held up by supports, they can be seen from others that are high enough. Custom panels can be made, varied by color and/or shape, to provide specific information.

    Signal mirror: simple hand held mirror, as well as actual signal mirrors that can be aimed a bit better.

    Heliograph: A signal mirror in a device that can be aimed, with a shutter to be able to do controlled flashes of light. Works only when at least some sun is available, or can use an artificial source of light to produce a form of a blinker light, such as candles, battery flashlights, chemical lights, even lasers. Laser versions can be aimed very precisely, and will not be visible very far off the center line, unless debris is in the air, or fog is between the two points. If equipped with an IR laser and IR goggles, they can be even more clandestine.

    Blinker light: Can be a battery-operated portable light with trigger or other shutter control used for signaling. Can also use non-electrical sources of light. As with heliographs, other sources of light can be used. Candles, battery flashlights, chemical lights, even lasers.

    Alpenhorns/bicycle horns/trumpets/didgeridoos: Can be air powered, breath powered, or electrically powered. Musical instruments, toy music makers, commercial devices also fall into this group. Make up your own alphabet or word language, as many of the current standard forms, such as Morse Code, do not lend themselves to use with these instruments.

    Bullroarer/rhombus/turndun: From the ancient versions to the modern Australian version, in various tonal designs, these can be used for fairly long-distance comms. With the same proviso of creating your own language with which to ‘speak’ with these instruments.

    Drums: The classic ‘primitive comms’. Can actually be very sophisticated. From toy tom-toms to massive deep base drums that can signal over vast distances. Every culture had their own set of sounds that meant specific things.

    Yodeling: Another ancient form of long-distance human produced sound communication. Can be simple to complex, depending on the skills of the communicators using the method. Most effective in mountainous regions as the sound can be channeled through canyons and valleys, between mountains and ridges, and as the voice will echo very well, can be bounced off obstructions to essentially turn corners and to extend the range.

    Whistles: Like horns and trumpets, can be powered by various means, and can be cheap toys to sophisticated commercial versions.

    Bells: From simple toy triangle or bike bell, to jingle bells to cow bells to dinner bell triangles to drum set cymbals. As with drums, can be used to convey fairly sophisticated sets of information.

    Megaphone: Primarily the unpowered, simple cone shaped type sometimes still used by cheerleaders, can be used to project one’s voice, and can often be used in conjunction with some of the other devices that use sound to both direct the sound further, and if steps are taken to shield the device in other directions, limit the area in which the sounds will be heard.

    Tin can & string phone: Do not discount this children’s fun device. It can be a viable communications device in some instances. Just stay aware of the limitations of how the string must be kept clear of anything that will touch it and dampen the vibrations it carries from one can to the other.

    Voice tube: Can be highly effective for point to point comms. And can often be very unobtrusive or camouflaged as simple piping. Using a reverse megaphone on the ends will increase the volume, as well as help shield the talker’s voice. And other sound devices can be used if talking is not the best option. Depending on the complexity of the tube configuration, conduit snakes can be used in the tubes to push/pull small message containers through.

    Vacuum tube systems: Not electrical vacuum tubes. If one can salvage or buy ahead of time, one of the vacuum tube systems that used to be common at some banks for their drive-throughs, and in-house at many businesses for internal communications, mail, and small package delivery; a system can be rigged to use them, if the power for the vacuum pump is available. Not all that viable of a system in many cases, however, it might be possible to use the system, sans the vacuum part, by stringing cord or cable through the tubing and pull the containers back and forth. Or, since air pressure is easier DIY than vacuum, the system might be rigged to use air pressure from each end to send the containers back and forth.

    Dumb waiters: These do not have to be vertical. Nor an actual dumb waiter. The principle, however, of a small box being hoisted/lowered or pulled back and forth horizontally, is valid in some situations, especially if larger items must be moved between areas where making space for humans to travel is not viable.

    Flame devices: Flares, smoke signals, flaming arrows, signal fires, and such can be used. Until you run out of them, or the supplies to make them. Plus, the launched fire types can be a severe hazard in dry areas that can burn. However, they can be very effective, and if extensive supplies are laid in, or they are naturally renewable locally, they can actually be useful over much longer periods of time. And unlike what is usually seen in old western movies, there are several more ways to use signal fires/smoke signals than just puffs of smoke from a smoky fire covered and uncovered by a wet blanket. Arrangements of multiple small smoky fires, colors of smoke created by adding natural chemicals to the fire, and just the location of single fires can all furnish specific information to those that know what each means.

    Pyrotechnics: Besides the standard perimeter alarm systems using various ammunition types or other pyrotechnic devices, there are quite a few other ways to use pyrotechnics. Of course, three shots fired at very short intervals is one that most know. In addition, however, and much less expensive, is the use of things like various fireworks items. There is a huge variety of them available, and each one can have a specific meaning. And when it comes to the basic firecracker, how they are set off can provide various pieces of information. Individual, two, three or various other combinations set off in specific timed intervals can be very useful. Of course, these are consumables, and unless one can make their own, will eventually run out, or go bad if not stored correctly.

    Sound cannon: Various types of sound cannons and other area bird denial devices can be used, though some consume quite a bit of whatever product they use to create the sound. I do not really consider these too useful, except for very serious situations when signaling long distance is needed.

    Field signals: There are several ‘standard’ sets of signal types used in field work such as hiking, camping, patrolling, surveying, and such. Rock cairns; tree blazes; trail markers such as thumb tacks/push pins, colored yarn, warning tape, etc.; bent/broken branches; and several other methods can be used to provide much more information than what is usually provided by these methods. Simply set up your own definitions for each of the various standard versions.

    Drops: Like some of the other methods listed, drops are not an immediate system, but fairly detailed, complex, or large quantity/large size types of information can be done with drops. The sender leaves the item(s) in a secure location that the recipient knows is a drop, and the recipient is either sent word by some other means, or checks the spot on some type of schedule (not one that can be recognized as a pattern), and picks up the item(s). Drops can be used in just about any area, from downtown in the largest mega-cities, to remote wilderness areas. They simply must be known by all that need to use them, chosen in a manner that makes them secure for those using them, and not likely to be discovered by others.

    Broad signals: I consider these to be signals that can be seen and interpreted by those in the know, that are out in the open, but will not mean anything to anyone that is not in the know. Billboards can be a version. Not the actual display on the billboard, but some type of minor modification or addition, that can be looked for and discerned, but will not be noticed by anyone else, or if it is noticed, not given any sort of attention. Placement of specific objects in specific places. A towel draped over a balcony. A pulled shade on a specific window. Or a specific item in a specific window. The options are endless. Just use some imagination.

    Water based signals: Many of the signaling systems listed here can be used on the water. However, there are several more specific to water. One is dye. Dumping various colors of dye in the water can mean specific things. Floating objects can be as well. In moving water, messages can be sent downstream in floating containers, or in containers suspended under a floating object. These require someone to be monitoring the water so they can retrieve the object, or there must be some type of automatic retrieval system.

    Flying signals: Kites (different colors/styles/shapes) can be used to provide different types of information. Since they will be seen by many others, they are rather limited to use when kites are likely to be in the air normally. Helium balloons, of various colors and shapes, either freed or on a tether, can be used similarly, as long as helium is available, or a source of hydrogen is available, such as by electrolysis.

    If need be, small hot air balloons can be made and used in a similar fashion. And the classic interpretation of an early use of hot air balloons, that of sending up observers and spotters in balloons, often just as an attack was about to commence, of ‘When the balloon goes up,’ could actually be one use of a small balloon.

    I am sure there are other methods I have not considered, thought of, or remembered, so please add any that you might know or have thought of or created.

    If anyone has any questions, feel free to ask.

    Just my opinion.

    1. I read your reply with interest. As far as Yodeling is concerned, the Swiss and Germans were known for it in the Alps, but in Switzerland they also developed the Alphorn, which people on one side of the mountain would communicate with those people on the other side. You also mentioned Trumpets, or Bugles, since Bugle calls were standard in the U.S. Army, and especially in the Calvary. Bagpipes might also be used for great distances, since there is no mistaking the sound of the instrument. One tune on the Pipe might mean one thing, while another tune, or tempo of a tune, might mean something else. Then there is always the backyard Clothes line. Certain clothes, or certain colors can mean one thing, and different patterns on the line might mean something, too.

  3. WOW…….this is exactly what I was going to ask for. I wanted to deepen my investment in comms and water, but comms aren’t my forte so I’ve been flailing away attempting to update my knowledge to a current level before investing. I’m a little closer now. Thank you.

  4. A perminant marker, everyone will be leaving notes on anything flat. Pick a color for your family, it will be easier to pick out in a sea of black ink.

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