Power for Emergency Communication, Part I

Part I: Introduction

In both field work and emergency communication, the situation drives the equipment requirements. This introduction will cover broadly the requirements for powering emergency communications and field work. Subsequent articles will include more details.


Thanks to the members of the Utah Country Amateur Radio Emergency Service, and others on the Internet, for sharing their experience and insights.


Radios need electricity to operate, and for radios to be useful during an emergency, that power source needs to be reliable. Additionally, when there is no emergency, there are times when it’s desirable to operate “in the field”, which usually implies no access to the normal electric grid power that comes out of wall sockets.

These days the so-called “renewable” backup sources of electric power (solar and wind) have an almost mystical aura in popular culture. If the grid goes down, we can use them to generate power. In the context of emergencies or field operation, however, they all lack one crucial aspect: reliability.

Solar power requires the sun, rendering it is useless at night and in overcast skies. Wind power requires the right amount of wind: too much wind will damage or destroy windmills; too little wind can’t turn the blades fast enough to generate power.


When talking about emergency and field use we make the assumption that the radio will be operated somewhere else other than at home, i.e. must be portable. Thus we generally talk about two categories of radios: hand-held radios (handy talkies, or HTs) and mobile radios. These have their own unique characteristics and will be discussed separately.

Size and Weight

Size and weight are close cousins of portability. Both emergency and field power sources must provide a supply of electricity yet remain small and light enough to fit the purpose. HTs have special size and weight requirements since they will be carried around by a single person, possibly standing up for hours on end.

The larger mobile radios are more powerful, requiring greater energy capacity. Fortunately, they generally will be sitting somewhere, connected to a larger antenna rather than be carried around.


When planning how to power emergency communications and field work you need to account for reliability, portability, size, and weight.


Part II will discuss the foundational technologies and powering hand-held radios.

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  1. Pingback: Power for Emergency Communications, Part II | James Reuben Knowles

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