Celebrating Seattle's Roosevelt Neighborhood
RNA  |  The Roosevelt Neighborhood Association

Communicating After a Disaster

Communicating With Loved Ones After a Disaster

If Seattle experiences a strong earthquake or other significant event, everyone will be on their phones trying to communicate.  Circuits will be overloaded.  It’s also likely that cell phone towers will be damaged and power will go down.  

Reaching loved ones could be very difficult.  

Communicating after a disaster:

1.  Text your household members after a large disaster; it’s more likely a text will get through than a phone call.

2.  It’s sometimes easier to get a text out of the city than across the city.  Designate a trusted person who lives east of Spokane or further away to be your Out-Of-Area Contact (OOAC).  (Avoid those along the west coast; they may be involved in the same disaster if it is widespread enough).

3.  When you text household members, include your OOAC on the group text.

4.  If it looks like household members aren’t receiving texts, your OOAC can forward your text to household members in the disaster zone.  They can also contact loved ones directly after they have heard from you and post your status on social media.

5. Downloading the Zello communication app might also be helpful.


There are three basic types of radios that might be useful in an emergency.

Family Radio Service (FRS) is essentially a walkie-talkie and has very limited range; no license is required to use these.

General Mobile Radio Service (GMRS) has a longer range because it uses repeaters, which are antennae located throughout Seattle to pick up and boost the signal; an inexpensive license is required to use GMRS and covers an entire family. Repeaters are hardened against earthquakes and other disasters and have their own generators, so the GMRS network should continue to function even in the absence of power or other communication failures.

Ham radio, also known as amateur radio, is a more sophisticated network, though not inherently more difficult to use than GMRS. Signal boost is much stronger because they use not just repeaters but relays between ham units. More powerful units can bounce signals off satellites and talk to people on the other side of the world, even in space! Ham operators are essential to emergency response because they are connected to the city’s Auxiliary Communication Services, which is how the city would communicate to the broader community. Training and a challenging exam are required to use ham radio; the license covers only a single operator.