This article explains the rationale behind why you might want to add a radio to your emergency kit. If you’re already convinced, skip to part 2, which outlines which beginner radio to buy.

a photo of a handheld radioYou might want to add a Baofeng UV-5R (~$26) to your emergency kit One of the best reasons to get into ham radio is for emergency preparedness. Living in San Francisco, there is always a chance there could be an earthquake, a tsunami, or another disaster. When the S hits the F, what are the odds your cell phone will work? Do you think you’ll have access to the Internet?

The truth is, almost every form of communication we make in the modern world requires some form of infrastructure. Phone calls, text messages, instant messages, even snail mail requires an unfathomable amount of little things to go just right.

Ham radio, aka amateur radio, deftly sidesteps this issue by requiring only two functional radios and two people capable of using them. Depending on your location and your radio setup, you can hear or talk with people miles away.

What you are allowed to do as an unlicensed radio operator

Legally, you need a license to speak on the ham radio bands. Anyone can get a license, you just need to pay $15 and pass a short exam. The process of getting licensed is pretty easy and is documented in lots of other places, so I’m not going to go into it. The best way to learn how to use your radio correctly is to get licensed If you’re interested, pick up the ARRL Ham Radio License Manual, or start studying flash cards on

Even if you don’t get licensed:

  • You are legally allowed own a radio, you just can’t talk over it until you get a license
  • You can listen all you want, which is fun and interesting even when there is no emergency
  • During an emergency, you can listen to emergency responders, AM/FM radio, NOAA weather announcements, and more
  • Perhaps most importantly: you are allowed to talk in an emergency!

With all of this in mind, it seems like a good idea for SF residents to have a two-way radio in their home with their emergency supplies. In the next article I walk you through buying and setting up your radio.