What’s the number one rule of communication? I don’t know, but one thing I do know – police scanners are great. Every prepper should have one!
What’s a police scanner?
A scanner is a radio receiver that “scans” through numerous channels letting you listen to two-way radio calls. These are the channels used by police, fire departments, emergency response teams, boat captains, weather feeds, etc. Scanners are used all the time by reporters and newsrooms wanting to stay on top of events.
I remember them being far more popular during my childhood (the 80s) than they are today. I grew up in a rural town, and it was not uncommon for a household to have a scanner sitting on a table somewhere scanning channels.
Why? I don’t know. I suspect it was part entertainment, part small town gossip, and part curiosity. Where else could you hear about who in town was getting a visit from the sheriff, what the lobstah (Maine accent) men were saying to their wives as they approached shore, or – and this was a big one – when a deer was hit by a car. A dead deer on the road meant a mad dash to the crash site in hopes that the driver didn’t want the deer and the responding officer or game warden would write a slip for you to take it home. Free organic meat in the freezer!
Are police scanners legal?
The short answer is yes. The Communications Act of 1934 makes scanners legal to use. The airways (more or less) are considered public property. Some states, however, forbid use of police scanners while driving. Other states make it illegal to use a scanner to further a crime, meaning if you’re committing a crime, and you’re using a scanner to help avoid capture, you can get a stiffer sentence when you’re inevitably captured.
Why do preppers need scanners?
You don’t care about local gossip you say. You don’t want dead deer. Why do you, as a prepper,
want need to spend money on a scanner? The reasons should be fairly obvious.
- If danger strikes, you’ll be one of the first to hear about it. A call comes in to police dispatch, and dispatch then sends the notice out to cruisers. You’d hear it then, virtually immediately, and well before others, giving you ample time to respond.
- If a collapse hits, you’ll know what areas to avoid. Let’s say a highly contagious, lethal pandemic strikes. You need to leave the house for whatever reason. Having a scanner may provide information on what places to avoid.
- If you have to bug out, you’ll know which path to take. Say TEOTWAWKI hits and you have to leave the city on foot. How valuable would it be to have a handheld scanner listening to police and rescue? If there’s chaos on Park Ave, you’ll know to go around it.
- Weather updates when other communication is down. Virtually every scanner comes with multiple weather alert channels. During natural disasters, you will get updated information on the state of affairs when other methods are down or you are out of cellphone range. Read 10 interesting fact about weather alert radios.
You can come up with countless variations of these examples and suddenly it’s plain as day why every prepper should own a scanner.
What kind of scanner should you buy?
There is no one-size-fits-all scanner. What type will work best for you depends on a few different factors. If you live in the city, a less expensive scanner may give you all the range you need to hear the police, fire, and EMS. If you live in the country, you’ll likely want something with more range so you can hear calls farther away.
How far will the scanner scan? That’s hard to say. What’s your elevation? Are you on top of a hill or in a valley? What’s the power of the transmitting station(s) you’re listening to?
Another big determining factor in scanner choice is whether you want it to be mobile (handheld), at home (base), or a base/mobile unit for a vehicle.
Price, of course, is a final factor. A higher end scanner will be programmable, meaning instead of seeing 489.0184 (or whatever) on the display, you can program it so that when it stops on that frequency, it will say “County Sheriff.” The latter is a lot easier to monitor (and more fun).
New to scanners? I’ll give you a few suggestions, all of which are Uniden scanners. Uniden is THE name in police scanners.
The Uniden BC365CRS Bearcat Police Scanner (under $100) is the one I recommend for a basic, reliable scanner used by thousands of people. Add one of these your Man Cave or living room. If you want something fancier, skip to the vehicle scanners below that can also be used at home.
This is my preferred class of scanners, because they can be used at home, in the vehicle, or tossed in a bug out bag. They won’t have the same amount of range as home or vehicle units, but the make up for it in their versatility and portability. The downside is the reliance on battery power, but depending on the SHTF situation, battery power might be preferred.
Lower End – The Uniden Bearcat SR30C Police Scanner (under $100) is as cheap as you can get on a handheld scanner and not be in the land of handheld junk. It is a 500 channel scanner where you can scan for public safety, Marine Civil Air, and even NASCAR. Bonus – it will fit in your shirt pocket!
Higher End – You can get fancier than the Uniden Bearcat BCD325P2 Police Scanner, but I don’t know why you would. This one is, in my opinion, the ultimate prepper scanner. This scanner does it all. It has Close Call, GPS control, digital scanning, location alerts, and the list goes on.
Higher End – Go with the Uniden Bearcat BCD536HP Scanner for the hoity toity version. Just enter your zip code with this model and the scanner will auto-program the channels for your area. There are other features too numerous to list.
Other Scanning Notes
Encryption. Use of encryption is growing within police departments. This makes it more difficult for the typical scanner to listen in on conversations. Police always have this option if the communication warrants it, but for some departments, it’s becoming the default.
Why don’t all emergency response calls get encrypted? It makes communication more difficult, specifically coordination. If fire, ambulance, police, and whoever else all need to coordinate a response (large SHTF situation), the more “open” the communication channels are the better they are able to do that. Encryption just further complicates an already complicated response.
Listen from a PC. You can often listen to the radio waves right from your home computer. Try a site like Broadcastify to see what’s available in your area. Just beware of their deceptive ads that try to encourage your clicks.
Buy an improved antenna. Not enough range? You can beef up what you already have by adding an improved antenna.
I know, I know – scanners are just one more item in an already lengthy list of prepper needs. List out your needs and prioritize. Every prepper should have a scanner, but different preppers will need one more or less depending on their unique situation and threats. Prep on!