I work in an office building about 3 miles from my apartment. I live in a medium sized city in the US.

I have thought about getting a pair of walkie talkies for communicating when the cell phone services are not working (I have experienced this), but from what I understand one should not expect to get more than 1 mile on those in a city.

My question is: What are realistic options for communicating during an emergency over a range of about 3 miles? I would like this to be a handheld option.

By realistic I mean something that wouldn't cost more than $500 to establish.

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    $\begingroup$ This question appears to be off-topic because unlicensed radio services are not amateur radio. $\endgroup$ Commented Apr 3, 2014 at 0:41
  • $\begingroup$ @PhilFrost: I deleted the requirement. $\endgroup$
    – user926
    Commented Apr 3, 2014 at 0:59
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    $\begingroup$ It has been discussed in the past (Possibly in Area 51), that limited questions on non-Amateur Radio might be allowed, which this question would fit. Commercial is definitely out, FRS/GMRS/CB is allowed, but discouraged, and Amateur Radio is the primary subject. $\endgroup$ Commented Apr 3, 2014 at 1:08
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    $\begingroup$ meta.ham.stackexchange.com/q/178/13 I decided to ask it as a part of meta, we're long enough separated from Area 51 to start asking our own questions here. $\endgroup$ Commented Apr 3, 2014 at 1:23

2 Answers 2


There's 3 potential solutions to this.

  1. Ham Radio. Granted you need a license, but it's free, so long as you take and pass a somewhat simple test. You could get several good radios for about \$140 each, or decent ones around \$35. They would easily work at the range of 3 miles. If you just want cell redundancy service, then these would work excellent via repeaters, where the range can be quite a bit further (I've talked with my HT to people as far as 40 miles away).
  2. GMRS- This is very similar to FRS (Family Radio Service, most walkie-talkies fall in this category), but has 10 times the power, and thus should work about 3 times further. You do need a license to use this service, but it is inexpensive (\$85). You can buy a pair of radios for around \$60. This would be well in your budget. See also Wikipedia. You would not need a license for emergency communications. Many of these radios are dual FRS/GMRS radios. Legally you can only use 0.5 W (FRS) without the GMRS license, but in an emergency you are allowed to use more.
  3. CB Radio- This should work fine as well, and doesn't require a license. The radios start around \$50, maybe a bit more for backup power systems as well. This system is crowded, and heavily abused, but is an option.

I would recommend the amateur radio approach, as it is the most robust, doesn't require an expensive license, and will definitely get you what you need.

  • $\begingroup$ Thank you for the answer. I think the GMRS sounds like something that could work for me. Does this have an handheld option? $\endgroup$
    – user926
    Commented Apr 3, 2014 at 0:54
  • $\begingroup$ GMRS is closely related to FRS, in fact, many GMRS radios support FRS. They are usually walkie-talkies, such as these. I have a blog article as well that covers more details on this subject, see kd7uiy.com/2013/09/in-todays-busy-world-in-constant.html . You could use GMRS in an emergency without the license, and keep it at the FRS level for non-emergency communications. $\endgroup$ Commented Apr 3, 2014 at 1:06

Alternatively, you could use MURS (multi use radio service). There are no licensing fees ( unlike gmrs) and no licenses needed. MURS radios can have up to 2 watts of output, and should be able to cover 3 miles fine. Of course, getting a ham license is probably the best idea. you get many more frequencies, and the technician test is pretty easy.

  • $\begingroup$ In my city with some large buildings, trees and flat land - a 4W handheld on VHF barely reaches a mile. Unless one is out in a grassy field, getting 3 miles out of 2W is still a stretch. GMRS licenses cost only $50 for 10 years, and covers the whole "family" - so the 50W base station privileges that come with it are worth it. UHF will punch through a lot more city clutter than VHF. $\endgroup$ Commented May 15, 2014 at 13:40
  • $\begingroup$ Ok, I am in the country, and VHF works better out here. I guess uhf works better in high clutter environments due to increased penetration and a more pronounced knife edge propagation effect. $\endgroup$
    – Delta1X
    Commented May 17, 2014 at 20:07
  • $\begingroup$ Is it legal to put your own antenna on top of a MURS radio like a YAGI, because you might be able to get a bit farther by pointing the yagi right in the direction of the other radio $\endgroup$
    – Skyler 440
    Commented Jun 24, 2014 at 14:55

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