Senior Editor and Researcher
When disaster strikes, you need a specialized emergency radio to keep current on updates in your area, such as weather alerts and evacuation notices.
Since these radios could save your life, you must put a lot of weight behind your purchasing decision.
This emergency radio buyer’s guide will outline the must-have features of these radios so you can shop smart.
12 Features an Emergency Radio Must Have
You might not always be able to stay in the same place during an emergency.
If you must leave quickly, such as during an evacuation order, you want to avoid lugging around a heavy radio with you.
That will slow you down, which could put you in danger.
A portable emergency radio with an ergonomic handle will make it easiest to get from Point A to Point B without sacrificing speed.
Better yet, a handheld emergency radio you can keep in your pocket is entirely hands-free.
2. Good Reception
A radio alert is useless if you can’t hear it over a static-filled radio feed’s crackling, popping, and hissing.
Lower-cost emergency radios traditionally suffer in the reception department, but always read the reviews for any weather radio you’re considering before you finalize your purchase.
Sometimes, even otherwise good emergency radios can get bogged down by poor reception.
3. Access to AM and FM
FM radio isn’t always accessible in an emergency, as the cell towers might be rendered unreachable.
AM frequencies can broadcast much farther, especially at night, allowing the signals to reach more listeners.
You might never listen to AM radio when enjoying terrestrial stations. Still, AM could be how you get your news in an emergency.
The best weather radios can seamlessly switch from AM to FM, allowing you to toggle back and forth as needed.
4. NOAA Frequency Support
The National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, or NOAA, has an emergency radio system called the NOAA Weather Radio All Hazards Network or NWR.
It broadcasts throughout the United States 24/7, including in the US Pacific Territories, the US Virgin Islands, and Puerto Rico.
You can tune into NWR on an emergency radio using very high frequency or VHF in the following frequencies:
Unlike terrestrial radio, emergency radios are designed to access these frequencies, so you can always tune into NOAA news and updates throughout the ordeal.
An emergency situation can create a dangerous, hazardous environment. Your radio won’t do you much good if it’s smashed to bits.
No emergency radio is completely smashproof (as nice as that would be). Still, it should have features that make it likelier to survive bumps and scrapes.
For example, a tough outer shell and rubber corners go a long way toward safeguarding the radio from impacts.
Speaking of safeguarding the radio, waterproofing is another must-have feature of emergency radios.
You might not always be able to take shelter in a storm or dangerous situation, or your shelter might get destroyed.
If your radio is exposed to water, it needs to continue operating.
Short-circuiting can cause injuries and even death; a broken radio prevents you from getting up-to-the-minute news.
7. Battery Life
One of the most substantial considerations as you shop for an emergency radio is its battery life.
An emergency radio isn’t designed to plug into a wall like a terrestrial radio. It uses a battery, typically a lithium-ion one you can recharge.
The best emergency radios have a lengthy enough battery life to rely on them through thick or thin.
They should use backup batteries, such as AAs or AAAs, that you can fall back on if the original battery dies.
8. Multiple Charging Modes
How do you recharge your emergency radio battery?
Most models give you several options, including hand cranking, solar power, and plugging into a USB.
However, these features are unique across every emergency radio, so compare features before purchasing.
Access to multiple charging modes ensures you can recharge the battery in whatever way is conducive to your situation.
You can use solar power if you have sunlight, USB charging if you have access to power, and hand cranking if you have neither.
9. LED Display
An LED display isn’t a must-have but, rather, a nice-to-have.
The display can tell you which radio settings you’re using, whether you’re tuned into AM or FM, which frequency you’re on, and what kind of emergency is occurring in your area, such as earthquakes, tornados, or terrorist attacks.
A multilingual display with color-coding capabilities is even better, as is a display that shows the time.
Many emergency radios have a built-in flashlight or illumination feature to cast a glow in a dark environment and keep you safe.
The radio will utilize several LEDs, usually three to five. It can illuminate in different patterns and colors to alert others of your location.
11. Smartphone Charging
Phones are for more than entertainment. They’re our lifelines in an emergency, a way to communicate with others and contact emergency services.
If your phone is operational and has service but is running low on battery, many emergency radios work as chargers.
When a mandatory alert comes through, you can rely on an emergency radio to inform you.
Some models will blare a high-decibel alarm when an emergency strikes, so you can’t miss it even if you have the radio off.
Others will override your mute settings and play an alert so you can catch up on what’s happening.
Emergency radios are a must. These radios can also alert you to child abductions, terrorist attacks, and other dangerous events that can affect you and your loved ones.
Now that you know what to look for in an emergency radio, you can confidently shop for one.