The NOAA All Hazards Weather Radio is a key piece of gear in your emergency kit. The NOAA weather broadcasts provide alerts for more than just severe weather, however. Other alerts include earthquakes, chemical spills, nuclear emergencies, train derailments, AMBER alerts, and terrorist attacks to name a few.
So, while the radio is just for weather on normal days, its usefulness extends beyond the local weather forecast during emergencies.
NOAA Weather Radio Selection
How do you select an appropriate radio for your emergency kit? The type you choose will depend on which kit you place it in and how you intend to use it. We will consider two general classes of radios.
First is your stationary, always-plugged-in, radio. You keep this one at home, always ready to sound the alarm. Second is a portable, emergency use, radio. You keep this one in your emergency kit for such a time as needed.
A word of advice, stay away from cheap knock-off manufactures and stick with a reputable radio manufacture. You don’t want your radio failing when you really need it.
Stationary Weather Radios
The key feature to look for in your stationary weather radio is that it automatically receives alerts. (Watch out, as some “emergency” weather radios do not have this feature!) This feature sounds an alarm and turns the radio on for the duration of the alert message. This alerts you any time of the day or night a life threatening situation is present and gives you time to take action before it is too late!
It is also helpful to get a SAME capable (Specific Alert Message Encoding) radio. This feature filters out alerts that do not pertain to your area. A normal weather station broadcasts to a large area, covering many counties and often parts of several states. It is frustrating and, more importantly, desensitizing to get irrelevant alerts. (Remember the fable of The Boy Who Cried Wolf?)
You can program your county or, in some areas, a sub-division of your county into a SAME capable weather radio. It will then only sound the alarm when the threat pertains to the area you have programmed.
It is also important that the weather radio have a battery backup. If it does not and the power goes out you will not get the potentially lifesaving alert. If the model you choose uses disposable batteries for its backup, make sure you faithfully rotate them to ensure they are not dead when you need them!
Some models have a rechargeable battery that should always be ready for a power outage. It is nice if you can also use disposable batteries in addition to the rechargeable. In an extended disaster situation you may not have power available to recharge the batteries and the option to use disposable batteries may come in very handy. (My Oregon Scientific WRB603 weather alert radio has this feature.)
While battery backup is important, a model that also plugs in to a wall outlet is equally important. This is because the risk of dead batteries is too great. This could be in the form of a rechargeable unit with a charging stand or one that simply has a permanently attached plug. A rechargeable unit could also potentially serve as a portable emergency radio.
It is worth noting, that radios that have these features have the Public Alert™ logo on the product packaging. NOAA has a list of all compliant radios on their NOAA Weather Radio Receiver web page.
Portable Emergency Weather Radios
The portable emergency radio is what you will keep in your emergency kits. The important thing here is how you are going to power the radio. A primarily plug-in model won’t work when the power is out and the battery backup dies. Multiple options for powering the device, such as disposable and rechargeable batteries, hand crank, and solar are all options.
Batteries are by far the most convenient way to power your emergency radio. In fact, that may be all you need and want for your always-carry-gear emergency kit. Battery only units are smaller and lighter than models with hand-cranks and solar panels. If you carry an AM/FM radio in your always-carry-gear emergency kit, then consider getting a radio with NOAA weather band capability. (The two models I know of that fit this criteria are the Sony SRFM37W and the Sangean DT-400W, but I’m sure there are others.)
A hand-crank is a handy option in case you run out of batteries or want to conserve them. But don’t count on listening to hours of radio by using this power method as cranking gets tiring fast. Look for this option in a radio to put in your home evacuation emergency kit. (A side benefit of a hand-crank model is that the radio often includes an emergency cell phone charger and a sometimes awkward to use, but useful, flashlight.) The Eton FR300, FR400, FR500, and Midland ER102 weather radios have these features.
Solar power doesn’t require any effort, but only works in direct sunlight. This means that if it is cloudy, nighttime, or you are indoors, this option won’t do you any good. And note that during weather related emergencies it’s not normally sunny! If you are looking for a radio for a long-term kit then consider this option. Look at the Eton FR500 for a radio with this feature. The Eton FR150 has a solar panel, but cannot run off batteries and thus is probably not a good option for a long-term kit.