Disaster Prep For The Rest Of Us

by Dave Robinson

Dave Robinson

Originally published January 12, 2015

Most folks these days carry a cell phone. No one disputes that cell phones have completely changed our culture. We stay in touch with our spouse, kids, grandkids, employees and the rest of the world for that matter. Cell phones do, however, have one main drawback; not all locations have coverage. Especially in my corner of the world we have remote mountains, canyons and valleys that simply don’t get coverage. These outback locales are also where we hunt, fish, camp, hike and go four-wheeling!

Enter a new product: goTenna. This Blue-tooth connected device enables your cell phone to send text messages to another “goTenna” equipped cell phone when there is no traditional cell service. So lets say you are out hiking with your group and suddenly you realize you are no longer with your group. “No problem,” you say, “I’ll just call them and we can re-connect.” Oops, no service. That’s when you pull the goTenna out of your backpack, sit on a log and calmly text your companions for assistance. The device is about the same size and shape as the toothbrush holder I carry in my shaving kit. Not only will it send text messages, but it will show a topographical map location on your phone (and that of your companion) pinpointing your location.

You might argue that similar technology is already available with a Garmin Rhino GPS radio. This is true but FRS radios are limited in range, and unlimited in cost. The goTenna claims a range of 50 miles. That is if you’re standing on a mountaintop and your friend is also on a mountaintop and if you’re holding your mouth just right. Realistically, a one-to-six mile range is more like it considering actual terrain and conditions. A Garmin Rhino with all the bells and whistles will set you back up to $450.00 per unit. Two units are needed. The goTenna is currently accepting pre-orders for $149.00 per pair. I say “pre-orders” because they are not actually available for purchase, but orders taken now will be filled early in 2015 following final bureaucratic approval by the FCC. At that point the cost will jump to $149.00 per unit. If you’re interested, a four-unit family package is now offered for $289.00

One additional feature is that your message is encrypted from end-to-end. When the central server (cell phone tower) is bypassed there is no opportunity for eavesdropping. Also you can opt for a “message destruction” feature that is also secure. All of this means something to the folks who are concerned about the security of their text messages, even if you are in an area that has cell service. Not only will this work when you’re out in the hills, but in the concrete jungle as well when you want to keep your messages private.

The idea was hatched two years ago by a person who lived through hurricane/superstorm Sandy. The prolonged power outages also meant prolonged communication blackouts as well. The goTenna was developed to keep the communications flowing even when the power grid had failed.

So if you spend time in the out-of-doors and like to stay in touch with your family or companions, you might want to consider the goTenna to add to your backpack or get home bag. I’ll update this once my pair of goTennas have shipped and I have a chance to actually use them.

As always send your questions or comments to disasterprep.dave@gmail.com.

Note: Dave Robinson is Bandon's Postmaster and has worked for the postal service for 30 years. He has a background in law enforcement, served in the Air Force in Vietnam, worked nine years for the Coos County Sheriff's Department, and serves on the Myrtle Point School Board, where he lives. He is the author of “Disaster Prep For The Rest Of Us”.

additional columns by Dave Robinson