Buyer’s Guide: Emergency Radios
Ensure that you’ll always have access to must-hear news and alerts with the right emergency radio for your needs.
If you’ve ever lost power during a storm or your cell phone went dead on a remote hike, you probably wished for a way to obtain important news and information. Emergency radios are designed to do just that—pick up emergency broadcasts and alert you to weather and man-made disasters.
Unlike standard radios, emergency radios can receive warnings and notifications from VHF (very high frequency) public service band stations. Users may listen to dedicated weather channels or set the radio to alert them when a weather or disaster warning is issued. And, yes, you can access basic AM/FM stations on an emergency radio too.
So whether you’re planning a camping trip or putting a “just in case” kit together for your home, be sure to include the best emergency radio. Our guide explains the devices’ features, labeling, and power source options to help you choose the right model for you—plus offers our top three picks based on performance reviews and consumer ratings.
The first thing you’ll notice when shopping for an emergency radio is a perplexing number of letters, logos, and labels on the packages. Trying to decipher them as you stand in the aisle can be daunting, so here’s a rundown of what you’re most likely to encounter and what it all means.
• IPAWS (Integrated Public Alert and Warning System): The IPAWS system, maintained by FEMA (Federal Emergency Management Agency), broadcasts three major types of alerts: imminent threats, presidential pronouncements, and AMBER (missing person) alerts.
• NWR (National Weather Radio): Indicates that the radio can pick up regional stations that broadcast weather-related news 24/7.
• EAS (Emergency Alert System): Receives broadcasts concerning national emergencies and regional warnings, including AMBER alerts.
• SAME (Specific Area Message Encoding): Radio users can block alerts meant for other areas of the nation. When the SAME feature is activated, users will only receive alerts concerning their county or nearby counties.
• NOAA (National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration): Emergency radios with the NOAA Weather Radio All Hazards logo are certified to receive alerts from the National Weather Service (NWS), the Department of Homeland Security (DHS) and from authorized regional Emergency Operation Centers. The NOAA broadcasts on seven dedicated frequencies in the US and Canada. Look for this logo to ensure your radio will receive the highest number of alerts.
• Public Alert: This is another important label to look for; it signifies that the radio was developed by the Consumer Electronics Association in conjunction with the National Weather Service.
While governmental agencies do not endorse any specific manufacturer or brand, they do advise buyers to look for a radio that features both the NOAA All Hazards logo and the Public Alert label.
What good is an emergency radio if you can’t operate it when the power goes out? Many emergency radios are multi-powered, meaning they feature two or more of the following charging options.
• Battery: This is one of the most common power options for emergency radios, but if your radio is battery-powered only, be sure to keep a stock of extra batteries on hand.
• Solar: These radios feature solar panels that draw power from the sun’s rays.
• Hand crank: Because batteries eventually discharge and solar power may not be available during storms, a hand crank is a wise backup power source.
• Car charger: Some radios come with an additional charger that plugs into your vehicle so you can juice the device while on the road.
• Standard electrical power: The ability to plug the radio into a standard outlet allows you to use an AC adapter to run the radio when you have power, conserving battery life.
Today’s emergency radios are often designed to serve multiple purposes. Use these options judiciously; the ones that draw power will shorten battery life.
• Flashlight: Great for those times when you need a little light during a power outage and can’t find a regular flashlight.
• Flashing light: Useful for attracting attention when you need assistance, such as if your car breaks down alongside the road.
• Cell phone charger: Includes an auxiliary port for recharging cell phones and tablets.
• Speaker options: Most emergency radios have external speakers that permit anyone in the vicinity to listen, but a unit that allows you to use headphones or earbuds can be helpful in certain situations (such as children sleeping nearby).
• Listener language options: Allows for listening to emergency broadcasts in languages other than English.
• Shortwave capability: Some models are capable of receiving shortwave (SW) broadcasts. Shortwave stations do not broadcast emergency information and alerts, but users can listen to broadcasts from all over the world.
• Digital clock: Handy for keeping track of time. Some radios also come with alarm clocks.
• Waterproof case: Protects the radio in rainy conditions.
• Impact-resistant case: Lets the radio really take a beating; advisable for anyone who’s tough on or butterfingered with gadgets.
OUR TOP THREE PICKS
Ready to start shopping? Consider the following recommendations for the best emergency radio. All are well reviewed as well as certified to pick up all seven NOAA broadcast bands and those that qualify for the Public Alert designation.
Midland WR-120B Weather Alert Radio ($34)
For functionality and ease of use, the Midland WR-120B Weather Alert Radio receives high honors from Home Depot buyers, who give it a hearty five out of five-star rating. Users can configure the radio for listening in English, French, or Spanish. It features 25 programmable locations for checking out conditions in other parts of the country, and it comes with SAME technology so you can set it to receive only the alerts pertaining to your geographic area. At home, plug the Midland radio into a standard outlet; when away from home, or experiencing a power outage, use two AA batteries. This unit can store up to 10 received alerts and includes a clock and a large easy-to-read LED indicator. Users can select their preferred type of warning: a siren alarm, a voice alert, or a flashing LED light. This affordable little radio is a great addition to home emergency kits and a boon for camping and boating trips. Available from Home Depot.
Kaito KA500 Emergency Weather Alert Radio ($50)
If you’re looking for a little dynamo, the Kaito KA500 Emergency Weather Alert Radio won’t disappoint. This multifunction model not only receives all seven NOAA broadcast bands, it also gets two short-wave bands, so you can listen to broadcasts from other countries. The Kaito has five power-source options: hand crank, flip-up solar panel, AC adaptor, battery (three NiMH AA rechargeable batteries), and a USB charging port so it will never lose power. It features an impact-resistant case, doubles as a charger for your smartphone or tablet, and includes a built-in flashlight and a flashing red S.O.S beacon to help rescuers pinpoint your location. It even has a reading light for those nights in the tent when you’re into a good book. Amazon buyers award the Kaito KA500 four and a half out of five stars for its quality reception and versatility. Available from Amazon.
American Red Cross FRX3 Weather Alert Radio ($60)
Like our other top picks, the American Red Cross FRX3 Weather Alert Radio receives all seven NOAA broadcast bands and is perfect for use at home or in remote locations. With its multiple power options—hand crank, batteries (three NiMH AAA rechargeable batteries), solar panel, and AC adaptor—you’ll have vital news at your fingertips in any situation. The Red Cross radio comes with a port for charging a smartphone or tablet and a headphone jack for private listening. It features a clock with an alarm and is easy to locate at night thanks to its glow-in-the-dark locator. Amazon buyers award the Red Cross four out of five stars for ease of operation, great reception, and long-lasting battery life. Available from Amazon.