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 lost cell phone reception while on a hike or a long drive, you’ve likely felt the frustration of not being able to obtain news or information when you needed it. Emergency radios are designed to do just that—pick up emergency broadcasts, alert you to severe weather and man-made disasters, and ensure you always have the critical knowledge you need in the moment you need it.
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: 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.
BEST EMERGENCY RADIOS
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.
A standout for its functionality and ease of use, the Midland Weather Alert Radio also receives high honors for being configurable for multiple languages—English, French, and Spanish. It also features 25 programmable locations, so you can check out conditions in other parts of the country if you need to (or just want to!). The built-in SAME technology also ensures that you’re always able receive alerts specifically pertaining to your home region. You can even select your preferred type of alert: siren alarm, voice alert, or flashing LED light. Plug the Midland radio into any standard outlet or power it with two AA batteries. This affordable little radio is great for home emergency kits and outdoor adventures. Buy now.
The multifunction Kaito Emergency Weather Alert Radio receives not only the seven NOAA bands, but two short-wave bands as well—meaning, you can actually listen to broadcasts from other countries. Reception quality is high, according to Kaito fans. Their favorite thing about the radio? You can power it five different ways: by hand crank, flip-up solar panel, AC adaptor, battery (three NiMH AA rechargeable batteries), or USB. The Kaito does not disappoint in terms of added features either, as it includes a built-in charger for mobile devices, a reading light, a flashlight, and an S.O.S. beacon. Available from Amazon.
The American Red Cross Weather Alert Radio gets great reception on all seven NOAA broadcast bands and is versatile and durable enough for use at home or in remote locations. With its multiple power options—hand crank, batteries (three NiMH AAA rechargeable batteries), solar panel, or AC adaptor—you’ll have vital news at your fingertips in virtually any situation. Not least, the Red Cross radio includes a port for charging mobile devices, a headphone jack for private listening, a digital clock, and—ingeniously—a glow-in-the-dark locator that makes the radio easy to grab if you’re on the go in an emergency. Buy now.