Keeping everyone connected when disaster strikes in a key component at the Snohomish County Emergency Coordination Center.

Without communication, everything else breaks down.

“Everything from knowing which roads are open, which ones are jammed or damaged in some way, all of that stuff,” said Scott Honaker, communications coordinator for Snohomish County Emergency Management.

Emergency responders have all sorts of tools at their disposal to make sure first responders know what’s going on, but what about your family?

How would you make sure everyone is safe?

A simple cell phone call likely won’t be an option. Cellular networks will be overloaded, land lines could be cut off, and internet disrupted as well.

Honaker says email and texting are viable options since they work on different systems than cell phones. Honaker adds however, keep it short, simple, and without selfies.

“Camping in the yard, or whatever it is, those are great pictures to take, but wait to send them until the communications system starts to recover,” he said.

To avoid trouble with land lines, establish a pre-arranged contact out of state. If someone is trying to call home in the disaster zone, the call may not go through. Your chances are better outside the zone.

“Everybody calls grandma, tells them where they are, how they’re doing, and what they’re going to do,” said Honaker. “That way you have one point of contact who can help coordinate things.”

Amateur radio operators (usually called HAM radios) are often the glue that hold communications together in an emergency.

There are about 16,000 in Washington state.

HAM radios can reach anywhere in the world without the issues linked to phone and cell service.

In fact, emergency officials across the state depend on volunteers like Dick Beach to keep them connected when disaster strikes.

A HAM operator might not be able to get you directly to your loved one, but they can get you very close.

The prevailing wisdom is, if you don’t know somebody like Beach, find someone.

“If you’re in West Seattle, I can find you a HAM in West Seattle that would be more than happy to help you or make contact with a loved one for you,” said Beach.

For an investment of less than $100 and a brief test you can become a HAM radio operator yourself.

For more information about how to prepare a communications plan for your family, visit

Join KING 5’s Disaster Preparedness Facebook group and learn how you and your community can get ready for when disaster strikes.