Know what the number one rule of communication is? No, me neither. But one thing I do know is police scanners are great addition. So, let’s look at scanning and recommended police scanners.
As with all things, we’ll examine everything from the perspective of personal preparedness. But first, we start with the basics…
What’s a Police Scanner?
A scanner is a radio receiver that “scans” through numerous channels letting you listen to two-way radio calls. We’ve written before on finding ham radio frequencies and emergency radio frequencies. The scanning aspect of police scanners sets them apart from that approach of dialing in a specific frequency. While you can enter things manually on virtually every scanner, the scan aspect runs the airwaves stopping at anything it picks up.
These are the channels used by police, fire departments, emergency response teams, boat captains, weather feeds, etc. Scanners are used all the time by reporters and newsrooms wanting to stay on top of events.
When I Used Police Scanners Decades Ago
I remember scanners being far more popular during my childhood (the 80s) than they are today. I grew up in a rural town, and it was not uncommon for a household to have a scanner sitting on a table somewhere scanning channels.
Why? I don’t know. I suspect it was part entertainment, part small town gossip, and part curiosity. Where else could you hear about who in town was getting a visit from the sheriff, what the lobstah (Maine accent) men were saying to their wives as they approached shore, or – and this was a big one – when a deer was hit by a car.
A dead deer on the road meant a mad dash to the crash site in hopes the driver didn’t want the deer and the responding officer or game warden would write a slip for you to take it home. Free organic meat in the freezer!
While I don’t turn my home scanner on every night, I still keep it in the event I need to call it to action.
Are Police Scanners Legal?
The Communications Act of 1934 makes scanners legal to use, but some states forbid the use of police scanners while driving. Other states make it illegal to use a scanner to further a crime, meaning if you’re committing a crime, and you’re using a scanner to help avoid capture, you can get a stiffer sentence when you’re inevitably captured. Generally, however, the airways are considered public property so the use of scanners is legal.
Do Preppers Need Scanners?
You don’t care about local gossip you say. You don’t want dead deer. Why do you, as a prepper,
want need to spend money on a scanner? The reasons should be fairly obvious.
- If danger strikes, you’ll be one of the first to hear about it. A call comes in to police dispatch, and dispatch then sends the notice out to cruisers. You’d hear it then, virtually immediately, and well before others, giving you ample time to respond.
- If a collapse hits, you’ll know what areas to avoid. Let’s say a highly contagious, lethal pandemic strikes. You need to leave the house for whatever reason. Having a scanner may provide information on what places to avoid.
- If you have to bug out, you’ll know which path to take. Say TEOTWAWKI hits and you have to leave the city on foot. How valuable would it be to have a handheld scanner listening to police and rescue? If there’s chaos on Park Ave, you’ll know to go around it.
- Weather updates when other communication is down. Virtually every scanner comes with multiple weather alert channels. During natural disasters, you will get updated information on the state of affairs when other methods are down or you are out of cellphone range. Read 10 interesting fact about weather alert radios.
You can come up with countless variations of these examples and suddenly it’s plain as day why every prepper should own a scanner.
What Kind of Scanner Should You Buy?
There is no one-size-fits-all scanner. What type will work best for you depends on a few different factors. If you live in the city, a less expensive scanner may give you all the range you need to hear the police, fire, and EMS. If you live in the country, you’ll likely want something with more range so you can hear calls farther away.
How far could a scanner scan if a scanner could scan far? That’s hard to say. What’s your elevation? Are you on top of a hill or in a valley? What’s the power of the transmitting station(s) you’re listening to?
Another big determining factor in scanner choice is whether you want it to be mobile (handheld), at home (base), or a base/mobile unit for a vehicle.
Price, of course, is a final factor. A higher end scanner will be programmable, meaning instead of seeing 489.0184 (or whatever) on the display, you can program it so that when it stops on that frequency, it will say “County Sheriff.” The latter is a lot easier to monitor (and more fun).
Recommended Police Scanners
New to scanners? I’ll give you a few suggestions. These are all Uniden scanners. I didn’t design it that way, it just so happens that Uniden dominates the world of police scanners. Even their “lower end” units are “higher end” when compared to lesser-known brands.
- LISTEN IN AND STAY INFORMED! The Uniden BC365CRS is an affordable 500 channel all-in-one conventional Analog Scanner, Alarm Clock, and FM Radio with loads of features in a convenient desktop design.
- 500 CHANNELS: Get started listening right away with convenient pre-sets for the most popular searches, Non-Digital Police/Fire/Emergency, Weather reports, Marine, Aircraft, Amateur Radio, Railroad, and other bands. This makes it easy to find channels that interest you.
The Uniden BC365CRS Bearcat Police Scanner is the one I recommend for a basic, reliable scanner. It’s used by thousands of people for good reason. Add one of these your man cave, garage, or living room. If you want something fancier, skip to the vehicle scanners below that can also be used at home.
This is my preferred class of scanners, because they can be used at home, in the vehicle, or tossed in a bug out backpack for bug out communications and information gathering. They won’t have the same amount of range as home or vehicle units, but the make up for it in their versatility and portability. The downside is the reliance on battery power, but depending on the SHTF situation, battery power might be preferred.
- LISTEN IN AND STAY INFORMED! The Uniden Bearcat SR30C is a very affordable 500 channel hand-held scanner with loads of features in a convenient compact design.
- LISTEN TO OVER 32,000 FREQUENCIES: Get started listening right away with convenient pre-sets for the most popular searches. Frequencies are preset in ten service banks, Non-Digital Police/Fire/Emergency, NOAA Weather reports, Marine, Racing, Civil Aircraft, Ham Radio, Railroad, CB Radio, and other bands. This makes it easy to find channels that interest you.
The Uniden Bearcat SR30C Police Scanner is as cheap as you can get on a handheld scanner and not be in the land of handheld junk. It is a 500 channel scanner where you can scan for public safety, Marine Civil Air, and even NASCAR. Bonus – it will fit in your shirt pocket!
- The BCD325P2 comes equipped with Uniden exclusive features like Advanced Dynamic Memory System, Close Call RF Capture Technology, and GPS compatibility. It also includes support for the latest APCO Project 25 Phase II systems.
- Scan and search 25,000 channels. With Close Call RF capture technology, this scanner will automatically tune to the signals nearest you, so you can keep track of what's going on in your area.
You can get fancier than the Uniden Bearcat BCD325P2 Police Scanner, but I don’t know why you would. This one is, in my opinion, the ultimate prepper scanner. This scanner does it all. It has Close Call, GPS control, digital scanning, location alerts, and the list goes on.
- The Uniden Bearcat BC355N Mobile/Base Scanner is one of the most feature packed, user-friendly, entry level scanners available today. It can pick up analog receptions including 6 Service banks for monitoring Police, Fire, Emergency Medical Services, Marine, Air, Weather, and CB frequencies.
- The BC355N features “Close Call RF Capture Technology,” which instantly tunes to signals from nearby transmitters. This pre-programmed search makes it easier to find active frequencies and helps you stay on top of local happenings and emergencies in your area. 100 ch/sec Scan Speed (max)
The Uniden Bearcat BC355N Police Scanner is as basic as it gets. It does not feature any trunking ability, nor is it suitable for digital radio system monitoring.
- The BCD536HP continues Uniden's tradition of leading innovation. Home Patrol Programming makes it the easiest-to-program mobile professional scanner we've ever made.
- Plus, the Wi-Fi feature lets you use the exclusive Uniden Siren App on your smartphone or tablet to access your scanner from anywhere in your home or vehicle.
Go with the Uniden Bearcat BCD536HP Scanner for the hoity toity version. Just enter your zip code with this model and the scanner will auto-program the channels for your area. There are other features too numerous to list.
3 Other Helpful Hints
Here a few helpful hints to consider when buying a police scanner.
1 – Heads Up About Encryption
Use of encryption is growing within police departments. This makes it more difficult for the typical scanner to listen in on conversations. Police always have this option if the communication warrants it, but for some departments, it’s becoming the default.
Why don’t all emergency response calls get encrypted? It makes communication more difficult, specifically coordination. If fire, ambulance, police, and whoever else all need to coordinate a response (large SHTF situation), the more “open” the communication channels are the better they are able to do that. Encryption just further complicates an already complicated response.
2 – Consider Listening from a PC
If money is an issue and/or you just want to try it out without the commitment of a purchase, you can often listen to the radio waves right from your home computer. Try a site like Broadcastify to see what’s available in your area. Just beware of their deceptive ads that try to encourage your clicks.
3 – Buy an Improved Antenna
Not enough range? You can beef up what you already have by adding an improved antenna.
- Wideband reception covering 25MHz–1,300MHz
- Transmit bands 144MHz/220MHz/440MHz/900MHz/1,290MHz
I know, I know – scanners are just one more item in an already lengthy list of prepper needs. List out your needs and prioritize according to your plan for SHTF.
Every prepper should have a scanner, but different preppers will need one more or less depending on their unique situation and threats. Prep on!
I’ve had scanners for years. In Illinois they are useless now because most police depts. use Phase II system and cell phones. If SHTF, have a handheld that gets military, marine, Air, CB and shortwave. Local police broadcasts will probably quit after the first few days and only the feds and hams will be active. (IMHO)