Radio (Police) Scanners
A radio (police) scanner is an electronics communications receiver that is used to monitor a variety of radio systems, especially police, fire, EMS, EMA, amateur radio, NOAA Weather Radio broadcasts and even public utilities, to name a few. While there are a variety of reasons why individual persons might want to monitor these types of transmissions, there are several applications that scanners have for the storm chaser.
In the field, it’s often nice to be able to monitor public safety communications, as police, fire, EMA and even amateur radio operators in adjacent counties can forewarn the approach of a particularly damaging storm, or given insight as to what types of storm damage (e.g. “multiple dwellings just sustained severe structural damage”) or severe weather (e.g. “we’re getting pounded by softball sized hail at this location”) were produced by the storm(s) in real time as it moved through those areas approaching your location. This is a faster, more efficient method than relying on finding Local Storm Reports (LSRs) online while you’re trying to navigate, watch radar programs, etc.
In addition to that application, monitoring public safety communications can give the listener insight into areas to avoid due to storm damage or traffic delays. Most modern scanners have NOAA Weather Radio Specific Area Message Encoding (SAME) warning capabilities, with basically the same features found in the more advanced weather radio units themselves.
The decision about what type of scanner to buy is far too extensive for any single article here, since that question is highly individualized, depending entirely on what the user desires to receive while chasing. Users have to consider such questions as number of channels needed, digital vs. analog, and even mobile vs. portable. It’s suggested that you visit this wiki at RadioReference.com for starters. The RadioReference website, which is the web’s most extensive resource for scannists, has an exhaustive list of state-by-state frequencies that might be useful for the chaser. You can also visit policescanners.net and complete the step-by-step process to help you choose the right scanner for your area, though keep in mind that this is more localized, and not designed to assist chasers with finding a scanner to scan broad ranges of frequencies.
You’ll want to pre-program frequencies, or at least keep something like the RadioReference frequency database website handy when you actually get ready to chase. This will allow you to be prepared by having major frequencies accessible to monitor on your chase.
Scanning and the Law
While scanners can prove to be a vital resource to storm chasers, there are some legalities to be aware of if you’re going to own and operate a scanner in your vehicle. For various reasons, there are a few states that restrict possession of a mobile or portable scanner in a vehicle or on your person. An extensive discussion of federal and state (includes U.S. map and state-by-state codes if applicable) scanner laws can be found on Todd Sherman’s Mobile Scanner and Radar-Detector Laws in the United States.
In short, if mobile scanners are legal in a given state, keep what you hear to yourself and avoid “rubbernecking” or “ambulance chasing” behaviors. Scanners are an excellent tool that can provide a listener with a wealth of knowledge, but their abuse perpetuates a negative public perception of scannists and gives public safety agencies more incentive to pursue the implementation of private, secure communications systems that are not monitorable with your investment. You’ll learn more staying away from the scene of an emergency and monitoring the action on the scanner.
Jesse L. Risley, K9JLR