I currently have a couple of radio scanners and feel that at least in the early stages of major civil disruptions or natural disaster they can be very useful. You can listen to local fire, EMS, police and gather information on what it happening around you in real time. In rapidly changing situations, this can be very helpful. Imagine a wildfire, listening to the firefighters in real time can let you know if the fire is approaching your home or BOL well before an evacuation notice is announced. If there are riots in you’re area radio scanners can let you know what areas to avoid.
Radio scanners are readily available and are not very expensive. I hear some people saying that they are not worth the money because many of the police frequency are being encrypted. While this is true in some areas, there are many areas in which a large part of police broadcasts are still in plain language. In addition to monitoring the police, a scanner covers many other frequencies. Information can be gathered from fire, ambulance services, public utilities, VHF and UHF ham radios, GMRS, FRS and MURS. Getting the Most from Your Personal Radio, MURS or FRS/GMRS, MURS Radios a Useful Communication Tool.
Most scanners will scan frequencies between 30 MHz and 900 MHz. . Some scanners will scan up to or beyond 1200 MHz. There will be some gaps in coverage due to FCC regulations and Federal laws that don’t allow eavesdropping on certain frequencies. This includes the frequencies used by cell phones. Occasionally you will encounter older radio scanners that will cover these frequencies. Be aware that it is a Federal crime to listen in to these frequencies or convert a scanner to monitor them.
If you decide to purchase a scanner, or just need more information you will want to look at the website RadioReferance.com. Finding the frequencies that you want to monitor in your area is always a bit of a challenge. Here are several tips to help you, check the internet for police and fire frequencies in your area, find a local radio club they always have good information or talk to a friend who works for a public safety agency.
If you own a smart phone you basically own a police scanner too. By downloading a police scanner app like PoliceStream, and 5-0 Radio Police Scanner, you can turn your phone into a scanner. There are also sites on the internet that let you listen to police radios in other areas. Suppose there is a riot in LA and you are worried about family of friends, you can listen to their traffic.
While I understand it is legal to own radio scanners in all 50 states, it is my understanding that in at least five states Indiana, Florida, Kentucky, Minnesota, and New York, it is a crime to use a mobile one. You need to check your local laws, they vary from state to state.
Radio scanners can be a good source of information, but you need to get used to listening to them before you have to. There is a learning curve.