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Emergency Communication: Phonetic Alphabet and Morse code

By Brody Danielson February 20, 2020

Whiskey, Tango, Bravo

If you’re not in the military you probably only hear people use the phonetic alphabet in movies. The phonetic alphabet may seem like useless knowledge, but it’s not - everyone concerned about being prepared in an emergency situation should know it. Technically it’s called the “International Radiotelephony Spelling Alphabet” and it was developed to avoid confusion between speakers of different languages. In emergency situations it can be used to communicate clearly over bad connections or in times when accuracy is critical and there’s no time to go through the whole “B?” “No, I said C!” routine.

Military and emergency workers are trained to know this alphabet, but even if you’re speaking to someone who doesn’t know it, when you say “November” it will be obvious to them that you mean “N”: These aren’t random words, they were decided on through hundreds of thousands of comprehension tests involving 31 nationalities.

Here’s the alphabet list:

And, you may have noticed that we love smartphone apps. Here’s a free one for the phonetic alphabet

Three Dots, Three Dashes

Once you’ve learned those 24 words it’s time to brush up on the other means of internationally understood communication: Morse Code. Morse Code was the original text message and can be used in situations where verbal communication isn’t safe or possible. The internationally understood distress signal, of course, is SOS (Save Our Ship) comprised of three dots, three dashes, and three dots without space between them. A dot is a short staccato sound and a dash is a longer sound. You can see and hear an example here.

You don’t have to learn the whole alphabet, but it makes sense to at least learn how to communicate the SOS distress signal. Of course, we like the Morse Code flashlight app that uses your phone’s flashlight to continuously flash the SOS signal. It’s free. If you want to learn the whole alphabet you can download the Morse Code Trainer for a $1.00.

Like we always say, don’t wait for an emergency to learn emergency skills. Now is the time to make sure you’re prepared!

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