Yes, I know you didn't want satellite, but realistically speaking, that *is* your best option in dire circumstancesAmen, the bottom line right there.
I would not advocate dependence on a single mode of communication or information. Not ham radio. Not sat phone. In my mind the satellite phone is most quick and dependable as long as it works, but amateur radio is less dependent on infrastructure.
Of course redundancy comes with a tradeoff, and one has to decide if the costs of money, weight and bulk are worth increasing ones availability from 99.5% to 99.7%. In GAIAGEEK's case, a cell phone and a small shortwave/AM/FM radio will be what fulfills the requirements within the size and hassle budget.
Yes, it's "Cool" to imagine that with your FT-817, QRP auto tuner,
wire thrown out the hotel window, and running PSK-31
on your laptop will allow you to "communicate", but take
a reality check, PLEASE!
Who are you going to be communicating WITH?
In a REAL disaster you just be making QSO's with other hams who are
in the same boat with a battery operated ham station. Big deal.
If you're in the US, UK, Norway, etc. you can get in touch with local and federal government agencies, hospitals, the military etc. on amateur radio. If you're in a less developed country with fewer HF operators, you might have to rely on DX (cross continent) communications to get a message out, or even back into the country you're in.
If operating out of band is justified by the life-or-death situation you're in, you might even call up ships and aircraft.
Ham radio in general could - if well managed in an emergency- be very useful in getting welfare messages out, calling for rescue, or giving damage reports to the authorities.
The reason why I'm skeptical about the FT-817 specifically, is that its limited battery life and power, combined with adverse conditions, and the possibility of extra interference in an emergency, makes it harder to make that DX connection. I could perhaps change my mind after using it for a while (I got it two days ago), but I think it would need to be part of a system with extended batteries for both the radio and netbook, and scheduled traffic nets.
Listening to SWL Broadcasts for updates in your area?
Yeah right, 30-60 seconds of info every half an hour.
Have a "crank charge" FM/AM radio for local broadcasts for that (if there are any).
If a disaster happens, local AM/FM would be the closest broadcasters, but if the disaster is big enough to knock those out for extended periods, it's probably also big enough to warrant extended coverage on BBC World Service or the NHK English broadcast. Something like a tsunami warning, or the cancellation of such a warning, would be very useful information to have if you for example have to evacuate by a coastal road.
Eton has made crank- and solar powered short wave radios, but they're too big for the requirements of the thread starter.