Just like in the real world, The Federation likely has dedicated channels used for emergency communications and signals on those channels receive priorities, even if the language cannot immediately be understood. Species who have treaties with the Federation are likely to have the most optimal signaling methods to communicate when they are under duress.
A distress signal is an internationally recognized means for obtaining help. Distress signals take the form of or are commonly made by using radio signals, displaying a visually detected item or illumination, or making an audible sound, from a distance.
A distress signal indicates that a person or group of people, ship, aircraft, or other vehicle is threatened by grave and imminent danger and requests immediate assistance. Use of distress signals in other circumstances may be against local or international law.
In order for distress signalling to be the most effective, two parameters must be communicated:
- Alert or notification of a distress in progress
- Position or location (or localization or pinpointing) of the party in distress.
For a distress signal to work in the Alpha Quadrant, a few additional parameters have to be considered.
Agreed upon signal types, communication protocols, and recognizable expectations of behavior. Species which are known to each other depending on treaty status share information regarding subspace frequencies and most effective means of communication with that species. If no treaties exist, then each group will likely have to make a personal decision as to whether to intervene.
Common courtesy on Earth indicate ships at sea will, almost without exception stop to render assistance to ships in distress, unless it puts the rescuer in harms way. It is likely this will translate to interstellar travel as well.
In addition, given the Federation's technologies wide range of communication protocols their ships are capable of reviewing, receiving and decoding information signals, and discerning them from the background noise of space, including obsolete signals like dedicated radio wave signals.
In the event of aliens without agreed upon protocols, there may be types of signals which have greater propagation ranges increasing the chances of being detected. Those ranges of signal are probably monitored because of their ability to be received at great distances. These would likely be used by anyone capable of advanced space travel. These would likely use simple, repetitive signals likely to stand out from background static as a manufactured signal.
If two species have never met, then the best that can be hoped for is to send out a simple repetitive signal and hope for it to draw the curiosity of a passing species enough to investigate the signal and try for a hail.
- All things considered, technology that does not use faster than light properties are of limited value in a galactic or vast interstellar empire. A ship lost without FTL communications is unlikely to ever be rescued in a timely fashion. (See: TOS: The Menagerie for an example of a Slower than Light signal being received after decades).
On modern Earth, even if you are unsure of the language of the people receiving the signal, one can always use the simple Morse code signal of called an S.O.S. The signal is composed of simple dots (short sounds) and dashes (long sounds). Three dots, three dashes, three dots.
Amateur radio (ham radio): the best emergency communication system
So now that I’ve gone through several options that you could choose, but obviously from the title I don’t recommend, let’s look at ham radio.
Ham radio is the go-to communication system for pretty much every emergency response system and is what MARS (the Military Auxiliary Radio System) and ARES (Amateur Radio Emergency Service) both use, as well as many search and rescue and other emergency groups.
One of the nice things is that a lot of ham radios can reach the national weather system (NOAA) frequencies. That means that if you have a radio, you can find out what’s going on in the area. If you have a radio scanner, you can listen to what’s going on with emergency frequencies as well as any other that the scanner can reach, and you don’t have to know which one they’re transmitting on. That’s why they call it a scanner. It goes in a loop up through whatever frequencies you tell it to and it stops if it hears someone transmitting.
Here is a list of amateur radio emergency frequencies that you should keep in mind when both looking for radios and coming up with your emergency communications plan:
Here is a list of emergency radio frequencies used on Earth by survivalists. These are just some samples of channels and their attendant uses.
- 34.90: Used nationwide by the National Guard during emergencies.
- 39.46: Used for inter-department emergency communications by local and state police forces.
- 47.42: Used across the United States by the Red Cross for relief operations.
- 52.525: Calling frequency used by ham radio operators in FM on their six-meter band.
- 162.40: NOAA weather broadcasts and bulletins.
- 162.425: NOAA weather broadcasts and bulletins.
- 162.45: NOAA weather broadcasts and bulletins.
- 162.475: NOAA weather broadcasts and bulletins.
- 168.55: National channel used by civilian agencies of the federal government for communications during emergencies and disasters.
- 243.00: Used during military aviation emergencies.
- 259.70: Used by the Space Shuttle during re-entry and landing.
- 296.80: Used by the Space Shuttle during re-entry and landing.
- 311.00: Flight channel used by the U.S. Air Force.
- 317.70: Used by U.S. Coast Guard aviation.