Around here the whole state is going to "trunked" 800mhz systems, there are very few agencies still using the lower bands. Everybody will eventually transition to 800, the crowding of the lower bands is only going to get worse, and I suspect the FCC would like to free them up for purposes of selling them to a different user. That's what happened to analog broadcast TV. Without a digital scanner setup to follow trunked comms you will hear very little in the future.
Range varies a lot. With a good antenna and the right band, you can work CW from thousands of miles away with a couple watts. 2 meter/VHF handhelds with 5 watts and a rubber ducky antenna are limited to a range of maybe two to five miles or so in a town with lots of buildings and trees. Basically line of sight comms, if you have an unobstructed view of the other guy with nothing between you, you could go 20 miles or more, but that is a rare sitch. Add a few buildings or hills between ya, forget it. That's why most towns with any sort of Ham activity usually have a repeater or two on high ground to extend the range. An external antenna on your car or a long whip antenna on the unit will also extend the range. And of course there are always amps.
Most locales already have a ham radio network setup with local emergency agencies, ARES and RACES are the common names used. Find them and see what they use and recommend. The ARRL is where ya need to look for Ham Radio info:
American Radio Relay League | ARRL - The national association for AMATEUR RADIO