It's possible I've figured out how to keep the same formatting from month to month. We'll see.
And now for more Prepper content from my upcoming book:
BUGGING IN: WHAT TO DO WHEN TSHTF and YOU LIVE IN SUBURBIA by Raymond Dean White
It’s really inexcusable that I’ve left this topic until now. Communication is one of the fundamental keys to civilization so maintaining contact between the members of your group and between your group and the outside world is vital. Now, that said, two way comms between members of your group are critical while being able to receive information from the outside world is much more important than having two way conversations—though if civilization is still functioning enough that you can get help from outside two way comms via HAM radio would be outstanding.
But before we get into radios I’d like to say a few words about the importance of simply talking to the members of your group. A daily meeting where news can be exchanged and gripes aired or problems discussed is essential. It is, of course, important to keep all the people in the group informed of any new develops that could affect them. You know, stuff like…
“Hey folks, the deep well pump burned out so until we get the Bison pump installed we’re all on water rationing.”
“Ray just got back from scouting the downtown area and it looks like a large, armed gang is forming there.”
“Jeannie had a baby boy early this morning and she’s in need of clean diapers.”
“Fran got cut pretty bad while on firewood detail today so his alternate needs to stand in for him the next few days.”
“Betty and Leona need help picking potato bugs off the plants in the big garden tomorrow. Volunteers? No? Okay, we’ll throw names in the hat and pick a few.”
“Chad caught an announcement on the radio that a FEMA relief column is headed into town with food, water and medicine. They should be at the football stadium by noon tomorrow and they say no one bearing arms will be given anything. So we’ll have to cache our weapons under guard and send some folks in “naked.” All of you going in will still have your credit card knives, but nothing else.”
“Daniel and Chrissy are throwing a pot luck party Saturday to celebrate their son Andy’s fourteenth birthday and his official enlistment in the militia.”
“Denise Lachelle said someone stole a five-pound bag of sugar from her pantry yesterday while she was out on patrol. If the thief returns the unused sugar and compensates her for any sugar used by lights out today that will be the end of it. If not and we have to waste time investigating to find the thief, they will be executed.”
“Sara and Jim Cantrell put in some serious volunteer time on their day off to clean the solar array and battery terminals in the recharging station. Also, Michael and Ellen Whitebear dug a new latrine pit for the community outhouse so let’s have a big hand for our volunteers.”
You get the drift. Stuff like that should be openly discussed before the entire group. This not only builds group cohesion but keeps everyone on an equal footing so all can contribute to the discussions. That will keep group morale up and make problem solving a group concern since all will feel included in the decision making process.
Anyone who is successfully married (and by that I mean married for several years or decades) already knows how important two-way communication is. So do people with kids.
But there’s another excellent reason for having such meetings—get togethers where everyone in the group who isn’t on watch attend. And that reason is to spot people who are sullen or withdrawn who may be falling victim to depression. Now those who are getting depressed may try to avoid the meetings, which is why it’s important that everyone attends who isn’t performing some other essential duty. Don’t blow this off. Mental health is just as important as physical health and these meetings can keep people active and involved until eventually your group starts feeling like a family.
This doesn’t mean there won’t be fights and disagreements. There are in any family. But by airing grievances in a public forum where everyone can contribute to the solution you can keep such problems from blowing up explosively. That’s my theory and I’m sticking to it. Open, frank discussions about virtually any subject can calm people’s fears, reveal new solutions to disputes and just plain make everyone feel better.
I have a confession to make. I don’t yet have a HAM license, but it’s pretty high up on my get’er done list. The licenses don’t cost much and virtually every locality will have a HAM operator who is qualified to teach classes, do testing and such.
Why HAM radio? The short answer is range and reliability. In any emergency situation you can name HAM operators have come to the aid of their local community, providing emergency communications with Local, State or Federal agencies when cell towers and land lines were down. HAM operators have saved innumerable lives over the years.
With a HAM set you can listen to or talk to people anywhere in the world—sort of like having a satellite phone, but you’re not dependent upon satellites.
For short term emergencies where cell phone and land line telephone services are down nothing beats HAM radio for being able to contact the world outside your neighborhood or community. If you don’t know what caused your SHTF event, you can talk to HAMs in other areas of the country or world to find out. You can learn if rescue efforts are underway. You can guide outside help to you.
Knowledge is power. If you know what’s going on you can better prepare to cope. Conversely lack of knowledge is weakness—leaving you and your community vulnerable. Being a HAM radio operator can give you the information you need to survive in a SHTF world. Therefore, I highly recommend at least one member of your mutual assistance group be a licensed HAM operator.
Why is it important to get licensed? Normally I look askance at any requirement for licensing as either a government scam to glom onto fees or gain information about me that is none of their business. That said, I have a marriage license (which I personally think is a bullshit requirement since I believe the government has not business whatsoever regulating the civil or religious union of two people) and a drivers license (which I think is a good idea, since I believe people should have to pass a test before operating a motor vehicle on public streets).
Back in the bad old days before FCC regulations required amateurs to get a license those amateurs broadcast indiscriminately on any frequency and as a consequence chaos ensued. Fire and police services could be disrupted because two HAMs were talking to each other across town. So in this instance there were good reasons for the regulations restricting HAMs to certain frequencies and to getting them tested on their knowledge of how to operate a radio.
Getting a HAM license once required learning Morse Code but that is no longer the case. I still think learning Morse is a good idea but many HAMs don’t bother. You know how, even if your cell phone says you don’t have service or you have a very weak signal you can still send a text? That’s because texting uses less bandwidth than voice communications. It’s the same for Morse transmissions. So if there’s a lot of atmospheric interference a message in Morse is more likely to get through. But amateur radio has come a long way since Morse. Now, on some sets, operators can send and receive TV images along with audio—sort of like Skype for radio.
So learning the proper protocols and operating methods is important to prevent radio chaos. The best means for that is requiring a license. Also, in today’s environment, HAMs won’t talk to you if you don’t have a call sign—which comes with your Technicians license. (The technicians license is the one most HAMs start with as it is the most basic and easiest to acquire).
One of the coolest things about HAM radios is they come in all shapes and sizes and a great variety of capabilities. From hand-held sets to large, permanent base stations, from local area comms to talking to someone in Australia or an astronaut on the International Space Station HAM radio is the way to go.
Let’s imagine your group is now living in a world without rule of law (WROL). Armed gangs are murdering and pillaging for food and supplies. You and one other member of your group are HAMs and you’ve been in contact with other local HAMs who tell you one of those gangs is heading toward your neighborhood.
You might go on a scouting mission to determine if they really are coming at you or you might need to set up an ambush. Most hand held HAM sets, which basically operate like walkie-talkies, come with scrambling capability. So, even if your enemies can hear your transmission, unless they can unscramble it, they won’t know what you’re saying.
Also most can be set to vibrate instead of sounding an audio alert at incoming messages. So, if you are in close contact with an enemy, your radio won’t give your presence away.
Aside from being well prepared to deal with emergencies there is another reason to get a HAM license. The HAMs I’ve talked to at Prepper Expos simply enjoy it as a hobby. They make friends from all around the world. In short, it’s fun.
If you’re interested in getting started on the road to being a HAM operator this starter kit looks like a very good deal at $69.95.
While many HAMs start out with hand held units the Amateur Radio Relay League (ARRL) offers several articles to guide you in buying your first HAM radio.
The ARRL says most HAMs end up with a variety of radios, so while it doesn’t cost much to start out this is a hobby than can end up being expensive.
General Mobile Radio Service (GMRS)
You still need a license to operate GMRS radios but you don’t have to take a test. You just have to fill out an application The GMRS license is good for family members only. Nonetheless, this is the type of radio many businesses use. They just get separate licenses for their employees. GMRS radios operate in the UHF range and depending upon terrain are usually good for around 20 miles.
If you are dead set against getting any kind of license but still want to enjoy the benefits of hand held radio communications, there is a radio service available to you.
Family Radio Service (FRS)
FRS radios are short range hand held radios for use without a license. Families and even businesses use them. They operate in the UHF range and do not suffer interference commonly found on Citizen’s Band (CB) radios in the 27 MHz band or the 49 MHz band utilized by cordless phones, toys and baby monitors. The typical range for these kinds of radios is less than 2 miles since they are restricted to
My wife and I have a pair of Midland GTX 1050 GRMS/FRS handheld radios we use around our small homestead. We also used them when we were moving to Kingman and were both driving separate vehicles. I don’t know their range. It’s reputed to be up to 36 miles but I think that would only apply in ideal line of sight conditions. I’ve been meaning to take one with me the next time I go into town to see what the range is but keep forgetting to do so.
The pair of radios and the charging base cost us about $65 from Amazon, and they are still priced at about that. The only downer is they’re made in China. But even at that, they work well for us and we like them and using them has got me much more interested in amateur radio. Fortunately, we have an excellent local radio club.
The Mohave County Radio Club is very active in Kingman. They hold regular classes to train and license HAMs and are available to offer advice on picking your first radio. Most towns and cities have at least one such club so do an online search for radio clubs in your neck of the woods and get started. Writing this piece has motivated me to join them and begin my own journey into amateur radio. I hope you’ll do likewise because, well, here’s just one example of the benefits…
TSHTF big time and you are cut off from communication with the rest of your family. Maybe you were travelling or they were. Maybe you are with your immediate family but your parents or siblings live in another state and you’d like to reach them to find out how they are. If you’re at home you go to your base station, fire it up and say (and I’m totally making up this call sign and radio dialogue as I’m not sure of the proper protocol yet), “This is WTF7AOO, that’s Whiskey Tango Foxtrot Seven Alpha Zero Zero, calling anybody in or near Colorado Springs, Colorado, break.”
“Whiskey Tango Foxtrot Seven Alpha Zero Zero, this is QRM3ZZZ, that’s Quebec, Romeo, Mike, Three, Zulu, Zulu, Zulu, in Colorado Springs. Come in.”
“Thank God, I’m trying to contact my parents and my sisters none of whom are HAMs. Can you assist?”
“Things aren’t too bad here yet so I can try to get a message to them. Give me their addresses and I’ll see what I can do.”
Of course if your out of area family members are also HAMs you can simply call them up directly.
Now, in the event of an EMP, many repeaters and HAM sets will be knocked out of service—but many HAMs are preppers and will have backups in Faraday cages. Also many of those HAMs will know how to repair their local repeater stations.
In virtually every other SHTF scenario having and being able to maintain radio communications within your group and with the outside world will be invaluable.
Now, before I sign off I want to mention some of the features you should look for in a hand held radio.
GMRS and FRS capability: This gives you longer range on the GRMS channels.
I like radios that can use rechargeable batteries and radios that can be recharged from a variety of sources, 110 V plug, 12V car battery, etc.
A low battery level indicator.
A monitor function that lets you check to see if anyone is transmitting on your channel before you barge in.
The ability to scan all channels for activity.
Call alerts that sound like animals (crow, turkey, wolf, duck, etc).
An SOS siren that will let everyone within earshot know you are in trouble.
Keypad lock—to avoid accidentally changing the frequency.
An illuminated display that is easy to read in a variety of lighting conditions.
Ease of changing channels, but not so easy it gets done accidentally.
Group Mode that allows you to speak to an entire group at once or to any specific individual within that group while everyone can hear what’s being said.
A Direct Call Mode that allows you to speak to any specified member of your group without alerting the other members of your group.
Privacy Codes—the ability to set all the radios in your group to a specific privacy code on a specific channel so that only those radios tuned to that code and channel can hear/understand you. On my Midland GTX 1050 there are 142 privacy codes that can be used on any of 22 channels.
The ability to adjust your transmission power level—understanding that the higher the transmission power level the quicker your radio’s batteries will run out of juice. My radio has a feature that automatically drops transmission power levels to low when the low level battery alert sounds.
Silent Operation Mode—when activated it disables any beeps or tones. An excellent feature when you’re scouting game (or enemy positions).
Vibrate Alert—like your cell phone the radio can be set to vibrate when receiving a call.
Whisper Function—you have to contact other members of your patrol but due to your proximity to undesirables you must speak softly. Whisper mode enables those receiving your call to hear it at a normal, easy to understand, volume.
eVox—a functions that allows you to use the radio hands free, purely voice activated.
NOAA Weather Radio Scan—scans all 10 weather channels and will stop on any active channel.
NOAA Weather Alerts—allows you to receive severe weather alerts from designated NOAA channels. Usually this feature is automatically activated whenever you use the NOAA Weather Radio Scan feature. But it can be turned on independently and left active.
A Dual Watch Feature that allows you to scan two channels for activity simultaneously—the main channel you are using and the backup channel you would switch to in case of difficulty.
Microphone/External Speaker Jack.
I’m sure there are innumerable other cool features to choose but I’m familiar with the above because my Midland GTX 1050 had them all. Here’s a link.
Citizens Band (CB) radio
Long, long ago in a galaxy far, far away I was a trucker—a knight of the road, transporter of necessities to those in need. In other words, I drove a big rig. Like many in that profession I had a Citizens Band radio which was mostly used to warn other truckers if Smokey was in the neighborhood. But yakked away at each other to pass the time and keep ourselves awake. We also told jokes and it was all kind of fun.
I never personally had to use my CB to report a crime though other truckers have done so.
I have used mine to report icy or hazardous road conditions and any accidents I came upon. And one time I broke down and had to radio for help.
Now this was before cell phones and tablets which is what most truckers use now.
CB radios are short-range, line of sight and are subject to interference from lightning, power lines and other CB’ers who won’t shut up. They are better than nothing and require no license to use.
The main drawback (and I confess my knowledge is dated) is that they are like old time telephone party lines where everyone can hear what’s being said but only one person can talk at a time. In other words, it isn’t private at all.
CB’ers who want a “private” chat often invite the other party to go to a different channel—but there’s no guarantee everyone else won’t simply go to that channel also, and it could already be in use. Still, as I said before they are better than nothing.
I’ve never owned or operated one of these things so bear with me while I learn, along with you the advantages to having one. The good news is there are now less expensive models that can get you up and running for less than $200. The bad news cost-wise is maybe you get what you pay for and top quality portable sat phones (Iridium, etc) run $1,000 or more. And then there’s the cost of a plan—like your cell phone—which varies from fifteen cents to two dollars or more per minute.
Maybe the best news is that with the proper phone and plan you can call up anyone in any country that allows sat phones. So maybe you can’t call your cousin twice removed in North Korea, Bulgaria or Cuba—also some parts of Russia and China. But you can pretty much call anyone anywhere else.
Now you might want to consider a sat phone if you live in an area where cell phone coverage is spotty or nonexistent. But since you probably live in the suburbs you will have good cell coverage—at least until something like an EMP fries your cell towers and your phone. Of course that type of event would fry your sat phone too, so you’d have to secrete a spare one in a faraday cage. Whether or not an EMP would fry the satellites, well, I don’t know. If it was a massive Carrington event, it probably would. If it was a nuclear EMP I don’t see why it wouldn’t fry at least those satellites that weren’t shielded by being on the other side (or at least over the horizon) from the blast.
If you are only interested in maintaining contact with people in the U.S. or Canada one of the less expensive ($499) model phones like the Globalstar GSP 1700 should work just fine. It may take some getting used to as it has a directional antenna—meaning it sort of has to be aimed at a satellite.
But if you want true global, including polar region, capability, with an omnidirectional antenna that you don’t have to aim, then an Iridium Extreme 9575 is more up your alley.
There are dozens, if not hundreds, of other sat phones available with all kinds of options and features and if you are interested in them you should research them yourself to determine which is best for your needs.
As for me I’ll stick to HAM and other radios.
Combat soldiers are trained to use hand signals when on patrol to keep the noise level down and the stealth level up. This is a terrific idea and your group should steal those signals and learn them. You and I may never see combat here in the good old USA—and I hope to God we don’t. But knowledge weighs nothing and it’s far better to know the signs and not need them than need them and not know them. Here’s a link on one of my Pinterest boards for tactical hand signals.
American Sign Language (AMISLAN)
This would be the ultimate way to communicate silently within your group. I have picked up a few signs here and there but I don’t pretend to know the language. Like any new language it will take practice to learn it but if you think about it the effort would be worthwhile.
I’m not going to get into heliographs, Boy Scout trail signs, or smoke signals. If you want to learn about them Google is your friend. Instead, I’m going to wrap up this month’s installment and tell you that next month the topic will be Get Home Bags and a few more overlooked items you might need.
I've been collecting PINS on my Pinterest site that I hope could be of use to you so I invite you to go there and browse.
That's all for this month. Coming up in Volume 15: Entertainment and Morale