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Tuesday, January 26, 2010

Emergency Communications

Tim just keeps cranking away!

This topic has been hit on so many times that to some it is considered over kill; whenever I’m asked to look at a person’s preps they are usually lacking reliable communications. Recently while having a conversation with a friend that is the example of “prepared” he was asking me why I thought he needed better communications. The reasons are simple, all the technologies that we have today are due to more effective and reliable communications. By being able to transmit and store info quickly and reliably we are able to learn more, build on that knowledge, and pass it on so that others can add even more. Our communications network today is one of the most important aspects of our lives, it is how we learn the important information that makes our lives better, it is how we stay connected to the ones we love, it is how we get help in the event of an emergency, it is how we get the news of what is going on around us so that we can make better informed decisions.

Our communications network is fragile. A perfect example of this happened to me on Sunday night. I live in Picayune and am currently in South Carolina performing my Air force Reserves duty, after the Saints game there were so many people using their cell phones that I couldn’t get through to my wife for over three hours, there was no emergency, just too many people on the phone at once. It has been proven time and time again that in the event of any kind of emergency communications go down fast. The only reliable form of communications after any kind of disaster has always been amateur radio. When the twin towers went down it was ham operators that stepped up to the plate. In many areas after hurricane Katrina the only way to get in touch with the outside world was through an amateur radio operator. For months after the tsunamis in Asia the only link to the outside was with a ham radio. The reason that ham radio is so much more reliable isn’t that the equipment is any better, it is because every ham is familiar with his equipment and has the basic skills to overcome adversity and adapt to the current situation.

I know that every person that is a prepper isn’t going to go out and get the amateur radio license so I am going to give a list of what types of equipment are best to have, and what they are used for.

The first and most prolific is the good old CB (citizens band). A CB is good for local communications and most people have access to them. There are so many options out there that it can be overwhelming, if you have the money for the top of the line than go for it, but in my opinion you can get one that will do the job just fine used from a garage sale. I have one that I picked up for $10.00 with a magnet mount antenna. The CB is good to talk to the local surroundings, and listen to things going on around you.

Next is FRS or GRMS. These little radios are perfect for keeping in touch with people in close proximity; they are good for portable communications. Think about the after math of a hurricane, with a set of these, part of the family can stay at the house while other parts of the family can go out and help the neighbor down the road, the whole time being able to talk to the folks back home. These are also perfect when going out as a group, like going to a fair; you can break up to smaller groups and still be in communications. I like to use these when driving with more than one car; you can coordinate potty stops much easier.

Simple AM/FM should not be overlooked. All families should have multiple radios so they can get any info and news on the changing situation. There are many cheep options on the market; I have one that I picked up for $14.00 at wally world, its wind up with a flashlight and radio.

All of these options are good for right around the local area, but how do we get information on what is going on across county, or even around the world? The only way to do this in a situation where the grid is down is to use HF radio. HF radio waves can travel long distances by bouncing of the atmosphere and then back down to earth. HF transceiver with what is called a general coverage receiver will let you listen to all radio communications from around the globe, it will also let you talk on the ham frequencies. It requires a license to transmit on this radio in normal times, but the law says anyone can transmit in an emergency. To go with this radio you need a good antenna, I recommend a general coverage vertical. There are better antennas out there, but this is simple, easy to use, and hard to break. Most of these radios today work off a car battery, so as long as you have a way to charge them they work well off grid. A good HF setup is not cheap, to get a basic setup new with all that you need can run around $1000.00, you can buy them online from stores like Ham Radio Outlet. If money is a problem, and you are ready to do a little research and put some sweat equity into it you can beat the price. I recently purchased an older used radio online for $175.00 and built an antenna with parts from radio shack.

I know that I have played up amateur radio in this post, but it is one of the skills that I think are paramount to being prepared, it is as important as knowing how to make fire in the rain. Today getting your amateur radio license is easier than ever, all it takes is a little online study, or there are classes offered all over the country. In Pearl River County we offer classes throughout the year. The main thing to think about is how will you get the information that you need in a disaster situation? If the grid goes down how will you get in touch with the local doctor to get the help that is needed? In the past when there was a medical emergency Pa had to saddle the horse, ride to town, fetch the doctor, and bring him out to the farm. Most people died not because of their injuries, but because of the time to get to help. With basic communication skills you could radio into town and get the doc headed your way.

I know that this is not an in-depth how to on the subject, but like many of my posts it is to get some basic info out to help people get started on the right track. I hope that I have given you enough info for you to start in the right direction. I hope that you will take the initiative and learn the skills that you need. The most important tool in the situations that we prep for is the skills and knowledge that we have between our ears. With good knowledge people can scrounge the things they need to survive. With cool tools and no knowledge you can die with really cool toys!

P.S. If you have your amateur radio license look for me on the lower end of 20 meters voice.

Thanks, Tim

2 comments:

Worn Out said...

Great post! Having a radio would have come in very handy after Katrina.

John said...

Excellent post. I'm a General Class ham, KC0HSB, but don't have an HF rig. The one I had for a few years was borrowed.
Since most people won't jump up and get their ham license right away--even though they're very easy to get these days--I recommend investing in portable listening equipment. Get a new or used shortwave radio with SSB (single sideband) capability from a place like Universal Radio, then get a TinyTenna to boost signal strengths.
This way it's possible to get a taste of what's on the ham bands as well as shortwave. Though there's less on shortwave these days, there's sure to be activity on the ham bands when things start popping.
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