Around here, in this part of the American Redoubt, everybody and their brother, including Bubba and the Back Woods Boys, may have access to a Baofeng, or an older dusty radio transceiver unit sitting in a box somewhere that was pulled out of their retired logging rig. It could be CB, or VHF, or a Baofeng. I know, because for years ‘we’ have promoted their use, and program radios for whomsoever will buy one. Who knows what’ll happen, so I’ll program it for free, just so they’ll have it for a’ rainy’ day. Push-to-talk radio may tie a small community together in times of crisis. They can at least hear what happening on the Ham Bands, on USFS fire frequencies, other emergency services, and disaster relief frequencies. And at the least, they can talk on MURS, FRS, or CB. In case of fire, evacuation or prevention is always in mind when you live in a fire-prone area like Noorthwestern Montana. Radio from the logging days, radio to cover vast areas without cell phone coverage, radio for situational awareness during fire season, makes radio relevant to this day, even with the diminished popularity of CB and ham radio,
Still, if one frequents their happy hunting grounds, or is just out in the boonies cutting wood and getting stranded, or wants to avoid getting run over by a logging truck on a narrow USFS road, or avoid being trapped by a wildfire, then these are risks that a transceiver might mitigate.
Here’s an example: The recent big fire in that burnt out swaths of the Kootenai National Forest and parts of an Amish community on the Canadian border. The result was an increase in a sense of community, and the desire to monitor emergency services, especially frequencies used for firefirghting. It pays to pay attention! With the proliferation of the inexpensive Chinese radios, and current general sense for the need, there is generally speaking, a higher concentration of radio ownership as a result, not including the amateur radio ranks that have swelled. And the high number of government employees and volunteer groups add even more to the count.
However, even though very inexpensive radios have been available during the recent decade, in these parts, the bands are still quiet. With only a few notable frequencies, it is otherwise mostly dead air out there. For the majority of noobies with a Tech license, their radio just sits in a box, unused. So: radios, radios everywhere, but not peep. The smart phone is smarter, and burning up bandwidth is all the rage–at least in the areas that are inside of cellular coverage.
Radio Skills are Perishable
All skills are perishable. Once, far away and long ago, I was a fresh police dispatcher. But I would not expect myself to fair well today if thrust into a police dispatcher job on a hot and heavy day in the Big City. On day one, I’d surely be overwhelmed. A complete and utter failure to communicate would tragically occur. In the Big City, it can be a war zone on the air. You are managing a battlefield, coordinating the troops on the ground. A 94-pound female can command the airwaves giving permission for a potty break, or assigning an ‘adhoc’ force to a incident, while Watch Commander sips coffee reviewing reports. The Dispatcher is In Charge. Only Air Traffic Controllers can handle more. At least I’ve been there, and those techniques and procedures would eventually come back. Simply listening to huge amounts of high speed and concentrated voice communication of jargon and brevity code, to pick out from the deluge of non-stop emergency traffic, remembering the most relevant information, processing that, and combining new information and directions for dissemination, is a skill that can only be developed lots of time actively listening. And we haven’t even got to the speaking part yet. Fortunately for the purposes of retreat security, the skill level needed is near zero in comparison, yet most will not be comfortable, because push to talk radio is not a cell phone. Roger that?
If you are microphone shy now, you will choke, and fail to communicate effectively. Nor should a radio be used as a cell phone. It’s use should strictly be relegated to the purpose of warning others, calling for help, coordinating defenses. It should NOT be used for ordering lunch, or sniveling about the weather. Habits are habit forming! Emergency radio traffic requires extreme discipline. Cool, calm, dead pan voice, are the habits conducive to communication lots information with little traffic and time. Do not let the adrenaline control you. A calm businesslike demeanor and voice soothes all involved, including yourself. Be boringly stoic, laconic, use brevity code (i.e. the ’10’ code, or the ‘Q’ code of amateur radio, or better yet, your homebrew) and be about only business on the radio. Many prior military, certainly those in infantry, have had at least some air time in one role or another. For old and current Law Enforcement, they probably still think in radio speak. Regardless of the acronyms, brevity codes, or lexicon of a profession, whether the guy on the other end is an Alpha Hotel, or an Adam Henry, the methods and procedures are similar. The standard for any kind of smooth effective radio voice communication is out there to be studied. How? Just turn on a radio. Listen, at first passively, then actively. Decipher. Adopt the mind set, learn to pause and think before speaking. How can I convey this message as briefly and succinctly as possible? Then key the mic to speak clearly, and with confidence.
Amateur radio is great place to learn and do, and to learn good procedure for solid radio communication. It is a way to practice, to become comfortable with being on air. And it is a great place to make friends, and meet like-minded folks. Of course not all Hams are preppers. But it is great place to gain access to the collective knowledge about radio that is not taught in the class room. Getting an Tech license from the FCC is the best introduction to radio, if one has no prior exposure. It is an easy test, that one can learn to pass online. And it is made easy as possible. (Learning Morse Code is no longer a requirement. Take the test online until you pass it every time with a 100% score, and it will be a cinch to pass the test in the classroom. In this day and age of the cell phones, this is likely the best way to become familiar with the basics of radio operation. You’ll learn about repeaters, and what is expected, and what is not permissible on the Ham Bands. If one needs help with their radio, more-experienced hams will gladly help out. And they will talk your ear off while they do it. You will learn more than you expected.
If only for access to repeaters in your area that can provide an invaluable to way to stay in contact with family and friends, then Amateur Radio is for you. Repeaters expand the usable range of radios immensely. At some point cellular phone service may no longer function, or perhaps it will become too expensive. And although there will be others listening to your traffic on the air, it is actually more secure than the smart phone network that is recording everything.
Some Band Options
Although the 2 Meter band is the most popular, do not forget the quieter 70cm band. And although the Amateur bands are good for mid-range communications, it not a good place to be for you security operations. This is where the MURS band shines. Of course the MURS band is no secret place, yet it is a place that is not of interest to most radio hobbyists who often sweep the Ham band with scanners for any traffic. MURS allows the user as much freedom to operate as can be found on the air. If I had to use the Ham band for security operations, I would follow the rules, use the 70cm band and a horizontally polarized directional antenna and low power. 70cm is available on most modern mobile radios today, yet is seldom used. It would the easiest choice if a network were to be set up. If one needed a quasi-secure why of communicating much farther than MURS can, and to someone without a MURS radio, then 70cm is the easiest option. If you anticipate a need to use the Ham Bands to talk to friends when things go bad, 2 meter SSB (single side band) is also an option, yet the radio is not that common.
Then there is digital radio. Also not common. And there is the forgotten Amateur band, 1.25 meters. Very uncommon, and near zero repeaters available. 6 meters propagates better than the 2 meter band, and there might be repeaters in your area. Amateur radio could have a place in your future plans for bad times. Even if the repeaters do not stay up and running for long. Plan that they will not.
If you speak Navajo, Swahili, or whatever, develop your own way that all can easily adhere to. It must be comfortable for youngest to the oldest, a pattern, a method of doing business on the radio, that is habit forming, disciplined, and becomes adopted as routine. Then, and only then can that radio in the box be of good use. Only previous and shared experience will be useful. There is no license required to learn how to communicate with a FRS, CB, or MURS radio. Start the family out by listening to a scanner, or to the 2 meter Amateur band traffic in the background. Show them how it is done on the Ham bands, and then on MURS, or FRS where there are no licenses or formal rules. Kids are natural mimics. We can be too if we try, and listen.