A Scanner for TEOTWAWKI – Part 1, by Tunnel Rabbit

Introduction: Why Should We Use A Scanner?

To most people, scanners could not be any more sublimely unimportant, and boring, and completely irrelevant pursuit of yesteryear. Especially as we have aged, and because the age of digital radio is here. Apparently, our old dusty scanner is obsolete. So why bother? Because security will be job #1.

Scanning provides a golden opportunity to improve our situational awareness. We must do all that can be done to remove the element of surprise at a survival retreat. A simple scanner is one of those low-cost options that is a significant force multiplier. It is the lowest hanging fruit for a basic security operation. It is of even more importance, if we lack the manpower to conduct patrols. Listening to radio traffic will prove to be twice as important as talking on a radio. If all one can afford and manage, is a couple of inexpensive bubblepack FRS radios and one scanner, then you will be ahead of those who can talk near and far, even on a sophisticated Ham radio. It is better to be radio silent and listening, rather than blathering about, providing intelligence to the enemy. They will be listening, and so should we.

In any type of defense, situational awareness is the absolute key. We can define it better, by defining what it is not. What can be a very useful, yet a secondary purpose, should enough manpower be available and there will likely not be, is to record radio traffic that is in itself, information heard, by jotting down a few details that can be used to develop intelligence over time. While material, developing intelligence is not as important as first maintaining a high level of situational awareness. Situational awareness is critical, and a scanner can go a long way to assist that, if it is properly used. During TEOTWAWKI, I would presume that all telephone services will no longer be operational, and those who have a radio of any kind will attempt to use it.

By using a scanner, those heard talking become a part of our security operation as they can serve at distances well beyond our first layer of defense, as our unwitting eyes and ears. If there were not enough transceivers within my Area of Operations (AO), I would provide one to key persons in particular locations that might have a view, or that is exposed, even if I could not converse with them, or if they did not know who I was or where I was located. With a transceiver, they become an asset to the community, and my extended eyes and ears. With a scanner, one can listen to a variety of transceivers near and far to gauge a situation within an AO, and far beyond the AO. This will help us gauge a threat situation.

To compensate for a lack of personnel, we can set up a digital or cassette recorder with VOX — a voice-activated switch — so that is it records all traffic from all the receivers in the room. The exact time of the occurrence is lost, yet the technique compresses the entire session into less than an hour, or to perhaps, only minutes. We could even set up a Baofeng or other transceiver on VOX to transmit the same traffic, however, this is a technique is not advisable as it would greatly increase our RF footprint to a dangerous level.

Notetaking is important.  if the traffic was male or female voice, key words and terms used, such as names and places, record frequency, date and time, and a synopsis (“gist”) of what the incident might have been about, but stick to mostly to the facts at hand. This “gisting” can, when time permits, and over time, be analysed. And at the very least, a regular pattern of life in the region can be determined.

Attempt to ascertain if they could be friend or foe, and determine other pertinent details, like what assets might they process and their possible relationships to others. This is what is referred to as developing intelligence, and the core of Signals Intelligence (SIGINT). Situational Awareness is not Intelligence. At a minimum, we should daily strive to improve our situational awareness by any means. Intelligence should drive our defenses, but if we do not have the resources for that level, simply paying attention to what is generally going on is of most value.  General situational awareness is more important than developing intelligence and should be the first in the order of tasks to be accomplished. If near or distant traffic is captured by the scanner, reports that a gang has attacked a residence, or if neighbors, or town has become desperately hungry and violence is occurring, then we will know that a threat could soon be approaching, and therefore, our readiness increased, and defense plan altered accordingly.

What Kind of Scanner can be used?

There are many brands of scanners. Some are better than others. And there are different ways to utilize this equipment. The is not a review of various makes and models of scanner, but a short discussion of several techniques that can enhance the utility of old school, lower cost, and common analog scanners. Having the latest and greatest technology is probably not necessary, and certainly not necessaryin rural areas that preppers inhabit. We need not spend hundreds of dollars on P25 and DMR capable scanners if there is very little digital radio traffic we need to be concerned within our Area of Operation (AO). Low-cost analog scanners that have been in existence for decades are what preppers would need the most. It is actually better to have many lower-cost duplicates that provide a capability that perform a critical function, than only one of the latest and greatest, that can cost $500 to $700, or even more. A simple analog scanner can cost less than $100.

An Argument for Analog Versus Digital Scanners

Many Ham operators use DMR, and government agencies now use trunked P-25 digital radio systems that can also be encrypted. Deciphering the encrypted traffic is outside the common man’s capability. DMR radios are becoming more popular, yet these are still few and far between in rural areas, and Ham operators will not likely be conducting raids. Fortunately, we can still hear what sounds like just noise from these transmitters using analog scanners, and with a trained ear know that there is either traffic, or no traffic at a given time and date. (A spectrum analyzer will visibly show a raised noise floor, but a trained operator will develop an “ear” to detect most digital traffic.) From this information, we can determine a pattern of activity, and exceptions to that pattern.

I have little interest in monitoring digital traffic, as the threats that I am most concerned with will not be using digital equipment. Monitoring law enforcement out here in rural Montana would not likely be of much use either. Why? Because during a partial collapse, or worse, total societal collapse, there will an inability to respond in a timely manner, or even at all. And because of the general lack of people in a remote region, there is simply no law enforcement activity. Already, in my remote location, the response time could be 60 minutes at best, and likely several days, or more. The Sheriff does not patrol this area. And they still use the old VHF radios that I can hear with the old scanner.

If I hear digital traffic within a particular band (it sounds like a hiss), I will know that a particular agency is active in my area. Knowing what they are saying is not as important as knowing that they are in the area. Any Federal government activity in my region will likely be heard on frequencies above 164 MHz. I can identify the agency by the particular frequency that they are using.

In many rural areas, county and city law enforcement are still using analog radios, and can still be heard on analog scanners. However, my aim is not to monitor law enforcement traffic, but to monitor traffic from potential local threats, that might include potentially dangerous neighbors, or a roving gang. These threats would more than likely be limited to operating common analog radio technology. Anyone in the area using radio might also report to their friends that criminal activity has occurred. Analog scanners are an important tool as they can monitor radio traffic that could be of most concern. Most people can afford, or already have one old-school scanner. These scanners can still be used to enhance one’s situational awareness, and over time, to acquire bits of information that could be used to develop intelligence.

What Frequencies Should We Monitor?

Of most interest would be FRS, GMRS, MURS, 2 Meter, and 70cm Amateur bands, specifically repeaters. Of secondary interest would be any traffic between 144 and 156 MHz as that is where most of it will occur. We can obtain frequencies from many sources on the Internet. For local 2 Meter and 70cm repeaters, use radioreference.com. If city and county government agencies are close enough to your retreat to matter and within range, their frequencies will be listed there as well. Most scanners will require the user to program in the frequencies, while the most modern scanners can be programmed by a service.

Developing A Scanner List

Scanners can scroll through a list of frequencies that have been programmed into them. That list can be greatly expanded by setting the scanner to sweep a range of frequencies, and made to stop scanning on a frequency is that had traffic on it. Set to scan this way and let it run for hours if necessary and return to find a frequency displayed. Record it on paper, and then set the scanner to ignore this frequency. Repeat this process until there are many frequencies as one has the patience to acquire. The process may take days if not a week to maximize the opportunity to intercept traffic at a later date. Update this list at least once per year and at the change of seasons. Hunting season is the best time to sweep the band and find transmitters that will be used during a Without Rule Of Law (WROL) event.

(To be continued tomorrow, in Part 2.)