Letter Re: EMP Computer Question


What laptop would you recommend for storing in an EMP proof environment, to be used after an event to retrieve electronic files such as Survivalblog/Mother Earth News archives? There are so many options, and choosing the wrong one could be frustrating to say the least. I have hard copies of some essential books, but there are just too many helpful things in electronic format to ignore if it would be possible to retrieve. Thanks for all you do! – P.H.

HJL Replies:

If the device is to be stored in an EMP resistant container, there are no special considerations that must be give for EMP itself. Rather, the considerations should be towards long-term reliability, since a replacement may be hard to come by after such an event. There are many options that are possible from rugged laptops or smaller rugged tablets. My preference leans towards devices … Continue reading

Radio Communication Methods During Emergencies- Part 5, by R. in NC

So far, you’ve learned about the FCC and non-FCC license communications devices and equipment that is used with them. I touched on the use of Ham devices in an emergency, if you don’t yet have your Ham license. Now, let’s wrap up by learning how you can obtain your Ham license and move on to establishing and planning your communications.

Getting Your License

Ham radio licenses come in three levels, increasing in complexity of test and allowable frequencies. The FCC does not charge for the license, but your local Ham radio club usually has a $14 fee for giving the exam.

I usually describe the Ham radio licenses in the following way:

  • Technician class: a test on what you can’t do and why you can’t do it, along with an overview on what you are allowed to do and how not to electrocute yourself. After passing it you have … Continue reading

Radio Communication Methods During Emergencies- Part 4, by R. in NC

We’ve previously covered non-FCC license dependent communications devices and are wrapping up our examination of FCC license dependent communications options, with special consideration for their use in an emergency. Today, we’ll also begin looking at resources and accessories that help us improve communications.

VHF/UHF Radios

Almost all of the “base station” VHF/UHF radios are designed as car Ham radios. Because of this, they can be very flexible in usage. Most of these are 25-50 watts, and some are even stronger. With the limited range of VHF/UHF, I think that going over 50 watts is probably not needed. FM is the primary modulation for these kinds of radios, and today it is rare to find one that supports AM/SSB. Some vendors support Echolink, D-Star, DMR, and or APRS. Most of these radios also cover the NOAA stations. These (NOAA) emergency radio stations usually report weather but can … Continue reading

Radio Communication Methods During Emergencies- Part 3, by R. in NC

We just took a look at non-FCC License Dependent Communications, including use expectations and purchase considerations. Today, we begin examining FCC license dependent communications devices.

FCC License Dependent Communications


GMRS radios operate on the same frequencies as FRS along with a number of additional channels. They can use up to 50 watts, and the FCC allows for better antennas and repeaters. GMRS will require a license. No test is needed, and the FCC license covers all residents of a household. On last check, the license cost $85 dollars. Pros and cons, along with distance, are similar to FRS, with the exception of additional power, use of repeaters, and better antennas. (See FRS radios for details.)

Amateur Radio – Ham Radio

Ham Radio Overview

Ham radio covers frequencies ranging from 135 kHz to above 275 GHz (as of March 28, 2017). The range of frequencies is … Continue reading

Radio Communication Methods During Emergencies- Part 2, by R. in NC

Today, we’re continuing to look at communications devices in this communications overview section of the article. So far, we’ve look at Ham radio/licensed devices, but now we’re moving into non-FCC license dependence communication devices to consider.

Cell Phones – Using During An Emergency and Improving Reception

During an emergency it is very common that the local cell phone towers become saturated. Many people attempt to connect at the same time, resulting in busy signals. In addition, some cell towers have special equipment that restrict public use and dedicate additional bandwidth to emergency services. This section covers how to get a message out, as long as the cell tower is working.

SMS Texts

SMS texts (aka messages on an iPhone) use an alternate channel on cell phone towers called a control channel. This control channel is isolated from voice and data channels and is not impacted when too many voice and … Continue reading

Radio Communication Methods During Emergencies- Part 1, by R. in NC

Communications Overview and General Guidelines

About This Article

A modern two-way radio combines transmit and receive components together and is known as a transceiver. In this article I will use the terms radio and transceiver interchangeably. I’m also trying to write this to the largest audience possible and for that reason I may sacrifice technical accuracy in order to express the concept.

Not all emergencies will require advanced communications equipment. Common usage technologies, such as email, voice mail, and SMS texting, should not be ignored. The more options you are able to take advantage of, the better your chances of establishing communications.

Radio Communications and Where To Start

When it comes to radios, different frequencies propagate differently and have different send and receive requirements. Some frequencies are great for your neighborhood but will rarely be usable over three miles; others can talk across your neighborhood and international but may have … Continue reading

Preventing Failure to Communicate- Part 5, by JMD

Failure to Communicate

We’re continuing to evaluate how to prevent a failure to communicate when we do not have wireless electronic communications available to us. We’ve been exploring our options. Yesterday, I wrote about the different types of communications and types of interference to communication. I wrapped up yesterday’s part of the article by introducing what you should do to prepare. The first part, of course, was plan. Let’s take a look at the second part and conclude the article with the subsequent steps to prepare.


Once you’ve got a good handle on your requirements and solutions, you should create a couple of important documents. The first is referred to by the military as a “Standing Operating Procedure” (SOP). This will be the “bible” for all of your communications. It should cover all of the elements for your communications, such as types, encodings, handshakes, feedback, watches, et cetera. This will probably change … Continue reading

Preventing Failure to Communicate- Part 4, by JMD

Failure to Communicate

We’re continuing to evaluate how to prevent a failure to communicate when we do not have wireless electronic communications available to us. We’ve been exploring our options. Yesterday, I wrote about various channels of communications. Today, we’ll move into various forms of communications to consider.


In the beginning of this article, I mentioned that it was about alternatives to wireless electronic communications. However, that doesn’t rule out wired forms of electronic communication. Wired communications tend to be point-to-point, are very hard for anyone to intercept, and can send large amounts of information. The biggest disadvantages are that they require electricity and they are both relatively complex equipment to function (complex relative to a fire or whistle) and generally limited to certain locations and distances (the maximum length of your wire).

  • Telephone – You can set up a relatively simple point-to-point telephone system using some used military field phones. … Continue reading

Preventing Failure to Communicate- Part 3, by JMD

Failure to Communicate

We’re continuing to evaluate how to prevent a failure to communicate in the event that our normal, electronic communications equipment are not available to us. We are exploring our options. Yesterday, I wrote about common content items and encoding. Let’s continue.


The medium defines what carries the communication through the channel. For written communication, the medium will usually be paper. For most signal-based communications, the medium will be inseparable from the channel. In the case where communications is sent by a flashing light, light is the medium.


The channel is critical to all communications. It determines how the message is actually transferred to the receiver. Thus, how much bandwidth is available and how noise may impact the communication. It also tells us likely it is the communication will be noticed/intercepted by someone other than the intended recipient. Channels can also be mixed to improve the overall communications process. … Continue reading

Preventing Failure to Communicate- Part 2, by JMD

Failure to Communicate

We’re continuing to evaluate how to prevent a failure to communicate in the event that our normal, electronic communications equipment are not available to us. Yesterday, we looked as some definitions and began defining our own communications requirements. With that in mind, let’s move forward.


Now that you’ve (hopefully) thought a little bit about what your communications requirements might be, let’s take a look at some possible options for the various elements.


As I mentioned earlier, the best starting point for figuring out a communications strategy is by making a list of everyone it will need to support. For a smaller group, like a family, this may simply involve a list of all of the people in the family. However, what if an emergency arises that requires you to call for help from your neighbors? Make the list as complete as possible, and allow for potential future additions. … Continue reading

Preventing Failure to Communicate- Part 1, by JMD

Failure to Communicate

Communications failure can be prevented, though it may not be in the form we’re expecting. Ever since the earliest cavemen grunted at each other and painted pictures on their cave walls, humans have been communicating in one form or another. Communications are critical to any multi-person activity. Many people consider having radios and other electronic communications devices a core part of living a prepared lifestyle. Virtually every survival- and preparedness-related forum or blog has one or more sections dedicated to this. Things like shortwave radio communications, protecting your radios from EMP, powering your radios in a grid-down scenario, et cetera.

Unless you’re a lone-wolf, having the ability to communicate effectively with your group, and potentially with other groups, is absolutely critical to maintaining a functioning society. But what about situations where you can’t, or shouldn’t, use wireless electronic communication devices? What if, post-SHTF, there’s a quasi-military marauder group operating in … Continue reading

Letter Re: Approaching Grand Solar Minimum

Grand Solar Minimum


I have recently heard about the grand solar minimum and am wondering if you guys have any thoughts on it? It seems to have some pretty serious implications regarding more extreme weather and how our climate is changing (which it always has been). I live on the gulf coast so preparedness for me has always been important due to hurricanes. My question is: out of all the climate hype that we have been inundated with over the last decade or so, is this something to really be taken seriously? It is wise to stay prepared nonetheless, however if the implications of a grand solar minimum are correct, could this be a perfect example of “the boy who cried wolf?” No one will bother to believe its implications.

Essential Communications on a Budget, by TCM

Baofeng UV5R

Communications within a survival group and with the surrounding area is not just important; it can be a matter of life and death. The lack of communications taken to the extreme can be illustrated by imagining yourself with your eyes and ears covered. Now, try to defend yourself and your family. We all know it is not possible. Being without, at least, basic communications is almost that dangerous. I’m not suggesting that you should blow your entire prepper budget on high dollar electronics. There is a low-cost, but effective solution. This article will offer some practical solutions for emergency communications, using low-cost Baofeng transceivers. Some of the suggestions are not legal except under emergency conditions. The best approach is to get your ham license and do everything legally, but your circumstances may not permit that approach. If not, this article is for you. First, we will talk about equipment then … Continue reading

Letter: Faraday Cage Question

Faraday Cage

Good afternoon!

I have a question on adapting a homemade Faraday cage. I am getting a little paranoid about these two North Korean satellites in orbit over our country.

Would a metal mailbox, such as can find at the local hardware store, be acceptable protection? I am trying to put together something simple for really, really cheap! It has a larger size and is easier to obtain. It is also cheaper than some of the other options I have been reading about on constructing a Faraday cage.  T.B.

HJL’s Comment:

Most any metal container will work as a Faraday cage with a few simple preparations. The metal needs to have a good electrical connection between the various parts. If you are using painted metal, you will have to remove the paint where the electrical connection needs to exist. Galvanized metal works really well. If a metal mail box is not large enough, you can consider a 30 gal trash can with a metal lid…. Continue reading

Letter Re: Transporting Documents – Empty the Trash!


The files that you think you deleted from your portable drive using the Windows “delete” command or the Mac “move to trash” command are still there; you just can’t see them. Learn how to securely delete files from the .trashes and hidden files from thumb drives by doing an Internet search on the topic of .trashes file and how to securely delete old files from them. This is a must do for anyone using a USB thumb or SD card. If you have a Windows computer and can find the option to “show hidden files” you should do that. Look into using Apple’s FileVault.

The mini-SD card is small enough that it can easily be concealed underneath a round band-aid stuck to your skin.