Information and Communication Capabilities for Preparedness, by NC Bluedog

Dear JWR:
My wife and I use a “thinking process” concerning preparedness that I would like to share with you and your readers, as well as expand upon one of the items. We organize our thoughts and actions along the line of tiers of necessity for survival. This is analogous to the oft-quoted “beans, bullets and band-aids” strategy.
The first tier is absolutely critical for survival and consists of air, food, water, shelter and security. This not only includes physical items such as stored food and weapons for security but also knowledge such as gardening and tactical/strategic planning.
The second tier items, while not absolutely necessary for survival, strongly complements and expands upon the first tier items. This includes mobility, information/communication, power and illumination. This list is not exhaustive but it gives the general idea of what I consider second tier items.
Third tier items are more in line with comfort and enjoyment or “making life livable”. This includes entertainment or other simple pleasures of life. One might include tobacco and/or EtOH as third tier items.
Obviously, preparations should be planned in a top down priority. Air, food, water, shelter and security (say it again so it becomes second nature “air, food, water, shelter and security”) need to be “squared away” first and foremost, and has been well covered in your’s and others’ writings in this weblog. I would like to expand upon a second tier item, namely information/communication.
Notice that I make a distinction between information and communication. This is because communication is bidirectional but information can be unidirectional. Leaving smoke signals to someone else, I will only touch upon electronic means of information transfer.

For information, every retreat needs some means of broadband radio receiver. I appreciate the utility of “EMP-resistant” shortwave radio receivers and in fact have several Zenith TransOceanic receivers in various states of refurbishment. This does not mean that I depend on them. The “tube type” receivers, while essentially EMP proof, are far from ideal. The power supply is difficult to replicate in the absence of 120 VAC grid power (needing separately an A voltage of 9 VDC and B voltage of up to 90 VDC), and the main oscillator tube (1L6) are getting exceedingly difficult to find. In addition, the paper capacitors are prone to failure and refurbishment is more of an act of love than necessity. The constant tuning required due to frequency drift is also something like a labor of love. For the price of one TransOceanic (refurbished with spare parts), you could buy several general purpose receivers and store some in an EMP resistant [Faraday Cage] container [such as a steel ammo can.] Modern radios are also able to be easily powered by a minimal photovoltaic system (i.e. foldable solar panel by SunLinq and 12VDC 7 amp hour SLA battery) and are much more power conservative.

This brings us to the area of communication or bidirectional information exchange. By necessity, this requires the ability to transmit as well as receive. VHF/UHF handheld transceivers are a necessity for tactical communication, but I also feel that every retreat should have the capability of beyond line of sight (LOS) communication and this will require HF capability. Having an HF rig and antenna is not enough. Becoming a “communicator” requires skill, experience and above all practice (same as with security/firearms). While by necessity getting an amateur radio license one will lose some anonymity, it is strongly recommended. Without experience and practice, one cannot hope to be an effective communicator in a TEOTWAWKI situation.
Amateur Radio Licensing
For US citizens, current FCC amateur radio licenses are divided into three classes, Technician (essentially VHF/UHF only), General and Amateur Extra (both including HF privileges, the difference being only expanded band privileges for the Extra). With the demise of the Morse Code (CW) testing, the only hurdle is a written test for each class of license. From my experience, there is only a very small increment in technical knowledge between the Technician and General class tests, but both have to be passed in order to get HF access. In other words, a Technician is licensed when one passes the Tech test. A General license is awarded as an upgrade to the Tech, and the Extra is an upgrade to the General. All three tests can be taken on the same day if desired.
I would strongly recommend the book “Now You’re Talking” as a study guide for the Technician license. From personal experience, I can tell you that if you know the Technician material cold, you will likely pass the General test as well, but the General study guide is also suggested. The Extra class test is much more technical and likely will require significant additional study. All three books are available from most on-line book stores as well as directly from the ARRL (amateur radio relay league, representative member organization for the US).
If you are of the “test taker” crowd who doesn’t care to actually learn the material, the entire question pool for all three tests are publicly available, with the actual test being a subset of the questions out of the pool. Thus you can “learn” the answers to all the possible questions you may be asked. I would however strongly suggest understanding the material rather than just “gaming” the test. It is not difficult, even for a non-technical person.
Locating a testing venue is also not difficult. The FCC licensing tests are given by a group of Volunteer Examiner Coordinators (VEC) of which the ARRL is a member. Simply go to the ARRL VEC site. The cost is nominal, approximately $10 per test. I would allocate one month of relaxed study time to prepare.
The entire process was relatively painless and the rewards of reliable communication independent of infrastructure are incalculable. In a future diatribe, I hope to expand on the utility of amateur radio in survival situations.