Letter Re: Ham Radio Standardization for Survivalbloggers?

Dear JWR,
I read the Ham Radio Standardization Article with great interest.  Most preppers are integrating some type of VHF/UHF communications into their plans.  These communications could be MURS, FRS, GMRS, or Amateur (Ham) radio.  In a March 2, 2013 CNET article by Declan McCullagh, I read some rather unsettling information.  In detailing some of DHS’s specifications for their version of the Predator Drone, the author states:

“CBP’s specifications say that signals interception and direction-finding technology must work from 30MHz to 3GHz in the radio spectrum. That sweeps in the GSM and CDMA frequencies used by mobile phones, which are in the 300MHz to 2.7GHz range, as well as many two-way radios.”
The specifications say: “The system shall provide automatic and manual DF of multiple signals simultaneously. Automatic DF should be able to separate out individual communication links.” Automated direction-finding for cell phones has become an off-the-shelf technology: one company sells a unit that its literature says is “capable of taking the bearing of every mobile phone active in a channel.”

The 30 mHz through 3 GHz range covers ALL VHF and UHF frequencies for ham, FRS, GMRS, MURS, Business, Public Safety, Military, and Marine.  Technician Class ham radio operators only have one phone (voice) band below 30 mHz and that is the 28 MHz 10 meter band.  The 10 meter band is not well suited for close-in communications and while it certainly is capable of providing long distance communications, the propagation is highly unreliable and depends on a pretty high sunspot number to raise the MUF (maximum usable frequency) high enough to enable those communications.

I would recommend that preppers consider obtaining the FCC’s General Class license.  With the General Class license, the prepper will have access to ALL ham bands below 30 MHz.  Many of these are well suited to close-in communications as well as long distance communications, day or night. 

One disadvantage to these HF communications is the size of the antenna.  A simple [half-wave] wire dipole antenna on the 10m band (28 MHz) is around 16.5 feet long.  At the bottom of the HF (below 30 mHz) spectrum, the 160m wire dipole would be 246 feet long.  Portability would be an issue, however the antennas are simple, light weight, cheap and easy to make yourself.  There are many battery powered HF radios.  The Yaesu FT-817, Yaesu FT-897, and the MFJ 9410, 9417, 9420, 9475 series are just a few examples of voice-capable portable HF radios.  If you get into Morse code, there are more options for portable HF radios as there are countless kits available that allow you to build a working radio for as little as $40 up to $1,400.

In conclusion I would like to say that I have heard many preppers say they don’t need to obtain an amateur (ham) license that when TSHTF, they will just use whatever communication gear they need to.  I say to this, you will need to know how to build an antenna, need to know what frequencies are suitable for certain distances and certain times of day, and operating procedures. The amateur radio license is a license to learn and I highly recommend that you start learning now, before disaster strikes. – K. in OK

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