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 access to VHF/UHF/50MHz with limited access to some HF.
- General class: a test on how things function and an overview of the new things you can do, plus a reminder of how not to electrocute yourself. This includes access to almost all amateur frequencies.
- Extra class: a test on the theory behind what you are doing, plus a few extra frequencies, oh… and bragging rights.
There are a number of free and cost resources. Since the question pool changes every few years, make sure you have the latest version. Some resources just focus on the answers; some go over the content and give you all possible answers. Personally, I recommend the KB6NU Technical Study guide. It focuses on what is needed to pass the test. Study this, and use the hamexam.org link to test how you are proceeding. When you are 90-100% successful, start looking for a local exam.
- KB6NU’s No Nonsense Technical Class Study Guide is free and excellent and found at http://www.kb6nu.com/study-guides/
- ARRL Ham Radio License Manual (Technician) costs $29 from http://www.arrl.org/shop/ARRL-Ham-Radio-License-Manual-3rd-Edition/
- Hamexam offers web-based tests and study material. It’s free and excellent and found at https://hamexam.org/
- Dave Casler, KE0OG has a website and excellent YouTube video series called “Ask Dave”. See https://dcasler.com/ham-radio/
- Most local clubs have training sessions and classes for passing the technical and general exams. Look them up. Being able to ask a question can replace hours of reading.
If you have looked into Ham radio years ago, please note that they stopped the CW (Morse Code) requirement. There are free, and at cost, study guides for each level of test, and you will learn more than you think while studying for them. Personally, I recommend a General class license; this has almost all frequency privileges while still being a reasonable test.
Establishing and Planning Communication
Knowing who you want to talk to, what kind of equipment they have, what time of day it is for both of you, and their location matters. Location isn’t just about distance; it’s about terrain, too. For instance, if you want to talk to your rural neighbor that lives in a valley two mountains and 60 miles away, your approach will be different than if the terrain was flat and there was 80 or just three miles between you. Almost all options here require a Ham radio license. Communications plans can be outlined with non-licensed technologies; however, they are extremely limited in power and distance.
Basic Questions for Communications Planning
- With a map, identify where you are and where they are expected to be.
- List distance in a straight line between you and them; use a ruler, map, and map key.
- On the map, draw a circle around each person, team, and location and have those circles overlap. This will give you a better understanding of the distances you need to communicate over. Those distances will help you understand the bands you will need to operate with.
- Identify major terrain obstacles, such as mountains.
- What radio equipment do they already have and what frequencies do they support?
- Do they fall within groundwave range of one or more frequencies above?
- Are you both within range of a specific 2 meter, 70cm, or other repeater?
- Is there direct line of sight between both locations (neighbor next door, with or without obstacles between you, and what the obstacles are if they exist).
- Are they, or everyone you want to talk to, within 0-500 miles from each other (NVIS)?
- Is direction finding a concern?
- Do you or does someone else need to know the location of someone at given any time? (Tracking a bugout in progress).
- Do different people within your communications plan have different communications needs? (urban, rural, highway routes, centralized communications hubs)
When Planning, Know How To Contact People
- Have a plan. Knowing when to contact, who to contact, what methods of contacting and when are all critical in a good communications plan. Just as important as being able to contact someone is knowing how you and they are to respond when contact cannot be made. (See” 3-3-3” plan below.)
- The 3-3-3 plan is a method commonly found on the Internet where you know at what time two people will try and communicate, and by what method. This has two goals. The first is defining the means of communication; the second is that by knowing when you plan to communicate, you can turn off your communications devices in between times, to save battery life. Here’s one of many excellent resources around planning one: https://radiofreeq.wordpress.com/2013/07/15/3-3-3-radio-plan-for-shtf-communications
- Write down those numbers and plans. If all your contact information is on a cell phone and that fails, you lose all that information. Write it down, and use waterproof paper, if possible. One of the major downsides of the smart phone is that people no longer have to memorize phone numbers. Sadly, I am guilty of this.
- Emergency services. Remember that there are ways to contact emergency services besides 911. All Fire, Police, Sheriff, and Ambulance services have their own local numbers, in addition to the relay with 911. When 911 lines become saturated during an emergency, remember you can call all emergency services directly. Having all those numbers written down ahead of time and programmed into your phone can make the difference between help and a busy signal.
- Voice Mail. Remember if you have temporary access to voicemail, you can reset your VM to provide information.
Planning By Learning From Real Disasters
It doesn’t matter if you are planning for a hurricane or the apocalypse, the challenge is the same. Small groups of people have the need communicate between each other, and that group may have the need to communicate to a centralized or larger group.
If there is one consistent across almost all major disasters, it is that the existing communications infrastructure breaks down. Hurricanes, ice storms, and earthquakes take out cell and radio towers. Generators run out of fuel for those towers. Hard lines are cut or destroyed. Existing communications infrastructure almost always fails.
To combat this inherent failure of communications during a natural disaster, CERT teams have each member carry a small FRS radio to talk to each other while they go house to house searching for survivors. Those same FRS radios are ineffective at communicating between teams that are separated by distance, so frequently amateur radio operators are part of the CERT team, or accompany them with larger radios capable of providing communications between teams. These same amateur radio operators also provide team to central command communications in order to help direct search grids.
Note: CERT teams do not use FRS because the radios are better; they use them because many CERT members do not end up getting a Ham radio license, and FRS is really their only commonly available option.
Note: My local volunteer fire department uses low power VHF, similar to MURS. They can communicate within rural/suburban areas, but once they have to respond to a fire at the local mall their radios become ineffective.
This organization method, of having in-team communications and a “radio operator” to communicate with a larger organization, is no different in theory from how the military organizes communications. The method is effective.
Example Plan – License Dependent
Individual Portable Communications
- Make sure your cell phone has cached mapping applications, applications listed in the “Cell phone” section of this document, and GPS. (You can always turn it off.)
- Own a portable radio with FM/AM/NOAA and shortwave broadcast station receive options
- Have an FRS, GMRS, MURS, or VHF/UHF Ham two-way handheld radio. Having a good IP rating may make the difference between having a radio and a paperweight.
- Direct attach and “through up a tree” antenna options for handheld radios. (Example: slim-jim type rollup j-poles – http://www.n9tax.com)
- Carry spare batteries for all electronics as well as the means to re-charge them at home and from in a car. Portable battery/charger/solar panel kits for hiking and camping might be an excellent option here.
Primary Mobile Communications Options
When selecting mobile communications remember terrain, common area usage, and expected drive routes matter. If many cars in your area and the expected route have CB radios installed, then a CB or 10 meter antenna will look common. If you expect a long highway trip, a CB might even be worth the attention, but if no one around you has one, it will draw attention. A 2 meter/70 cm radio usually has an antenna length close to that of an FM radio. On a jeep it would be hard to tell if the antenna upgrade is for an FM radio or 2 meter Ham. Unless your terrain has a lot of hills, a 10 meter radio may not be worth the lack of stealth.
Remember that almost all Ham and CB radios designed for cars run off of 12v DC. This means that they can be removed from a vehicle and used as a base station, and vice versa. In fact, almost all Ham radios are 12v DC, even if they are sold as base stations.
- 10 Meter radio installed w/antenna installed or
- 2 Meter / 70 cm dual band 25-50 watt, antenna installed. This has smallest antenna of all options if stealth is needed. 70 cm radios can often receive FRS/GMRS frequencies. Many good 2 meter radios also have APRS options, and can be configured to send tracking information out, should someone need to know your exact location.
- CB radio w/SSB option, antenna installed (Note that 10 meter radios can often receive CB frequencies.)
- FRS radio (glove box)
- If long distance routes are expected, consider supplementing your mobile communications with a semi-portable HF radio designed for “Field Day” type events. An example of this is the ICOM IC-7200. With a quick stop to put up field designed dipole or magnetic loop, you can establish contact with a central location such as your bugout site. You can attach directly to your car battery or keep 12v batteries separate for it. This specific model even has carry handles similar to a PRC77 and comes in OD if you want to pay extra. It supports voice, CW, and, when combined with a USB cable and a laptop, you will be able to send and receive emails and notices via remote mail servers or direct between radios (winlink). When your trip is complete, it can be a primary or backup HF radio.
- Cigarette lighter socket chargers
- Caravan Mobile Communications – handout radio should more people bugout with you than expected.
- Handout FRS/GMRS or
- Inexpensive $30 2 meter/70 cm handheld radio (in an emergency bugout event, non-licensed might be able to use these radios in simplex communications between cars, simplex being non-repeater based communication). Dual band hand held 5w radios such as Baofeng, are often the same price as FRS radios.
- Cigarette lighter socket chargers
Base Communications Center
The goal of establishing base communications is to allow for base to base HF, base to mobile, and base to personal communications, resulting in the ability to forward and provide traffic “messages and voice”. Think in terms of being able to handle global, national, regional, and local coverage.
- HF 160-6 meter radio, make sure it is a “general coverage” receive radio. This will allow you to hear AM and Shortwave broadcasts.
- 2 meter / 70cm dual band radio
- In an ideal world, have separate voice, receive only, and data radios. Not all the data radios have to have all frequency coverage.
- Antenna Tuner
- CB radio
- Note: You can use an AM radio, dialed into an unused frequency, to “scope” out the area you plan on setting up an antenna. The AM radio will get extra noisy around RF interference. If this happens, find a better location for the antenna.
- Fixed, portable, or tree based tower
- Make sure everything is electrically grounded for and around the antenna. For the most part, electric grounding is not RF grounding; you will need both. For electric grounding having 6-foot ground rods, copper wire and clamps to attach the ground wire to the grounding rod. For RF grounding, a.k.a. counterpoise, the requirements will be dependent on your antenna configuration.
- Power Supply (AC to 12v DC)
- SLA or other types of batteries (12v DC) – Radios work best in terms of reception, when running off of batteries. The AC current involved in a power supply that converts AC to DC can and will generate RF noise. Battery types and extending amp hours are beyond the scope for this article; it would take too much space.
- Method of charging batteries, including passive methods, such as solar.
- TV antenna to receive HDTV broadcast stations for information collection when satellite or cable goes down.
- Laptop with radio cloning software
Supplemental Links and Information for Development
- Learning how NTS (National Traffic Service) handles message hand off, formats, and traffic. http://www.arrl.org/nts
- Information on Ham radio usage during disasters and overview of different public service functions: http://www.arrl.org/public-service .
- CW (Morse Code). An excellent, Windows-based trainer program can be found here: http://www.g4fon.net/ (Don’t ignore CW, it works when nothing else does).
- Solar and fossil fuel generators
- Battery technologies (how to increase amperage, voltage, and battery type pros and cons)
- Information on getting licensed: http://www.arrl.org/licensing-education-training
- 1 – Radio Communication Methods During Emergencies, by R. in NC
- 2 – Radio Communication Methods During Emergencies, by R. in NC
- 3 – Radio Communication Methods During Emergencies, by R. in NC
- 4 – Radio Communication Methods During Emergencies, by R. in NC
SurvivalBlog Writing Contest
This has been part four of a five part entry for Round 73 of the SurvivalBlog non-fiction writing contest. The nearly $11,000 worth of prizes for this round include:
- A $3000 gift certificate towards a Sol-Ark Solar Generator from Veteran owned Portable Solar LLC. The only EMP Hardened Solar Generator System available to the public.
- A Gunsite Academy Three Day Course Certificate. This can be used for any one, two, or three day course (a $1,095 value),
- A course certificate from onPoint Tactical for the prize winner’s choice of three-day civilian courses, excluding those restricted for military or government teams. Three day onPoint courses normally cost $795,
- DRD Tactical is providing a 5.56 NATO QD Billet upper. These have hammer forged, chrome-lined barrels and a hard case, to go with your own AR lower. It will allow any standard AR-type rifle to have a quick change barrel. This can be assembled in less than one minute without the use of any tools. It also provides a compact carry capability in a hard case or in 3-day pack (an $1,100 value),
- Two cases of Mountain House freeze-dried assorted entrees in #10 cans, courtesy of Ready Made Resources (a $350 value),
- A $250 gift certificate good for any product from Sunflower Ammo,
- Two cases of Meals, Ready to Eat (MREs), courtesy of CampingSurvival.com (a $180 value), and
- American Gunsmithing Institute (AGI) is providing a $300 certificate good towards any of their DVD training courses.
- A Model 175 Series Solar Generator provided by Quantum Harvest LLC (a $439 value),
- A Glock form factor SIRT laser training pistol and a SIRT AR-15/M4 Laser Training Bolt, courtesy of Next Level Training, which have a combined retail value of $589,
- A gift certificate for any two or three-day class from Max Velocity Tactical (a $600 value),
- A transferable certificate for a two-day Ultimate Bug Out Course from Florida Firearms Training (a $400 value),
- A Trekker IV™ Four-Person Emergency Kit from Emergency Essentials (a $250 value),
- A $200 gift certificate good towards any books published by PrepperPress.com,
- A pre-selected assortment of military surplus gear from CJL Enterprize (a $300 value), and
- RepackBox is providing a $300 gift certificate to their site.
- A Royal Berkey water filter, courtesy of Directive 21 (a $275 value),
- A large handmade clothes drying rack, a washboard, and a Homesteading for Beginners DVD, all courtesy of The Homestead Store, with a combined value of $206,
- Expanded sets of both washable feminine pads and liners, donated by Naturally Cozy (a $185 retail value),
- Two Super Survival Pack seed collections, a $150 value, courtesy of Seed for Security, LLC,
- Mayflower Trading is donating a $200 gift certificate for homesteading appliances, and
- Two 1,000-foot spools of full mil-spec U.S.-made 750 paracord (in-stock colors only) from www.TOUGHGRID.com (a $240 value).
Round 73 ends on November 30th, so get busy writing and e-mail us your entry. Remember that there is a 1,500-word minimum, and that articles on practical “how to” skills for survival have an advantage in the judging.