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Discussion Starter #1 (Edited)
At the encouragement of several people, I will attempt this basic write up on the benefits and usefulness of radio communications during times of emergency as well as how to set up your own personal communication system. Perhaps it will serve as a starting point for some in considering the (HOW) & (WHY) of emergency communications for the average citizen.

I’ll try to avoid any deep technical radio theory as it is not necessary in developing a wireless
emergency communication plan given the vast amount of “ready to talk” equipment currently available to the general public.

I may have to do this in more than one long installment.

Unless one plans on going it alone, communication between friends/loved ones is paramount during times of emergency or "in the event of".

Currently most of us depend on the phone lines, be it direct wired or wireless via cellular phone. These systems are not only prone to disruption; they may be attacked from within, externally or by natural disaster. The disruption or lack of communications has been proven many times to be catastrophic if not life threatening.

My personal opinion is that a solid communications plan is necessary; so much so I consider it a defensive weapon.

Preparation is essential, from a basic pre-determined rallying point to maintaining intel (i.e), what is going on around me. (Listening)

Radio, wireless radio, has proven itself to be of great value when other hard wired computer controlled systems fail.

The basic information presented here will assume cell towers are either non-functional for one reason or another or have been legally commandeered by military or law enforcement personnel for the purpose of maintaining law and order. That is at least the plan in theory and fully backed by the FCC regulations.

In a time of civil unrest, (where this information article idea stemmed from) or martial law, natural disaster etc…Cell towers will be severely limited to the general population if available at all, depending on the severity of the event. Hurricane Katrina serves well as an example.

My only credentials I present are the following:

Amateur radio operator since 1990.
Radio Installation Technician for Motorola (12 years.) (Emergency Services) until I chose a career change as a photo journalist.

We can all come up with scenarios where the ability to communicate with others in a time of emergency is paramount. Here is just one as example:

Imagine all cellular phone service is down…
Your wife/children/siblings/relatives are across town or across the state or across the country…
Violence is beginning to spread rapidly, roving gangs etc…
Perhaps martial law is declared…
Perhaps the water systems have been compromised…
Electricity is down…

…AND YOU need to communicate with those people who are important to you for one reason or another.

The scenario is not that far fetched.

Amateur Radio Operators for many years have provided emergency communications to areas without power or communications infrastructure. The U.S government has called upon and authorized amateur radio operators to provide emergency communications when “other” systems have broken down.

Why?

..because “HAMS” as we are oft known as, have been practicing and rehearsing such scenarios for years and with great success….Ya; we know how to do it effectively!

Legal disclaimer: Transmitting on amateur radio frequencies is prohibited by U.S law unless one is licensed.

Reality: If we ever get to a point where one must use such equipment, I seriously doubt the FCC will be looking to impose fines. The passing of Health & Welfare traffic is and always has been an exception to the FCC rules and regulations regarding use of amateur radios.
(i.e)..if it’s a life and limb situation, anyone can use the radio..amateur radio, police radios, ambulance radios etc…

“HAM” radio encompasses many forms of electronic communication from the most basic (morse code) to digital gateways that connect to the internet to satellites orbiting the earth.

For this discussion, I will limit communications to hand held portable radios and home base stations for the sole purpose of (Talking to another individual/individuals).

Amateur radio is not the only way to communicate wirelessly.
Amateur radio operation requires the user to take a test. (Not really too difficult)

There are also currently license free or low cost license fee two way hand held radios that work rather well.

FRS “Family Radio Service” and GMRS “General Mobile Radio Service”

These small hand held radios operate in the VHF or UHF radio frequency spectrum. Their effective range when talking radio to radio (Simplex) is generally “Line of sight”

“Line of sight” with these radios under ideal conditions is about 1-3 miles.

Advantages: No test required, Inexpensive, above average to good performance, easy to operate.

Disadvantages: Low power (Limited range), usually poor plastic construction. One of the biggest disadvantages as an emergency radio is that too many people will be using these “walkie talkies” Nothing worse than trying to communicate with someone on a radio when all you hear are many other people yakking away.

Don’t believe advertised claims of 20 mile range with these radios…Total nonsense!

Other Options: Business band radios. These are usually constructed far better compared to the off the shelf FRS and GMRS hand held radios. They too operate in the VHF and UHF radio frequency spectrum. A one time paid license fee is expected to use these radios. Unlike amateur radio, there is no test to pass. They are a great option for those who dislike testing requirements. Range (distance) is similar to the FRS and GMRS radios, though the quality of audio is far superior.

A note concerning VHF/UHF or “Very High Frequency” and “Ultra High Frequency” radios (approx 130-170 Mhz and 420-460 Mhz respectively.)
Although both frequencies are essentially line of sight communication range, UHF has shown better penetration in buildings, forested areas etc…More on this later.

I will end here with one example of a multi part communication plan I am using now.

My sister and husband live on the other side of town from me; about 15 miles. I have a 2 way VHF radio mated to a beam antenna in my attic. ( A Beam antenna directs my radio wave in one direction only as opposed to omni-directional which squirts the signal 360 degrees) The radio is powered from the AC house current with a deep cycle marine battery standing by in the event we lose power. The battery will operate my radio for days if necessary. My sister and her husband have the same setup in their home. My sister does NOT hold an amateur radio license. Her system is in place only for emergency use.

I hope to dive into more particulars in another installment if there is interest. If anyone would like to see this intro take a different direction; please let me know.

Next time: Batteries, Antennas, Power, securing communications, mobile and home applications, assembling an effective communication system as inexpensively as possible, suggested equipment and "why I prefer amateur radio equipment"

Addendum: Learn Morse Code!

One does not need to be fast; just learn the letters and numbers.
Morse code has saved lives.
Consider if you are unable to speak. Just by simply keying a radio off and on you can send a message.
At a minimum, learn the international SOS in morse, (...---...)
 

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I like to listen and monitor. I'm set up for DC to daylight but no transmitter.

I had given some thought to buying a 2 meter hand-held and set up a rig so I can use it at home with DC power supply, 50W amp, and a 1/2 wave ground plane for emergency use only. I'm not much of a talker after my fling with CB in the late '70's.
 

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Discussion Starter #3
I like to listen and monitor. I'm set up for DC to daylight but no transmitter.

I had given some thought to buying a 2 meter hand-held and set up a rig so I can use it at home with DC power supply, 50W amp, and a 1/2 wave ground plane for emergency use only. I'm not much of a talker after my fling with CB in the late '70's.
I don't talk much on amateur radio either Wunderneun; been there done that thing for me.
I do keep my license renewed however.

Listening & monitoring is a large part of emergency prep. Fun too.
Knowing what is going on and where is advantageous.
With many of the larger cities emergency services switching over to not only trunked radio; many encrypt making the
fun days of scanners obsolete.

I live in one of the high probability tornado threat states.
Amateur Radio Operators provide a service to the National Weather Service in the reporting of severe weather. (Sky Warn)
Anyone can(listen) in on these broadcasts..and believe me, although doppler radar has improved, it's hard to beat the immediate "eyes on the sky" reporting
of a funnel on the ground.
 

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Discussion Starter #4
Emergency radio communications part ii

LISTENING & BATTERIES

Listening/monitoring radio communications is a great way to gather information.

Gleaning useful information is part detective work, part filtering out the useless information, knowing what to listen to and where the information is located.

Just a few of the “intercepts” I have heard over the years via radio.

1) The island of Granada invasion (1983) A student attending medical school was a ham radio operator. He transmitted a real time blow by blow for anyone with a short wave receiver to hear. I could hear gun shots when his microphone was open and transmitting.

2) Military chase aircraft describing the space shuttle Challenger tragedy. Yep, it was open mic and in the clear. During these frantic moments, the pilots did not switch over to a secure channel.

3) Coast guard personnel seizing and arresting drug runners in the Caribbean.

The point here is when things begin to get out of hand, a lot of information “squirts” out.

The past few years have seen a rebuild of emergency services radio communications. Many of these systems use encryption whereas the average listener is unable to hear the conversation. This is more true in larger cities.

So; I want to know what is happening. Who do I listen to? Commercial TV and radio may still be broadcasting, but even if they are, the information is hardly what I call timely. I remember a scene from the movie Top Gun. The carrier catapult system was down during a fighter engagement. Enemy aircraft were approaching the ship. The Capt asked how long until they would be repaired? He was told 10 minutes. The Capt responded “Bologne!..This thing will be over in 2 minutes!”

Old information in an emergency is nearly useless IMO.
While radio scanners may not have the ability to listen to detailed tactical swat take downs; they are far from useless during civil unrest or natural disasters.

People love to talk. When the SHTF, they talk even more as was the case with a few air force pilots during the space shuttle tragedy.

Sources of useful radio communications during an emergency.

Street Depts…ambulance personnel including helicopter life flights…amateur radio…Trunked business band radios…civilian aircraft…DNR…Red Cross…Fire Dispatch..school buses. These services are rarely encrypted with unedited “call it the way they see it” information…and..They cover a lot of territory city and state wide. Amateur radio repeators. Amateur Radio Repeater database - Updated daily

Here is a rather exhaustive list of radio frequencies for my home state. While I certainly do not listen to all of them, I have programmed 50-60 frequencies into my scanner that I consider to have useful content “in the event of.”

Indiana: Allen - Radio Scanner Frequencies

and one I highly recommend….
RadioReference.com - Scanner Frequencies and Radio Frequency Reference

Many websites maintain data bases of radio frequencies. I highly recommend visiting them, programming a scanner for various sources, not just law enforcement, but also the sources I mention above as they are generally NOT encrypted. A street dept worker for instance may see a natural gas leak now ablaze only a mile from you. Useful info; yes?

BATTERIES​

Battery technology has advanced by leaps and bounds in the past several years. It is a complex subject I need not discuss here. I’ve seen eyes glaze over like a cheer leader at a astro physics convention when discussing battery tech.

Suffice it to say, battery selection is dependent on its final use. A small transistor radio does not require high powered batteries. A HAM transmitter w/o the benefit of AC house current does require more power.

Here is what I use for my emergency radio communications:

Hand held transceivers: Lithium Ion or Lithium Polymer (LiPo) These rather new generation batteries provide high current, long life while in use and excellent shelf life. They are available in many different voltages and current ratings. Most hand held radios provide these batteries when purchased..Get (2) more if possible and keep them charged.

Deep cycle marine battery: My 2 meter and 70cm home (base station) ham transceivers use these. They provide a lot of power for radios if needed, last a very long time and have excellent shelf life. I charged one a year ago and it is still ready to use even if I want to transmit at 100 watts output power to my antenna. The only drawback is that they are not really portable if you want to take one to the field in a bug out scenario..they weigh a ton! LOL These deep cycle marine batteries will also power other devices that operate at 12 volts, including a power inverter when you may want or need AC power rather than DC.

Gel Cell: I have a few of these rated at 7Ah (amp hour)..if necessary, I will carry one into the woods. Mine weighs in at 3 lbs and will power my hand held radio for days if necessary.

Don’t forget the car battery. It too is a source of 12 volts and high current capacity.
The deep cycle marine battery is widely available at places like Walmart. I suggest a waterproof case for them.

Next up: Putting a station together and choosing your equipment wisely.
 

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All ears over here. Keep it coming. Thanks. The Business radio you mentioned in part one is a great option. The Icom I have wasn't cheap but has been worth the money.
 

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Discussion Starter #6
All ears over here. Keep it coming. Thanks. The Business radio you mentioned in part one is a great option. The Icom I have wasn't cheap but has been worth the money.
Thanks Arejay.

I was going to get into cost vs value with a full realization that not everyone wants to break the bank on emergency communications.

To me it's a bit like firearms..One can spend a little or spend a lot.
I'll hopefully get into the cost of equipment, pros & cons soon.

I believe the decision for many will have to be based on available funds and how much of a priority emergency communications is to each of us.
For me it rates very high on my list of survival items.
 
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I almost got my HAM license back in the early 90's (before my military time). I'd probably pursue it again if I had the money for the actual radio equipment.
 

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Exceptional pair of threads, RE. Definitely listening in, here. :eek:k:

Haven't ever done beyond a decent CB and a couple hand-helds, myself. Never did pick up Morse. Never did get into the better gear. Certainly don't have much of a comms plan, at least not one that involves those outside my immediate circle.
 

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Thanks for posting this RightsEroding, it's definitely appreciated. You're right a communications plan is a definitely necessary and often overlooked prep in case of emergency.

I've recently passed the test for my Technician ticket and I'm slowly building up a communications plan for us. So far I've got a Baofeng UV-5R+ with a Nagoya NA-771 as a handheld and I'm installing a Yaesu FT-8800R with a Diamond NR-7700HB antenna in the Jeep.

I'd love to hear your experience with securing communications, as that's one of my biggest worries. I realize that Amateur Radio cannot legally be encrypted but I'd love to know how in case of a major emergency or breakdown.

And this may be a stupid question, but I was under the impression you couldn't listen to a trunked system because the transmissions would continuously be hopping across different frequencies. Am I misunderstanding something?

Thanks.
 

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I'd love to hear your experience with securing communications, as that's one of my biggest worries. I realize that Amateur Radio cannot legally be encrypted but ...
Criminalizing ensuring discussions are private. Why am I not surprised. :tired:

Never realized it was criminalized, but it's in keeping with the knee-jerk fears that drive folks to jump on everyone in the hope of catching the few. Justified under the color of law, of course, by virtue of the air waves being "public." *sigh*
 

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All ears over here. Keep it coming. Thanks. The Business radio you mentioned in part one is a great option. The Icom I have wasn't cheap but has been worth the money.
Nor was my ICOM receiver.
 
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Thanks for posting this RightsEroding, it's definitely appreciated. You're right a communications plan is a definitely necessary and often overlooked prep in case of emergency.

I've recently passed the test for my Technician ticket and I'm slowly building up a communications plan for us. So far I've got a Baofeng UV-5R+ with a Nagoya NA-771 as a handheld and I'm installing a Yaesu FT-8800R with a Diamond NR-7700HB antenna in the Jeep.

I'd love to hear your experience with securing communications, as that's one of my biggest worries. I realize that Amateur Radio cannot legally be encrypted but I'd love to know how in case of a major emergency or breakdown.

And this may be a stupid question, but I was under the impression you couldn't listen to a trunked system because the transmissions would continuously be hopping across different frequencies. Am I misunderstanding something?

Thanks.
Trunking scanner have been around since the late '90's and cover every major trunking scheme in use right up to digital APCO25 in use today.
 

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I have Been thinking about this myself lately. We need to upgrade our scanner, And that started me rethinking about our whole communication system.

My wife enjoys the scanner but its at least 20 years old and needs to be replaced.
We are set up for CB both base and mobile But in the last 20 years most have gotten away from it. I still carry a handheld when I'm out off the beaten path. But I'm not even sure if Search and Rescue even carry CB any more. Other than turning them on to be sure they work I haven't used mine in years either. I have thought of changing to a more modern set of mobiles but I have not seen much for base units. Maybe I'm not looking in the right places. And maybe I need to look at HAM radio. What are your thoughts on what to do now that we need to upgrade? DR
 

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I don't talk much on amateur radio either Wunderneun; been there done that thing for me.
I do keep my license renewed however.

Listening & monitoring is a large part of emergency prep. Fun too.
Knowing what is going on and where is advantageous.
With many of the larger cities emergency services switching over to not only trunked radio; many encrypt making the
fun days of scanners obsolete.

I live in one of the high probability tornado threat states.
Amateur Radio Operators provide a service to the National Weather Service in the reporting of severe weather. (Sky Warn)
Anyone can(listen) in on these broadcasts..and believe me, although doppler radar has improved, it's hard to beat the immediate "eyes on the sky" reporting
of a funnel on the ground.
I'm right next door in the eastern swath of tornado alley too. Living this far out from a major city, everything is conventional VHF/UHF unscrambled. If they need to be discreet they will ask for a -21 and use their cell phones to talk.

Skywarn is active in this area and there are at least a dozen spotters that use the local repeater.
 

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You couldn't go wrong with one of the wide-band receivers available today but they are generally more costly than a stand alone SW radio and a scanner put together. Each has advantages and disadvantages.

I have all of that, but no transmitter.

It would depend upon your local area as to what sort of equipment you might want to upgrade to. Are your local services on a trunked system or conventional? Is anyone actively using Cizen Band in your area for comm?
 

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Discussion Starter #16
Thanks for posting this RightsEroding, it's definitely appreciated. You're right a communications plan is a definitely necessary and often overlooked prep in case of emergency.

I've recently passed the test for my Technician ticket and I'm slowly building up a communications plan for us. So far I've got a Baofeng UV-5R+ with a Nagoya NA-771 as a handheld and I'm installing a Yaesu FT-8800R with a Diamond NR-7700HB antenna in the Jeep.

I'd love to hear your experience with securing communications, as that's one of my biggest worries. I realize that Amateur Radio cannot legally be encrypted but I'd love to know how in case of a major emergency or breakdown.

And this may be a stupid question, but I was under the impression you couldn't listen to a trunked system because the transmissions would continuously be hopping across different frequencies. Am I misunderstanding something?

Thanks.
Thanks A1C.

Trunking doesn't really "Hop" per se'...They are (assigning) a open channel to a talk group.
It can be a different frequency each time a user requests a open channel by keying their mic; and during the conversation
the frequency can change. Trunking scanners have the ability to "find" and "follow" the (control) channel.

Kinda' like you asking me, "Hey, where is so and so?" I respond "Over there"
Plenty of info on trunking on the net; it tends to get a little complicated, but the basics are not to hard to follow.

My problem living in Allen county, is our band plan changed in Feb 2014 to Motorola Type 2 Smartnet digital AND encrypted.

As far as securing comms, I'll write more later..but for now..a easy method is operating cross frequency, cross band AND the newer radios
can communicate with eachother and randomly pick a frequency as each radio "follows" the other..all seamless to the operator and difficult for a scanner listener to get most of the conversation.
 
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-. . . -.. / .- -- -- --- --..-- / - .... .- -. -.- ...
 
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Discussion Starter #19
I have Been thinking about this myself lately. We need to upgrade our scanner, And that started me rethinking about our whole communication system.

My wife enjoys the scanner but its at least 20 years old and needs to be replaced.
We are set up for CB both base and mobile But in the last 20 years most have gotten away from it. I still carry a handheld when I'm out off the beaten path. But I'm not even sure if Search and Rescue even carry CB any more. Other than turning them on to be sure they work I haven't used mine in years either. I have thought of changing to a more modern set of mobiles but I have not seen much for base units. Maybe I'm not looking in the right places. And maybe I need to look at HAM radio. What are your thoughts on what to do now that we need to upgrade? DR
But in the last 20 years most have gotten away from it
Not necessarily a bad thing. :image035:

I'm not sure where you are located so it is difficult to give guidance. PM me if you prefer to keep your location private.

Start with the 2nd link I gave. RadioReference.com - Scanner Frequencies and Radio Frequency Reference
This is one of the best sources I know of; up to date and continually evolving.
See what frequencies of interest are in your area, then find a compatible scanning radio.

Are there perhaps "other" frequencies that are not encrypted?..Not digitized?..that would also allow you to glean
information "in the event of"?

"Trunking" systems are widely used in all major cities. If the trunking system is (digital), the scanner will cost considerably more.

Digital Police Scanner Radios

As you can see, digital scanners are not inexpensive.

I would start accessing what you would like to monitor and do you wish to also transmit to others?

Yes; I would highly recommend looking into amateur radio for several reasons.

1) Gain essential understanding of radios and theory w/o heavy math..The math is always there if you want it. :)

2) Ability to legally test your amateur system AND have a lot of fun.

3) Access to some rather sophisticated communication systems available to "Hams"

4) Being a good Samaritan to others in time of need.

I didn't want to get into the licensing structure of Ham radio, though suffice it to say...

1) The morse code requirement is no longer necessary.
2) The pool of questions used for the exam is published openly. It is a multiple choice test..or as one of my profs said yrs ago, (Multiple Guess) :confused:
 
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