Communications Preparedness

Recently, there was a social media discussion about radios and being prepared.  I frequently talk about this topic, and while most people talk about what gear your need, you all know I’m more about the practical skills aspect.

Let me say it again: SKILLS ARE MORE IMPORTANT THAN GEAR.

Just as it does me no good to have a $3,500 rifle that I don’t know how to clean or zero, it does me no good to have a $5,000 HF Radio set up and no ability whatsoever to make contact with anyone.  

And guess what?   That’s the norm in the preparedness community.  Don’t get offended, you and I both know it’s true.  People watch a YouTube video (because that’s the same as learning, right?) and run out and buy whatever “Super Prepper Steve” or “Ultra Ready Randy” were using in the video.  Then it sits in the box.  

I recently helped teach an event for a local group and I was amazed at how many had radios that they hadn’t programmed.  The core group had theirs ready, but many people had just bought the radio and left it in the box until someone offered to program it for them.  

That boggles my mind….what if the power had gone out before they ever got it programmed?  They’d have a cool paperweight.

So…lesson 1….For every piece of gear you have, commit that you will not buy another until you’ve learned how to put this SPECIFIC piece of gear into use.  This applies to everything, because knowing how to shoot a deer rifle, for example, isn’t the same as firing an AR platform, which is also different from firing an AK.  Radios are the same, backpacks and tents are the same, etc.

The next point that comes up in discussing radio preparedness is should you get licensed or not.  That’s a personal decision you have to make, I personally choose not to.  Before all the Amateur Radio guys (who are a great resource and good friends) pounce on me, let me explain:

  • It’s my PERSONAL choice, I’m not advocating either way.
  • Just as the Second Amendment allows me to choose how I exercise it, I feel that the First Amendment is also an absolute with no government regulation needed.
  • I feel no need to add myself to another government list.
  • When the government decides to invoke the Defense Production Act, guess where they will find a list of people who might have the radio gear they want to seize?
  • In an emergency, no license is needed to transmit on any frequency.
  • The biggest value radio has is in the ability to GATHER information by LISTENING.
  • Lastly, my local team will all be in the same area, so we can use license-free gear for local comms, including CB and CB SSB for long range if needed.

Let’s address some of the problems people will claim there are in this philosophy and the practical skills to combat that.

First, people will say getting licensed allows you to practice and stay aware of what’s going on now.  I can practice the same radio skills using license-free bands and equipment with my local team and some other groups.  

Also, everyone is able to listen in on ARES/RACES/SKYWARN radio traffic.  These are Amateur Radio emergency networks that operate in weather/disaster scenarios and they run regular networks and training events.  Monitoring them with your own equipment will help develop skills and will keep you informed.  Learn the local Amateur radio frequencies and program them into your radios.  When severe weather or a potential issue arises, you can establish a radio listening watch.

The next argument people raise is that there will be a lot of traffic on license free bands like FRS and MURS.  I submit that there might be now, but when a disaster strikes, the average person is going to run out of battery power within hours and the traffic will drop almost immediately.  Most FRS equipment is so low-power that it won’t affect me and my team anyway.  

Among the arguments against using the 5 no license required MURS channels is that businesses use them, like Walmart (here they use 4 and 5).  Again, in a grid-down, without-rule-of-law situation, that’s not actually going to be a concern.  

They way to combat these issues to set up your radio and LISTEN now.  I’ve been maintaining a watch on FRS 3, and occasionally I’ll hear a couple of kids playing around on the radio.  I seriously doubt that in an emergency the kids will break out the radios and run around the neighborhood.  As a side note to that, human beings are lazy creatures.  Monitor FRS 1 for any period of time and I’ll prove it.  On FRS 1, you’ll hear constant chatter that is ether kids playing or some local business, because they’re too lazy to actually change the channel.

“But, FRS 3 is the national prepper channel and I can’t use it if someone else is”.  No, FRS 3 (and MURS 3) is the National Prepper CALLING channel.  You should practice making contact one on channel, and then switching to another to actually talk.  Your group should have have pre-planned calling and then “talk-around” or “tactical” channels.  

For example, in my group, we have our own calling channel we call Main, and then 8 other channels we call the TAC channels, all of which are in license-free bands.  I can call someone on the main channel, and tell them to meet me on TAC 5, and no one listening in will know what actual channel I’m referring to.

The next issue people will raise is the ability for others to monitor your traffic.  News Flash…that still is a concern if you have an amateur radio license.  Any handheld has a maximum of 5 watts of power, and someone would have to be pretty close to actually interfere with or monitor  our radios.  Conversely, we regularly monitor ANTIFA radio traffic (yes, they use license free bands).

Truth be told, there is literally no way you can make your radios free from interception.  Even encryption is false security, because the United States Government isn’t about to let you buy a radio that they can’t listen to.

Skill wise, work with your team on a radio calling protocol.  Your main channel should be used for emergency traffic or for ALL-CALL type traffic that everyone needs to hear.  Practice calling on your main channel, then switching to an alternate for conversations.  This is more secure, and keeps the main channel clear for emergency traffic.

Carrying that to a larger perspective, if you have a large group at a compound or small community, you could assign TAC channels to each group, security, medical, farming, etc, while all groups also monitor the main channel.

Quad Watch

Getting a radio with Dual-Watch capability helps here.  This refers to the ability to monitor 2 channels at once. My vehicle radio (which doubles as a base station) has a Quad-Watch capability.  

Get radios now, and start listening to amateur bands, and start monitoring the license-free bands around you, to determine what channels will most likely be free for your group.

The next thing your group needs to do is establish a set of Signal Operating Instructions, or an SOI.  This is a mutually understood plan for communications.  It will list channels/frequencies, pre-set radio plans, contact schedules, and the like.  This should be typed out and everyone should have a copy, because in an emergency, it’s a lot easier to open a book than it is to remember things.

Membership in the American Redoubt Radio Operators Network, or AmRRON (www.amrron.com) includes a copy of their SOI, as well as guidance for modifying it for your own group’s use.  They also conduct training exercises and weekly network tests.

During a true without-rule-of-law situation, you’ll have to accept that there is potential to be monitored, so some sort of mutually agreed upon code should be devised.  Yes, HAM friends, I know that the FCC forbids codes on radio traffic, but if the grid is down and a band of looters is planning to attack my bug out location, the FCC rolling up is the least of my concerns, and quite frankly, they’ll have bigger issues to attend to than me calling my barn “The Nest” on a half-second 5-watt transmission in the middle of nowhere.

Besides, every group of friends has nicknames for the places they go or frequent that is unique to them, so start there.

There is a ton more information on this topic in the AmRRON SOI.

This was a brief recap of an extensive topic, and I highly recommend doing additional research and seeking real training opportunities.

In short, get radios and spare batteries, and learn how to use them NOW, before they are needed. 

Published by JD

I'm a defensive firearms and martial arts instructor, as well as a professional security & loss prevention consultant. I train people on how to defend themselves, their workplaces, and homes, as well as how to be prepared & aware. I offer corporate active shooter defense training as well.

2 thoughts on “Communications Preparedness

  1. Comms are a very common weak point most folks’ emergency preparedness, at least that’s what I’ve noticed. Another is power generation, again just what I have observed, which is key to recharging those electronic devices.

    Skills > gear is perhaps the most important thing to keep in mind. I’ve said this often (can’t remember where I heard it): I’d rather count on a skilled individual with questionable gear than count on an unskilled individual with top shelf gear.

    Liked by 1 person

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