Redundant Communications

As I sit in an undisclosed location, doing what I do, several members of the team began to report issues with data.  Texting, secure messaging, video streaming, and general internet was slow or stopped, due to the sheer number of people using the services in the immediate area. In this area, today, that’s a life-or-death problem.

There is a lesson to be learned here.  First, we over-rely on our phones.  Most people use their phones for communication, navigation, and entertainment.  In an emergency, relying on your phone for communications and navigation, as most do, is DANGEROUS.

Second, when something is going on, everyone in the area will be using their phones for a multitude of things, all of which eat up the bandwidth and quickly overwhelm the system.

You have to have other methods of communication. 

In God’s Ultimate Tactical Manual, the Bible, there are several examples of Paul sending both a letter, and a messenger, just in case one or the other didn’t get through. This is not a new problem.

In our modern society, we have many more options for sending messages, so let’s talk a little about redundancy.

Whenever I consult with “groups” and we discuss their communication plans, they always bring up cell phones, encrypted messaging apps, Zello (2 way radio app), text messaging, and of course voice phone calls.  Seems like a lot of redundancy, right? 

WRONG.

There is absolutely ZERO redundancy in those plans, because they ALL rely on the same device and the same network to deliver the message.  If the phone dies or the network goes down, not a single one of the “redundancies” will be available.

What other options do we have?  Many.  They just aren’t as high-tech, or cool as having a ton of cell phone apps, all running at the same time.

The best secondary method I can recommend is RADIO.  Yes, I know, the range is limited.  Answer me this….would you rather only be able to communicate at short range or not at all?  If the cell system and internet is down, you are getting zero range, so a couple of miles is infinitely better, is it not?

In the world of radio, you buy anything from a cheap blister-pack radio at Walmart (a few hundred meters of range) to a several thousand dollar base station and repeater that gets a hundred miles or more.  The only thing is, everyone in your group needs to be on the same set of Signal Operating Instructions.

The Signal Operating Instructions (SOI) is your group’s plan for radio communications, detailing times, frequencies, and methods of contact.  The American Redoubt Radio Operators Network, or AMRRON (www.ammron.com) publishes one SOI manual for all their members, so that there is a national plan.  It’s well worth the price of membership.

How to set up your radios and which frequencies or bands to use is something that will keep HAM radio license holders talking for hours, which we aren’t going to do.  I’m going to anger them all with the next few points, but my friends who have a HAM license will still love me though, because they know I’m right, they just like to be all technical.

First, I’ll admit that I do NOT have an FCC Amateur License, or as I like to call it, a “Where the Federal Government Can Find Radios to Seize” license.  I don’t fault anyone who does, it’s just not personal choice.

You can buy the Baofeng handheld radios, which are sufficient for most of your purposes.  Sorry, HAM guys, most everyday use in a true “Without Rule of Law” scenario involve TACTICAL communications at short range.  Yes, you should have other equipment for receiving at longer distances, because that’s how you’ll get your news.  But for everyday keeping in touch with family members or your security team, the $40-$50 Baofeng radio can’t be beat, especially if you buy a roll-up J-Pole antenna that you can toss into a tree.  

Now, most of the Baofengs operate in the 5W-8W range on high power, so I would be remiss if I didn’t warn you that those power levels violate FCC regulations on a lot of bands.  I’ll also tell you that in a WROL situation, I’m pretty sure the FCC won’t be rolling around, tracking down people broadcasting above the power limits or even broadcasting on unapproved bands.

For ease of communication planning, I have my radios programmed with the FRS/GMRS/MURS radio frequencies (you can find them easily online).  It just makes it easier to add people or discuss channels for the day, when working off a known list. (To the Feds lurking here: Of course I have the power dropped to appropriate levels….)

Because I have also been known to work security operations in unusual places, I also have things like the EU’s PMR frequencies programmed in, which is their version of FRS/GMRS.  While in North America, those are HAM band frequencies, again, in an emergency, it won’t matter and I may run into a group of lost British security detail members (hey, I’ve been at a facility FULL of them in North America).  It’s just another list of known frequencies to work from.  By the way, if the grid IS down, and you tell someone to switch to PMR 6, no one will be able “Google” the listing of PMR frequencies, will they?  Perhaps I’ve thought about this….

I know that a lot of my counterparts object to using these frequencies based on the communication security problems, but we aren’t dealing with combat against a nation-state level actor, no matter how many times you’ve seen Red Dawn (both versions).  We’re talking about real-world local security operations.  You can make this much more secure by using your own SOI.

Let’s say that we’ve decided to use FRS 9 as our main channel, GMRS 18 as a TAC (Talk-Around Channel) , and MURS 2 as a fall back (TAC 2).  Everyone in our group would just know that FRS 9 is our main channel and monitor it.  The main channel is ONLY for making initial contact, not for holding full conversations.  That way, if someone stumbles across the channel, they only get us making contact.  Once I’ve made contact, I could say “switch to TAC” and we would all know to switch to GMRS 18.  It’s more secure than saying “switch to GMRS 18”.  It’s not perfect, but again, we aren’t dealing with fighting a war, just local security.

Our group has 9 FRS/GMRS frequencies preplanned with Digital Coded Squelch codes, and have them labeled in all our radios as MAIN, and TAC 1-8. All we say is “switch to TAC 6” for example, and someone would have to be both close and lucky to stumble across us. No, it’s not perfect, but it’s SIMPLE and in an emergency SIMPLE is always best.

I know there a lot of guys who say, “I will only buy encrypted radios”.  Yes, for professional work, I have encrypted radios as well, but remember that only works against local chuckleheads.  The US Government isn’t about to let you be able to buy radios that they can’t break the encryption on easily.  And if they can, you can bet the Chinese, Russians, or whoever your favorite boogeyman is (maybe the Indonesians, I don’t know) can, too.

In a local compound, wire is also an alternative, especially between an observation post/security checkpoint back to your main post.  Since WW1, the US military has taught nearly every person who has entered service how to run wire and hook up a phone that can talk to another phone on the same wires (sound powered). Equipment is available online and it’s really as simple as laying wire and attaching the two phones to it.

The most secure method, of course, has been around since Adam & Eve, and that’s face to face communication.  In a true emergency, you may have no alternative but to seek out your friends and family and talk to them face to face.  

As long as there is electrical power, you can use email to supplement cellular calling if the cell networks are overloaded, but most people send & receive all their email via their cell phone, so you can’t be sure the message will arrive when you need it to.

In my opinion, your communication plans should look like this:

Primary: Cell Phone

Alternate: Radio

Contingency: Email

Emergency: HF Radio

Yes, I know radio is on there twice, but HF radio has been the mainstay of true grid-down emergency communication ever since the radio was invented, and I don’t see that changing.

Some of my fellow Executive Protection practitioners will inevitably say I left out SAT Phone comms, but that was on purpose.  If we’re in a situation where the grid is down, a SAT phone won’t be able to find a signal for the same reason your $800 GPS won’t….without powered-up ground stations for the GPS system, neither your SAT phone or GPS will know exactly where it is.

On a side note, for security operations now, the order is a bit different:

Primary: VHF/UHF Radio

Alternate: Secure Messaging App

Contingency: Cell phone

Emergency: Sat Phone

In every emergency plan you make, use the PACE acronym to help you plan four different alternatives for everything (especially routes).

While we’re on the topic, Western society has all but replaced the GPS with mapping apps on your phone, no matter how habitually inaccurate they are.   Could you navigate home from somewhere without using your phone?  What about if your normal route is blocked? Let me give you a few ideas.

1. Google Maps will let you download your local area for use offline & Sygic navigation will let you download your entire state.

2. Carry a separate handheld GPS that doesn’t rely on the cellular network.

3. Carry a paper map in something like a BattleBoard Scout (www.battleboard.us).

4. Learn to use a paper map & compass (invest in a good compass).

Build redundancy into everything you do.  I carry a flashlight on my belt and one in my EDC bag.  I carry cash and a credit card.  Always have another way to do anything.

As our country continues down this uncertain path, having redundant communications is absolutely vital.  The last point is, always carry the redundant part with you.  It’s habit for me, because I’ve kept a radio with me pretty much daily since I was 18 (that was a LONG time ago ), but if it’s new to you, make sure you take it.  Redundant programs are only redundant when they are available to you.

Be safe & be aware.

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.

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