I frequently talk about the need to test your gear and your skills, but when is the last time you tested your preparedness radios? I’m not talking to the Amateur Radio guys, they do it everyday. I’m talking to YOU, yes YOU, the guy who has the radios in a box somewhere.
So often we buy a piece of gear, check that item off our list, then set it in storage, where it sits forever. This becomes a real problem for radios, which will be one of the first things we’ll need in a real preparedness situation.
As a Without Rule of Law situation develops, communications infrastructure will be among the first things to go down. Whether from a dedicated attack, a loss of electrical power, or just from overuse, communications will be down. Radios will be a great way to both communicate and develop information.
First, for communicating with your team, radios are vital. We decided to do a vehicle movement radio test this week, to ensure that we could indeed use them in the highly urbanized environment of Detroit.
The test was simple, a two vehicle movement directly around the northern and western edges of Detroit. This is an important test, because you may have a set of radios that work great at your bug-out location in rural farmland, but they will operate very differently in an urban environment. For those of us who live in a city and intend to meet up with others before moving out, this kind of testing is vital.
The equipment we tested were just handhelds, and we used them in the UHF range, on FRS frequencies, as no license is required. Now, before I have about 15 of my beloved Amateur Radio friends chime in about all the reasons why FRS is terrible, that’s not the point. I wanted to test simplex UHF hand-held to hand-held. The specific frequency wasn’t the point. We will be testing VHF range in the MURS band next week.
What we found was that on surface streets, we got about a mile of range, but on Metro Detroit freeways, it dropped to 1/2 to 3/4 of a mile. The reason is the nature of Detroit’s highways. They are dug down into the ground in large ditches, almost tunnel-like, which are fairly unfriendly to hand-held radios without a repeater. Especially when said radios have their antennas locked inside the metal cage of the car.
I know, my Amateur Radio friends are going to leave comments about using a repeater, but the point of the test is to test for WROL/SHTF communications WITHOUT grid power, which will generally mean no repeaters. You absolutely need to know what kind of range your intra-team radios will get just running simplex (radio-to-radio).
What this tells me is that my team needs to invest in vehicle radios. I know, HAM friends, but you can’t broadcast in those frequency ranges at 25 or 50 watts. In a WROL situation, the FCC is the least of our worries, my friends. I use a vehicle radio daily for protection/investigations work, and they can indeed punch the range up. But remember, it’s not always a function of power. If you’re sitting in the basement of a parking garage (happens in the investigation & protection field more than you think), it won’t matter how many watts of power you slam into the concrete and steel, the signal isn’t getting out.
Another option to use for your team’s vehicles is the old, tried & true CB radio, as long as it has SSB capability. Again, Amateur Radio people look down their nose, but aside from Channel 19, this system is empty now. It will be even more empty once the trucks stop moving. It doesn’t require a license and is wide open. You can get very good range on a properly tuned CB radio, particularly with SSB.
A good option is that each vehicle in your group have a CB radio, and each person have a handheld VHF/UHF radio. With this system, vehicle-to-vehicle comms could be on the CB, and if you need to dismount a team on foot to investigate a danger area, they could communicate with each other on the VHF/UHF frequency, while the vehicles monitor that channel and talk amongst each other on CB. You need a multi-tiered approach.
He who answers before listening,
That is his folly & his shame.
That advice from the Ultimate Tactical Handbook is even more vital in a WROL situation. It means that we need to LISTEN to the radio more than talk.
In a WROL situation, traditional news sources and communication methods will be gone. Ever since the radio was invented, Amateur Radio has been used to communicate news and information across the world. Amateur stations will be broadcasting about local conditions, and sharing what information they have. Your group will need to tap into that incredible information source, even if it’s just to listen.
Having a licensed Amateur Radio Operator on your team will allow you to communicate with these stations, some from around the world. However, you don’t need a license to LISTEN and GATHER information. All you need is a radio that receives a wide range of AM/FM/Shortwave, and Medium Wave frequencies. Just turn on the radio, scan, and start gathering information. Just make sure it has SSB capability.
To recap, you need to test all of you radio gear under real-world circumstances. You can’t just use them on weekend campouts once a year and consider it good enough. Get out and run actual drills. I actually participated twice with a local…organization, we’ll call it…where they practiced running intelligence gathering foot patrols, once downtown and once in the suburbs, to test their hand-held radio gear. It was a great time, and everyone learned what changes they needed to make to their radio gear.
Having an option to extend the range of your vehicle communications is vital, because trying to use handheld radios with the antenna trapped inside the metal box of your car isn’t going to do very well.
Lastly, having an option to at least listen to shortwave and amateur radio broadcasts will be absolutely vital in a WROL situation, so you need to develop that option.
These topics are all covered in our Base Line Training Manual, available at Amazon, like the items above (I may make a small affiliate commission on those links). We are hard at work on Volume 2 of the Tactical Wisdom Series, Fieldcraft. Fieldcraft will discuss the skills needed to effectively move and live in the field, both in an urban and a rural setting. As usual, if you’d like to help support our efforts to produce content and training materials, please donate below.
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