Communications Protocols

Comms Planning

Nearly everyone I talk to in preparedness says that they have communications gear, and a solid plan for their group to communicate in the event of a disaster, whether natural or manmade. That sounds good, but then when I ask to see their radio, they are stumped. “What do you mean?”. I reply “Where is your radio, right now?”. They say at home, or “with my gear”.

It’s good to have radios, but if your plan doesn’t include having them with you RIGHT NOW, your plan may not matter one bit. No matter the situation, the first or second thing to happen will be phone systems either collapsing or being overwhelmed. Having radios to communicate immediately will be crucial.

In addition to having the radios and having them available, you’ll need certain radio protocols established ahead of the event. The way to do this is to establish a set of Signal Operating Instructions (SOI) or Communications-Electronics Operating Instructions (CEOI) for your entire team and to TRAIN on them.

This holds true to my philosophy that skills are more important than gear. I honestly can’t tell you the number of people at events who bought a radio, but never programmed it or never learned enough to understand how to make your radio perform better. They just went online, read a couple of blogs, watched 2 or 3 YouTube videos, bought a radio and then declared themselves prepared. That’s dangerous and will leave you out of the loop on day one.

My Newest Radio

As a result, our first piece to the SOI is that we need to make sure that everyone is working from the exact same programming. Even if you input the same frequencies, if you don’t have the same selective calling settings (sometimes called privacy codes – they aren’t private), you won’t hear each other. Have a communications team leader, preferably a licensed amateur radio operator, who ensures that everyone has the right radio settings.

The second piece of your SOI is that you must mandate that people keep their radios with them, at least in their vehicles, and preferably on their person, every single day. With the current hacking epidemic, it’s only a matter of time until someone takes down either electrical power or cell phone grids. You can store a small handheld without the antenna attached in your laptop bag, Get Home Bag, or purse. If you need help, it’s better than nothing.

Your SOI should address ways to make crisis communications more understandable. For example, shouting on the radio is never going to come across well, so don’t allow it. Make sure that people know to speak ACROSS the microphone, not directly into it to prevent hissing “S” sound and pops on other letters.

You will need call signs and other protocols. Each person can have their own call signs, or teams can have their own (Security/Medical/Communications/Command) group call signs. I know it’s cool to assign everyone some sort of ultra-cool guy tacti-cool call sign like WARHAMMER or something, but under stress, it will be easier to call people by group, like “Medical” or “Security”, rather than names, when operating out of a fixed location.

The same thing goes with vehicle movement. As people are assigned to vehicles, it will be hard to remember which vehicle “CHAOS” or “WARHAMMER” are sitting in. It’s better to go with “Lead” or “Trail”, etc, as vehicle call signs. Medical and Supply can be others. Alternatively, you can randomly assign colors to each vehicle as call signs (BLUE/RED/YELLOW).

When working in executive protection, most people just use call signs related to their role, rather than their assigned personal call signs. For example, one of the groups I work with has assigned me the call sign “Guapo”, for some reason that I’m certain has nothing to do with my good looks, but when we are moving with the client, I’m generally called “ADVANCE”, because that’s my team role and they want it clear who the message is for (me and anyone else on the Advance team). The point is, you may have a personal call sign, but may also need to respond to assignment-related call signs.

Select several practical frequencies for your team to use. Even if your team is small, you will need more than one channel. What if you discover as you enter a new area, you hear someone else using your frequency? You need an alternate. I generally select license free channels like FRS or MURS, because, despite what my Amateur Radio friends say, my team communications are generally very short range, and I don’t envision having to worry about local kids playing on radios in a disaster/attack situation. FRS channels also allow your team members with less monetary resources to be able to communicate.

Channel 3 Project

The Channel 3 Project of AMRRON also needs to be incorporated into your SOI. The program is monitoring FRS 3, CB 3, MURS 3, and 146.420 at the top of every hour. The premise is that anyone seeking help or information can call out on those channels and find like-minded people for help. Don’t use those channels for any other communications for your team. Any time you are in a static location, someone should be monitoring Channel 3 of any of those systems.

A lot of people spend a lot of time talking about radio security and encryption. The honest truth is that you are NEVER going to be able to buy a radio that the NSA can’t break the encryption on, so stop worrying about it. Understand how radios work instead, and minimize risk that way. Radios are inherently short range, so don’t worry about being monitored from a distance. Use the lowest power setting possible, only raising it when someone can’t hear you. Learn how to quickly change power levels on your specific radio. Never use full names or addresses on the radio.

Develop some method of authentication, or a way to know that the person you are talking to is really on your side. You could have daily password, or a challenge/authentication system, but you need something. A duress code is also a good idea (a word said over the are that alerts that you are under duress/at gunpoint/etc). If you have one person (your comms leader) join AMRRON and get their SOI, they have an excellent authentication method that works on a national level, enabling you to verify that unknown voices are indeed like-minded.

Understand that the opposition is out buying the same radios you are, and they are using theirs EVERY SINGLE DAY at these protests, so they are more experienced. Have a plan to monitor for opposing groups using radios near your location. People communicating by radio near your bug out location is almost never a good thing and always a cause for concern.

While holding radio-specific training sessions is good, the better way is to incorporate radios into EVERY training event.

Establish “brevity codes” or names for locations and activities that only your team knows. That way, you can coordinate meetings or events, without worrying about eavesdropping. If we all know that “Gather at Firefly” means that we all meet in a particular location, no on else will know where that is. It should go without saying that the code word for the location should never hint at where it is. For example you wouldn’t say “playground” if you wanted everyone to meet at a park or school parking lot.

There is a lot that goes into establishing team communications and that all needs to be done BEFORE any event occurs. Get to work.

We are around halfway done with Volume 2 of Tactical Wisdom, Fieldcraft. If you’d like to help us produce that, please donate below.


Donation – June 2021

Donation to assist with book project.



Published by JD

I am the author of the Tactical Wisdom Series. I am a personal protection specialist and a veteran of the US Marine Corps. I conduct preparedness and self-defense training.

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