A few days ago, several of us were talking about comms and sharing ideas. When we got past the angry HAMs telling us about how we were all threatening democracy and were going to go to prison for using the wrong brand of radio, we got some great sharing going. Please don’t take that the wrong way, some of the best and most helpful people I’ve met in preparedness are HAMs, but y’all got more than your fair share of Karen’s, who claim to be preparing to resist a tyrannical government whilst also demanding that people follow every dictate of said tyrannical government.
But I digress.
One of commenters, a HAM himself, offered to put some ideas into a thread, and quickly realized that this would be too long for Twitter, so I offered up a guest post. Below this introduction is all his information. All I’ve done is drop a couple of Amazon affiliate links into it (we may make a few pennies if you click one, got to pay the light bill) and format it for this page. Reminder – I only put in links to items that I personally use.
By Pete Kidder AKA Buster88072979
A few days ago on twitter, I responded to a tweet on @DolioJ as @Buster88072979 about comms and said I would put together a short thread about them. I started and it soon became evident that I didn’t have that kind of patience to do it that way so I’ll go about it like this.
My experience is all I can relay and my opinion is not considered expert so I can only hope what I say is helpful. I’ll talk a little bit about different types of comms since I believe the question was where to begin when first starting to build a comms prep. I’ll also give a real word example of why I believe each type is worth having.
I should preface this one thing that holds true across all the different transceivers and that is you are better off with a less expensive radio and a better antenna than the other way around. (Editors Note: Read that again – Circe it – highlight it. JD)
Let’s dig in.
I like the old reliable CB radio for a starter type comm for its relatively low cost and high benefit. I wouldn’t be without one on a cross country trip and carry a handheld in my bag for work as I travel all over the Northeast. The real time information available for traffic and road conditions, police locations and the ability to ask questions is invaluable. I once came across a traffic backup and was able to make contact with a trucker, exit the highway and follow him around the snarl. Turns out, there was a major accident that was going to take quite a while to clear and $150 investment in that CB paid off. Limitations of CB radios can be very noisy at times and limited range. Most likely, the person you are talking to will be within a mile or two, especially urban environments, maybe even less.
Another piece of equipment I have is a scanner. While it isn’t two way, the information is again, real time. Speed traps, road blockages due to accidents, fires or, I have even avoided driving into a manhunt for a bank robber due to my scanner. My police and fire use APCO 25 systems so the scanner is a little pricey starting around $400, but when the SHTF, you won’t kick on that price to be able to hear that type of communication.
I was driving up I-93 in southern NH in bumper-to-bumper traffic, when State Police dispatch reports a wrong way driver headed southbound in the northbound lane about 3 miles above me. This information allowed me to leave additional space between the vehicles in front of me and move to the center lane where my view was unobstructed by trucks. The wrong way driver never materialized, I passed a State Trooper in the median and was on my way. Had they appeared, I’d like to think I had an advantage in being ready to evade them because I was able to look for them. Limitations can be a limited range, hard to understand what’s happening if you don’t know 10 codes and lack of ability to talk. An external antenna in place of the rubber ducky one that comes with it can increase range enormously.
Again, very valuable information.
GMRS/FRS and MURS General Mobile Radio Service (GMRS)
Family Radio Service (FRS) Multi Use Radio Service (MURS)
When it comes to ease of use, I think the GMRS/FRS or MURS radios are a pretty good value.
GMRS requires a license to use so by no means am I endorsing unauthorized use. I believe it’s simply filling out a form and maybe a small fee to get it.
All of these types are the Motorola and Uniden type radios you see everywhere from Walmart to Cabela’s marketed for hunting, camping and other outdoorsy type stuff. They can be as simple as few straight channels or as fancy as several encodes for each channel for added privacy. I have found these to be very useful while I was a tree climber to be able to talk to my guys in the hills of Vt. while scouting entry into the powerline rights of way. Most recently I have used them for direct contact with my group while on road trips in the Northeast. Very effective for about a mile while inside a car in traffic without any external antenna. I find these types of radios to be very useful in group settings, not so much to chat with the public like you can with the CB radio. Also, while I believe some may have the ability to use an external antenna, I have never needed or used one so I can’t speak to the effectiveness. Only that I believe it would help extend the range if used.
The above types of radios or scanners are your basic, no training or testing required, if the SHTF will be very useful for local communication.
Amateur radio (HAM)
Another type is amateur radio or Ham radio. Ham radio offers a better range, most places have a repeater or two on the uhf/vhf bands and the ability to talk and listen halfway around the world on the HF bands, all the way if you can figure out bouncing signals off the moon and stuff. I haven’t. Ham radio requires a federal license through the FCC and a test of 35 questions to obtain the license. I believe the fee for the license is $35 to $40 and testing locations can be found at arrl.com. I have $1000’s of dollars in radios and antennas but that isn’t needed. A $500 HF radio and a $300 to $400 antenna had me talking into Europe, Russia, Africa, all over South America as far off as Uruguay and into Alaska and Hawaii. UHF/VHF single band transceivers are fairly cheap with dual band ones being only somewhat more. My experience with Ham as a hobby has been more fun making contacts on HF worldwide than trying to talk with the old guard, snooty club members on local repeaters. My personal opinion of Ham as SHTF is similar to CB in that you’ll be able to get real time info worldwide and if the situation warrants it, you can ask questions. Also, it’s similar to the GMRS/FRS in that if you want somebody to talk to locally, you’ll need to supply that most likely.
Walkie Talkie Cell Phone Apps
Not every type of comm needs to be SHTF, at least not while the grid and cell phone towers hold up. Messaging apps are great, but walkie talkie type apps like Zello are fantastic. I use that in place of radios all the time, especially if I’m leading someone out of a city environment where it’s easy to get separated. Easy to use, easy to set up groups and chat with 3-4 people at once and switch out so you can speak to one alone if needed.
Drawbacks are if the cell network drops, your comms drop and there are plenty of dead spots in the hills of Vt and NH so keep that in mind.
So that’s my experience with certain types of comms, why I think they are useful and some real-world situations where they were key to getting me out of a jam, real or potential. Anyhow, I hope that helps a little and has some value in your assessment of comm needs.
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