Developing Comms Plans

Radio Operations

When things go bad, communication is often the first thing to go. Even if the cell phone network is still up, it doesn’t take much to overload it. A high volume of calls and lots of people streaming video, and suddenly you are without voice communication.

I am by no means an expert on these topics, many others are better qualified. If you’d like to expand beyond the very basics that I’m about to discuss, I’d check out my friend NC Scout at http://www.brushbeater.org or check out http://www.amrron.com. In fact, NC Scout holds classes throughout the US and even has one planned here in Michigan (what a coincidence!!) in the near future. Check out his training calendar.

When it comes to communications, the Ultimate Tactical Handbook speaks of the power you can wield if you are able to communicate with your team:

The tongue has the power of life and death.

Proverbs 18:21

While this is traditionally translated to mean be careful in how you talk to others, the opposite is also true; if I can’t warn my friends of danger, they could be at risk. Being able to communicate gives you literally the power of life and death.

First, understand that even if you don’t have voice communications, text and messaging apps use far less bandwidth and could be used. NC Scout also recommends the Signal app for mid-level comms (it’s not secure) and Wire for more secure comms. But the point of this article is to move us beyond cell phones.

Face it, the cell phone is a tracking device. It gets more and more that way every single day. So, let’s plan on moving beyond that.

A more secure method for using these apps is a WiFi only tablet, as long as you’ve removed Android from it and replaced it with something like Graphene. Taking the added step of routing your traffic via TOR or some other secure browser, you can send fairly secure messages.

With no electricity and no grid power, our options become more limited and given the conflict in Ukraine and raising tensions with China, this is a REAL danger. The US Admin seems bent on getting involved, and that will cause cyber issues here. You need to have a plan.

The first option is radio, and you can have several levels. First, getting an amateur license is a good way to be prepared. Yes, my Sad Ham friends, I actually said that. Just because I choose not to is not a reflection on Amateur Radio. If you have an amateur license, you have access to all kinds of radio spectrum and options, allowing you to communicate.

However, over-reliance on Amateur Repeaters is going to cause a problem. When the power goes out, it will be expensive and nearly impossible to keep most high-powered repeaters online. Develop a simplex (non-repeater) plan for your group.

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The first level is local inter-group communications. You can mostly use low powered VHF/UHF for this since you will be getting together and being less than a mile from each other. License free options are even good for this, like FRS or MURS in America and PMR in Europe. Yes, Sad Ham’s, I’m aware of the power limits, but if the power is out and riots are happening, I doubt the FCC will be issuing fines.

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You could add 25- or 50-watt vehicle radios to boost power, but you’re not really adding to range, you’re adding to CLARITY. These radios are generally still line of sight. My plan involves vehicle radios like the TYT TH-9800 that NC Scout recommended (see above). To increase range, you need to raise your antennas higher above the ground.

Set up a channel plan for your group to check in with each other. If you have group members living a bit farther apart, you can relay signals. The farthest person reaches one person, then that person relays the message to the next, and so on.

For longer range communications, HF radio is better. For more detail on these, check the resources listed above. I recommend HF for group-to-group communications. For example, you can arrange a weekly check in with a neighboring preparedness group via HF.

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CB Radios, while the Amateur Radio world scoffs at them, have value and it’s getting better. CB can now broadcast on FM as well as AM and there are now higher quality handheld units. For vehicle use, SSB (Single Side Band) units can get you far better range than standard. I know a lot of people mention truckers using them, but in a WROL society, will there be a lot of truckers? Also, truckers are a GREAT source of information at least listening to them will help.

I did some scanning and here in Detroit, only 4 or 5 channels are in use. That leaves you 35 or 36 channels to choose from. It’s a good option for convoy operations or patrol options in open terrain.

The Channel 3 Project is vital to your preparedness plans. This AMRRON project suggests listening to the License-Free Channel 3’s every hour from 2 minutes before the hour to 2 minutes after the hour. This includes FRS 3, CB 3, and MURS 3. This way, like-minded people can seek help and information from others. For example, if your group was moving on foot and approached a town, you could wait and attempt to make contact at the top of the hour via Channel 3 with like-minded people, to find out the best route through or around, or where a safe haven for the night might be. Include the ability to monitor these in your planning. The Project also suggests monitoring or calling on 146.420, but that would require a license and I know NOT ONE of you would ever do that, right?

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Another key piece of your plan could involve data communications by radio. Data travels far farther than voice transmissions do, and with an APRS cable, you can connect your computer to the radio and send text, similar to email or SMS. The Michigan Patriot Unified Radio Network has been doing some research here, and I’ve received data messages from 20 to 30 miles distant on a Baofeng handheld. MPURN (https://mpurn.wordpress.com/) and AMRRON have more information on data communications.

Radio listening will be key. No license is required to ever listen. Learn via RadioRefence.com what frequencies are active in your area and listen to them for intelligence gathering. Ever since it’s invention, people have received news of wars and emergencies via amateur shortwave radio. It is so powerful and useful that as soon as Russia invaded, Ukraine banned the use of amateur radio to prevent Russia from listening to reports. Get at least the capability to RECEIVE.

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Visual signals can be a backup to radio. If you can’t make radio contact, you could have visual signals pre-arranged. You could post an orange panel (you should keep one handy) in a window as a signal, or your group can develop covert signals. For example, you could leave a particular mark on a wall that other members would be responsible for checking every day if they don’t have radio contact. You could have multiple symbols with different meanings. At least one should be a danger warning to keep others from coming to your location, in the event of a forced communication, a “duress code”.

A final piece is the need for a “LOST COMMS” plan. If no contact can be made by any of the other methods, all team members should meet at a designated location at a certain time. For example, one of my friends has a plan that if there is no communication for 14 days, everyone in his group should meet at the public library at noon on the next Sunday. Yours could be that if no one has heard from the group within 7 days, each family starts making their way to a specific rally point, like a parking lot or known location to meet up and begin movement to a bug out location. Whatever it is, make sure it’s known and practiced.

Whatever you decide, use the PACE model to develop a written plan. Primary, alternate, contingency, and emergency. Using the above information, we might have the following plan:

Primary: VHF Radio Voice

Alternate: VHF Radio Data

Contingency: HF Radio/CB Radio

Emergency: Visual Signals, then Lost Comms Plan

In our new “Contacts and Notes” Tactical Wisdom Companion, you can list radio contact frequencies in your Contacts pages and in the Team Planning pages. You can also use the PACE Planning pages to develop your Comms Plan using the PACE Model. The book is available signed at the Books tab on this site, or from Amazon.

I hope this post helps you create urgency in setting up Communications Plans.

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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.

5 thoughts on “Developing Comms Plans

  1. Don’t forget about neighborhood news – IF your local situation makes that a safe option. Our group’s comm plans include “sandwich boards” and other bulletin boards located in key locations. These will be used to announce time and location of things like a local marketplace, for sale/trade, reconnecting/missing persons, general announcements, news reports from shortwave radio, etc. This is separate from our main prep group plan, since our strategy is based on organizing and rebuilding on a neighborhood level rather than only focusing on our group members. In the long term, what will matter is everyone living in your area – not just those in your current prep group.

    Liked by 1 person

  2. just few things to add to this good intro article:

    1) I have found Baofeng digital comms unreliabile although it works; therefore I would rather recommend a separate radio w/APRS capability. I was able to send free SMS message from Canada to NZ over APRS. Just be aware that if you are not able to receive an SMS message back a) either the person who is receiving your SMS doesn’t know how to reply it back to you b) there is no bi-directional infrastructure for APRS yet for that region. Probably easiest digital comm is over HF w/JS8CALL software.

    2) Tablets do not have GraphaneOS. GrapheneOS is only for Google Pixel cell phone devices; however, switching your entire computer system into Linux would be a great step towards increasing security, anonymity and privacy (each concept has different meaning). You may try either easy use and installation of Linux Light https://www.linuxliteos.com.com or hardened (further secured), anonymous ParrotOS Home Edition (https://www.parrotsec.org/) which is ready for TOR network use with a button of a click, it forces your entire OS using only Tor Network whereas most systems will use Tor Browser and you may have additional parallel connection with Firefox or other services which gives away your IP address and defeats the purpose of using Tor Network. For cell phone security, please read this article: https://www.makeuseof.com/best-android-rom-for-privacy/ . GrapheneOS has a feature with Orbot app and forces all connections to go through Tor network or blocks it completely, a very good feature to have.

    Thanks for great articles, Joe – keep it coming.
    Blessings

    Like

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