Let’s get a little housekeeping out of the way…my dear amateur radio friends, please refrain from the hysterical screeching about how wrong I am until the end; I think you’ll admit that what I say here has merit. Also, if you feel the need to discuss the FCC in the comment section, please understand that we are talking about true WROL communications, so understand that I don’t care about the FCC then. Sorry, but if we are TRULY talking about WROL comms, the FCC is not an issue. Agreed? Cool.
Some advice from the Ultimate Tactical Handbook:
Fools find no pleasure in understanding
but delight in airing their own opinions.
The cold hard truth about WROL comms, which I take a lot of heat for, is that not everyone on your team needs to be a top-tier amateur radio guy and not every single person needs to have a $500-$600 handheld and a $1500 vehicle mount/base station radio. Sorry, amateur radio friends, but it’s true. Let me explain before you argue.
The VAST majority of your communication needs will honestly be INTRA-team communications. In other words, short range UHF-VHF comms among members of your team, relatively close to each other. The day-to-day communications will be everyone going about their business with their handheld radio in case they need to call for help or spread the alarm.
For example, the guys at your watch posts will have radios. A couple of people you send down to the local stream for water will need radios. Hunting parties…. radios. An OP 700 meters out, radios. None of these radios need to be a top of the line ultra-cool-guy frequency-hopping radio.
I know, encryption sounds cool. It makes you feel high speed. The truth is, I can achieve the same thing with my own brevity codes and code names for locations (I know, amateur guys – FCC says no codes – see above). Some of the push back I get on this is “but the government” or “them Russkies”; I assure you that you can’t buy any radio as a civilian that a nation-state can’t crack if they want to. The truth is, you aren’t that important and if a nation-state has localized you to the point that they are listening to your short-range comms, you’re done anyway. They’re already within a couple of miles of you and it’s only a matter of time.
I don’t say this to discourage, but to ENCOURAGE you all. Every time I get asked about radios for people just getting started and I recommend something like a Baofeng for new people, a bunch of very helpful, but highly discouraging Hams pile on, overwhelming that new person with a list of every $500 to $800 handset that is the BARE MINIMUM they need, and people get frustrated.
Here’s another tip:
Let us therefore make every effort to do what leads to peace and to mutual edification.
Now, having said that (listen up ham guys), you definitely need a licensed and skilled amateur radio operator as your communications chief. This person can make sure that your team has a set of radios that they can use to make long range contacts and gather information from outside sources, scan for others, and coordinate with other like-minded groups, but NOT EVERY PERSON needs this capability. Find a solid radio hobbyist and make them your comms chief. My good friend NC Scout holds a series of great courses on WROL comms (we have one coming up in Michigan), check out his classes at http://www.brushbeater.org.
Yes, Hams, I get it. You are very enthusiastic about your hobby and very helpful. Sometimes, though, in your zeal you intimidate and discourage new people.
So then, what does the average team member need? Some type of handheld VHF/UHF radio for local comms. I personally have had no issues with the Baofeng, and to be fair, those who do are trying to use it for more than what it’s intended for. For basic, point-to-point communications in a local radius, it’s sufficient. No, it won’t go 20 miles, but no handheld will by itself. Any handheld that can accept VHF/UHF programming with 4-8 watts is all you need for each member.
I recommend programming in the standard FRS/GMRS/MURS frequencies, because we are trying to be accessible to the lowest common denominator. I recommend telling your team to each buy at least a Baofeng and avoid the Midland/Motorola bubble packs at Walmart/Target, but what if one family can only afford them? You don’t want to exclude them, so having commonality will help. Also, as the crisis continues and you pick up new radios, you may only find channelized bubble-pack radios as replacements.
The Baofengs, when paired with an APRS cable, can even be used for digital comms, allowing you to hit that 20 mile range for data, rather than voice. Patrols out, rather than sending back status reports by voice in the clear can send encoded data packets with checkpoints passed, or whatever you preplan. You need a written brevity code matrix. This just requires a computer or tablet (or even phone not hooked to service) to receive the data and decode into a usable form. NC Scout above and AMRRON (www.amrron.com) offer courses and videos on how to conduct digital communications.
For longer range INTRA-TEAM communications, you can either make more powerful base/vehicle units into battery-operated manpack radios (lots of YouTube videos on that) or you can buy something like the 25-Watt manpack radio shown below. It has an internal battery pack and can be carried in your ruck or backpack. I have this radio unit and it can certainly extend the range of your patrols, with the right antenna. Steve Hampton of the Michigan Patriot Radio Unified Network (MPURN) gave an outstanding demonstration of a unit and antenna combination he made, powered by a solar panel and battery, which made contact across the state of Michigan.
Again, you absolutely need at least one person with advanced skills and gear. This person should be a licensed amateur operator. With the right gear, they can make voice and data contacts all over the country, and all over the world. I won’t list the gear they need here, because they can make you a better list than I can, and they probably already own it all.
The point of this article was to try and bring some reality to the discussion that not every single person has to have the highest-end handheld that money can buy. The truth is that in a world without power and without complex communications network infrastructure, you won’t be using most of the features on those radios anyway. I know, I’m about to run afoul of my Ham friends, who are among the most helpful people you’ll ever meet, but the truth is, without consistent electricity, most repeaters and digital access points/networks will be DOWN and your $800 radio will be reverted to using the same features that a $69 radio uses. I’m sorry, but that is true FOR THE AVERAGE USER.
Once again, our most common use will be day-to-day security operations in a fixed location, which won’t be using repeaters anyway. We may send out a long-range patrol, but that patrol will be using short-range VHF-UHF to talk to each other, and some type of either digital communications or manpack radio to make longer range contacts.
You will have a true “Radio Shack” at your base of operations, where your radio chief can use all the ultra-cool guy stuff that he can muster the power for (which will be not very much).
I hope this helps those of you who can’t afford the newest and coolest radios understand that you will be just fine with the Baofeng or similar radios. Understand though, that they are NOT for long range use. Find an amateur radio operator to join your team for that, just as you will find a serious medic. Each person should have some skill in these areas, but not everyone must be top tier in all topics.
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34 thoughts on “Being Honest About WROL Comms”
JD, as always a great post. I’m sure Steve is very appreciative of the callout.
My group had a similar issue with hams, too much info. Went over the heads of most people. I’m a licensed ham myself and have the fancy gear but if SHTF I bought a 20 pack of baofeng BF-888s handhelds. They are much more simple than the uv-5r. 16 chanel knob, vol control and ptt that’s it. Only do UHF and need laptop and cable to program but super cheap when I bought them. Great for frs/gmrs tier stuff. I think it broke down to $8 per radio which are as insane compared to blister packs, but they’re much more expensive now.
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As a lifelong ham, you are exactly on target
Darn JD you really beat up on Hams in this one. You must have encountered Hams with no/true military experience/time.
For LP/OPs I use TA-312 or TA-1. More secure. When I was prepping like chicken little the gear was plentiful. A new unused one mile spool of wire could be had for $50.00. The phones were not bad price either. I kinda like wire as my very first MOS was 36K Tactical Wireman. Never did find an affordable SB-22.
UV5Rs are a great little HT, not expensive not the best but they work. Just like Walk-Ups (if they are taken into the fold would) get a Mosin. Not all on patrol need comms. Not all at the FOB need comes. All do need to know how to run them.
This is good info for how our thinking needs to change NOW. To be able to make that jump into WROL. As planners and leaders of a group a true understanding and a practiced plan of how one might operate is paramount.
PS, Yes I am a ham.
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I promote the idea of the TA-312/TA-1 in Defensive Operations. Way more secure.
I don’t disagree with 99% of what you said however:
“Cool Guy” radios with APRS are nice because the comm guy back at the TOC can pinpoint your location even if you can’t talk; assuming the satellites are still working.
Less common modes like DMR make it harder for Bubba to listen. Bubba may pay no attention to digital beeps but would track somebody using codes. I will concede this point if everyone with a radio learns to STFU and use brevity codes.
Finally, cheap radios aren’t waterproof, but neither are all expensive radios. Unless you plan on waterproofing via bag or conformal coating pay extra for the IP67 rating.
p.s. longer range comes from better antennas or different frequencies. Save your batteries.
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I told you guys.
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I’m with you, with one great big caveat: BaoFeng radios are a gold plated bitch to program through the front panel. Your dedicated radio guy (and in my tribe, that’s me) will happily work away using his CHIRP software to program them…until it doesn’t work, for whatever reason. Bad cable? Software problem? Confuser no worky no more? Well, you better be adroit at front panel work. . And then, the REAL value of a Yaesu FT-60 (with MARS mod at HRO, $205.00) comes to light: vastly easier front panel programming. You see, I can teach a clever twelve year old to program her FT-60. A BaoFeng? That’s a whole ‘nuther animal. Don’t believe me? Take one out of the box and give it a go. Not fun, OR easy. Do you have a good manual? Because BaoFeng isn’t terribly good at supporting their product.
I routinely call a net locally on VHF, UHF, and elsewhere and the FT-60 will send and receive 26 miles (so far) line of sight. Can’t do that with our UV5R’s because although they can send that far, they can’t HEAR that far.
The mighty BaoFeng has its uses, and every tribe has need of several. But you damn sure need better radios, too. And people willing to learn how to make them work in the field, without a manual. And notice I said people – one is none, two is one.
Remember that twelve year old I was referring to? She and others will be able to take my place one day.
There’s a great resource for the UV5R called Baofeng UV-5R The Chinese Radio Documentation Project. You can type those terms into a search bar and get a copy of the best manual I’ve ever used for the Feng Gang. If you’d like me to post it, please let me know.
Great post, thank you.
^This. When I first got licensed I started with the baofeng. I grew up programming the VCR for my parents yet I still struggled with front panel programming that thing. I wound up ditching it for an ICOM IC-T70 and never looked back. Though that was about 150bucks iirc. Incidentally that is why I went with the BF-888 for group preps instead. If you’re gonna have to program with a PC anyways then use a simple radio that can’t be screwed up by mashing the wrong button on accident.
Which reminds me. I need to go through my laptop preps and make sure they’re updated and ready. I run Linux so all the software is stored on repositories on the net. Kind of a bad thing though because of the net goes down I’m SOL.
Would be nice to have a local backup of common distros and useful software kept locally but not sure how best to go about it. I haven’t yet found any ready made solution by other Linux nerds so for now I’m just gonna install all the things now.
The repositories going down, and just general entropy is why I preach knowing how to program through the front panel. All the clever software and good hardware in the world won’t help you if you can’t use it…
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General license ham here. Radio can be very complex. To deep dive, you need an Elmer(ham Sherpa). Most will only talk to you if you are showing a sincere desire to obtain a license. The Technician license is cheap and easy. It is the gateway drug. You will not regret it. It is a ton of fun.
See? They will only talk to you if you’re willing to get a license.
“In March of 1775, Christian attorney Patrick Henry rode into the small town of Culpeper, Virginia. In the middle of the town square was a minister tied to a whipping post, his back laid bare and bloody with the bones of his ribs showing. He had been scourged mercilessly, like Jesus, with whips laced with metal. Shocked by what he saw, young Patrick Henry asked what the man had done to deserve such a beating. The reply given him was that the man being scourged was a minister who refused to take a license. Three days later, they scourged him to death.”
To which I add:
“The man wielding the metal-laced whip was later discovered to be Arthur Snodgrass, a 72-year-old HAM operator. It is rumored that his screams of “YOU MUST HAVE A LICENSE!” could be heard in Charlottesville, Virginia 45 miles away.” Several days later, Arthur’s wife, Martha, reported Mr. Snodgrass missing after he failed to show up for her regular Wednesday night bunion massage.
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I’m glad someone else gets my sense of humor. We actually our Ham friends, even if the puritanical ones who whip the heretics.
Exactly. An Elmer is going to have a hard time taking you seriously if you can’t be bothered to pass one stinking (pretty easy) test.
And if you don’t have a tech license, no one is going to talk to you on the air – unless they lack licenses too. You need to get on the air, participate in local nets (you know, the one your tribe is conducting – they ARE conducting local nets, RIGHT?) and learn as much about the radio your using that you can.
Extra license and GMRS license holder here.
Its not tacticool but a decent handheld can be had for $30 and it has a 16 mile range. For the kind of work most militia would be doing in SHFT , deterring marauders, patrolling and such its more than enough.
And yes sure its best if everyone is well equipped with armor. stat of the art radion, NVG AR and handgun, but for youngsters militia in the 80’s early 90’s often were armed with hunting rifles and cheap back than SKS carbines.
The truth is caveat ex .mil types with current skills the vast bulk of organized and semi organized militia will not be engaging “commie” forces Red Dawn style but will operate locally as defenders of your AOO
Its the skills numbers and organization far more than the gear.
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JD,I did not say you were wrong, but are HAMs wrong? You can do a lot of damage with a 100 watt transmitter. Like kill yourself.
Relax…i was just kidding.
You’re right on that, BTW. Just having some fun.
No, offense; I’m actually looking for an answer, not being a smartass:
You mentioned “longer range INTRA-TEAM communications”. How spread out do you anticipate teams to be? I can understand longer-range inter-team (i.e., team-to-team) comms, but intra-team (that is, within a team, one member to another) wouldn’t seem to me to require great range. The qualifier is that I live in the southeastern U.S.: in the West, in mountains, say, or on the plains, longer range may well be required jut to communicate within a team.
Thanks, & I look forward to the answer!
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Longer range in the intra-team context would be no more than 5-10 miles. Good question.
Great article, and +1 on programming the license-free channels, (to which I’d add your local NOAA weather channel) but that’s a once and done operation and strictly for interoperability. Your comm plan is going to be much more effective at keeping you secure if you’re off those frequencies and using your VFO effectively, along with all the good stuff that NC Scout teaches. Trust this 36 yr. ham, you WANT at least one person in your group to take Scout’s RTO courses. Running the radios is the easy part of being “the comms guy.” It’s the other skills that’ll keep your team in the fight.
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Great article. Thanks for laying it out so as to slay the sacred cows right up front.
In my small group I’m the commo guy by virtue of mil career + amateur knowledge + “owning stuff.” In WROL I’m less concerned with making contacts 12,000 miles away than using that stuff with really fine antenna to listen. As they say, listening > talking. One thing the experienced commo guy hopefully brings to the table is knowledge of how to develop working CEOI’s for their team members. The other thing I appreciate about the simplicity of the radios you focused on is that, Wouxun or Baofeng, if there’s a change in frequency setup or a split-freq arrangement, same deal as in the Big Army. I can clone those suckers in about 45 seconds each with the cord & my laptop. It is money in the bank for a guy who’s already busy because he might also the “junior” medic or have some other responsibilities.
One other thought for those who hit the $$ wall at a mobile capability for their vehicle. Few need them but taking your existing handheld along and having a simple outside mag-mount antenna you can slap on the roof will do wonders. Those things are available all over for not much. (Diamond makes a fine one orderable with whatever connector you need; does VHF/UHF – I think it’s still the MR-77 but check current market.)
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Became an amateur as a teen, MANY moons ago. I would take your suggestion a step farther, JD. Baofengs are useful for team comms, but I do not think every member of the group needs one. One per team, at most; in some situations, and especially in the event of a breakdown of the WROL, I agree with Saber 7 that wired comms are much preferred because they cannot be intercepted easily.
Today, it is amazing what sensitive information you can hear simply by monitoring and DFing the FRS/GMRS/CB frequencies, not to mention baby monitors and old ‘wireless’ house phones. I am surprised that there are not more home invasions sparked by such indiscretions, but in the event of a breakdown in civil order, using LOS comms exposes your group and team to the threat of DF by folks who may be much worse than simple burglars.
Whether civilian or gooberment, encrypted comms do provide some temporary improvement WRt information content, but they still can be DFed, and simply knowing that someone with advanced comm capability is within LOS of your position is very useful information even if you do not know which direction it originated from, or what the content was. So far I have not seen the need for such.
As regards higher end amateur handhelds, I find that the water-resistant and water-proof units bring added value to the table. Not having to worry as much about keeping your radio bone dry when patrolling in wet weather is a big advantage. While it is possible to use handheld LOS comms to ridiculous distances if the terrain is favorable, if the terrain is NOT favorable from an extended patrol back to base, with repeaters down, then you are looking at either satcomm or HF NVIS. You can work FM satellites with Baofengs, but only when it isn’t raining and there is a functional bird overhead and that is at best a 2 or 3 per day event. In my AO, one need go only a couple miles to get on the other side of significant terrain that blocks low-powered LOS comms. 1 watt HF CW or digital NVIS signals get through just fine day or night, no satellite required.
This is where Low-powered “DC to daylight” portable radios like the Yaesu FT-817 or 818, or the Icom 705 really shine, allowing your team to use both VHF /UHF LOS comms and HF NVIS. Unfortunately these are not water resistant, let alone water proof. There is only one civilian HF capable radio that is water proof, and the TX-500, being made in Russia, may take a while to get back into stock here in these united States. So that means we’re back to trying to water out of non moisture resistant gear. Pelican cases help.
Just a few comments on a well written article. Thanks and keep them coming!
Excellent Article and Comments – I’ll throw in this (slightly) OT Item -https://greatgameindia.com/british-fighters-missile-strike-ukraine-base/ about how Cell Phone Intercepts led to an entire Base of UKR/Nato Mercenaries getting Stomped by the Bear. Keep in Mind that ANY radio Comms can be easily Intercepted, and Targeted. “Encrypted” Comms are Irrelevant; LOCATION is the important thing. The old TA-312 /TA-1 /WD-1 Wire System is the Way to Go for any Fixed Position, and Wire to a Remote (Radio) Comms Post (or Vehicle) is the way to Move the Bullseye off your Position.
Great post as always – even as a HAM, I find other HAMs (particularly the old guard) to be generally insufferable. There are good ones, though.
Baofengs are just fine for short-distance comms, and as cool as APRS is, its high barrier to entry and cumbersome setup (two devices + cabling) is too much for most people. I’ve handed out pre-programmed UV-5Rs to like-minded friends, channelized and with frequency list cheat-sheets, only to have them tell me that it’s too overwhelming. So a big +1 to those recommending channelized HTs – in a worst-case scenario, all comms will devolve into voice only for the most part.
Need local, man-to-man comms? Buy an HT that you can afford, a decent antenna, learn to use it, and rest easy. Pick up a QYT KT8900D or two while you’re at it for a vehicle and/or base station if you’ve settled on a primarily VHF/UHF setup.
You’ve touched on SSB CB in the past and I agree that it has an invaluable place in any comms setup. Not just for vehicles, but base-to-base, especially for the unlicensed. Many imagine some kind of Hollywood-style SHTF situation developing overnight, but the reality is that Rule of Law is sporadic as Empires collapse and it may take months or even years for full WROL to develop. It’s highly possible that curmudgeons may still be harassing the guy pumping out 50 watts on MURS/FRS but leave the almost entirely un-policed CB band alone. Plan accordingly.
Base-to-base may not have a big use-case for urbanites trying to rally and escape a city but it plays a pivotal role in the country. If you live outside of town or are trying to communicate with rural friends 20+ miles out, a Baofeng simply ain’t gonna cut it. Even a high-powered VHF/UHF rig may not cut it as propagation is significantly worse on 2M/70CM than 11M. So if you find yourself in that situation, it might be worthwhile setting up a modest SSB CB shack and making sure your group has a similar setup.
If you’re sufficiently rural, you won’t be bugging out – you’ll be sheltering in place. So having the ability to stay in touch with others doing the same will be important.
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Well said. Thanks!
Many in the “get a license” crowd tend to think everyone else is going to be talking within a group at distances that require finesse and skill, so you have to “learn what works” to talk far.
If the FCC doesn’t matter and a member of your mutual aid group is 30 miles away from you and needs help, how can you get there in time to actually help? Walking is slow. Are you saving fuel or have a bike/electric vehicle for this contingency? Tactical movement is still slowing you down, even if another local defense group (or hostile actor) hasn’t set up barriers at choke points, and is letting you pass.
Has your group thought of this and decided that only those within a certain distance will respond? Then you probably don’t have to talk that far.
You will need to add to the group’s Signal Operating Instructions (SOI) how info/messages are going to be relayed. Humans relaying messages (on foot or by radio) is likely going to be happening at the territorial edges of even well prepared and equipped groups as members of the general population are added post-event for additional eyes and ears.
I’m not saying that having a member of your group that has the experience that they needed a license to get isn’t an asset, especially at a strategic level. I’m saying that a group capable of assisting each other is likely close enough to each other that they can still complete their core mission without an Elmer and $10,000+ of assorted equipment divided among them.
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The first place the Greater New Fascist Empire and Joe’s Rappin’ Janissaries are going to monitor are the off-the-shelf GMRS/FRS and MURS frequencies. They will set up to record wide swaths of spectrum on a continuous basis that will include being able to determine your locations after the fact. All comms must therefore include a cover/misdirection and strategic deception strategy. Plan accordingly.
And thanks for more still heresy about the ARRL religion; any time the voluntary FCC auxiliary is offended, you are doing something right. WTSHTF, licenses don’t matter, and the FCC and central government in general have long deprived the general population of their natural right to fully utilize the natural phenomenon of electromagnetic radiation for their general welfare, but instead restricted its access to an elite group.
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I’m gonna have to somewhat disagree with you regarding licensing. There does have to be coordination of frequencies so that people don’t interfere with each other. I’ve seen several instances in my job where there has been interference that has been caused, often unknowingly, with public safety and aviation band radio traffic. Most often it is because people were using radios on frequencies without understanding what those bands were typically used for.
Then there are the malicious individuals who deliberately try to interfere with people on radio. We occasionally get some jackass on the local repeater who deliberately will key up and jam it. Often during a local net or some legit conversation. That’s when the local hams get pissed and start DFing to try and find the guy and sic the FCC on them. And they are perfectly justified in being angry at an asshole who is preventing them from the use and enjoyment of a repeater that the amateur radio club paid for.
FRS and MURS and CB radios were made channelized and restricted in power level so that people without deep knowledge about radios and the different frequency bands could buy some basic radios and get on the air. Even if they abuse it the limited nature of the equipment helps mitigate the potential for interference. What irritates me and a lot of other hams is how there are some people who want to get the results that hams can get with their equipment without putting the time and effort to understand the how and the why. Then they wonder why no elmers want to share the knowledge they have with them. Why should they, when it’s obvious the person has no respect for their hobby in the first place?
I personally don’t care what people do on the radio as long as they don’t interfere with me or with others. But I am very hesitant to do anything to help people I don’t know in skirting around the rules or breaking them. Because for all I know they will act stupid and get into trouble, and then try to blame me for it.
You missed the part when I said I was ONLY discussing WROL comms, but you’re right. No one is blaming you. For the record, this is the ONLY warning I will give about profanity here. DO NOT use profanity in MY comment section. Yes, you paid for your amateur radio club membership, but I pay for this blog.
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“WTSHTF, licenses don’t matter, and the FCC and central government in general have long deprived the general population of their natural right to fully utilize the natural phenomenon of electromagnetic radiation for their general welfare, but instead restricted its access to an elite group.”
Exactly right…but in the meantime, you need to learn how to use the radio of your choice. A couple days study and a fifty dollar test and you’re a sheep in wolf’s clothing, able to learn on the air.
I sure as sugar didn’t become a ham to ragchew with old liberals, but five years on I can operate anywhere I choose in nearly any condition and talk worldwide.
Just like shooting, you need practice.