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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