Survival Communications

The question that a lot of people have not answered is how to communicate with family or members of their group when the “normal” means of communications are gone.  Being able to communicate with your family or group is vital and it is especially so in an Urban Survival situation, unfortunately I have found after talking to hundreds of people, that not too many folks give much thought to communications in a SHTF situation.

In any type of SHTF situation be it natural disaster, terrorist attack (Dirty Bomb, biological attack, etc.) or zombies eating your neighbors brains, chances are land lines, cell phones, email, Facebook, etc.  will most likely be severed or severely impaired do to the sheer number of people trying to use the network at the same time.

I know from reading about past disasters and being on the ground in New Orleans the day after Katrina passed over that when disaster strikes, using your cell phone can be a frustrating experience to say the least.  If you have ever tried to dial out and received the message “All Circuits Are Busy” then you know what I am talking about.

What Are Your Options?

A small group trying to survive after TSHTF will need to have a plan to communicate with each other as well as a back-up plan should their primary source of communication fail.  Aside from smoke signals, semaphore (signaling with flags), and flashlights banging out Morse code there are modern options that you should seriously consider.  The three most readily available forms of communications for when TSHTF are GMRS or FRS radios, CB radios, and Ham radio.

GMRS/FRS
Here is an example of GMRS/FRS radios.

Here is an example of GMRS/FRS radios.

These little radios are good for distances up to 36 miles under ideal conditions and little terrain interference. Though they are best suited for communications within a camp or building, team communications while on patrols, or between camp and an OP/LP. The low-cost, ease of operation, and convenience of GMRS/FRS radios make them a good choice for short-range communications. Though small and easy to carry, the biggest drawback to the GMRS/FRS radio is the range and their battery life.  Remember, once you start putting trees, hills, houses, etc. in the way the range drops dramatically.  While fine as a short range group communications tool, they lack the ability of medium or long-range communications.

Typical two-way radio coverage.

Typical two-way radio coverage.

CB Radios
An example of a hand-held CB radio.

An example of a hand-held CB radio.

An example of a vehicle mounted CB radio.

An example of a vehicle mounted CB radio.

CB (Citizens Band) radios have been around for years as an offshoot of Ham Radio. Like FRS radios, CB radios don’t require a license like HAM radios do.  CB radios may be used for business as well as personal communications.  They enjoyed a huge boom in the mid-seventies thanks to movies like Convoy, Smokey and the Bandit, CB, and others they are still readily available today and CB radios are still the main short range communications choice for truckers (and a few of my more “Redneck” friends).   You can find CB’s fairly cheaply at yard sales, Craigslist, eBay and flea markets.  Mandated by FCC regulation as a low power device, the range on these radios is much greater when combined with a signal amplifier, or “Linear” Amp.  It is not advised to use a linear amp. For the most part, enforcement of the restrictions are few and far between and often only when an illegal stations signal interferes with other communication methods.  Long distance communication is possible when atmospheric conditions permit.  CB radios, ranging from legal 40 channel/4 watt models, to a grey-area type of “export radio “ that dances around the edges of legality by being built for ham radio use, but is easily modified for the CB band. Operating within the 10-12 Meter HF Band, CB radios need a longer antenna than UHF/VHF GMRS/FRS radios.

Ham or Amateur Radio
Hand-held Ham Radio

Hand-held Ham Radio

Example of a Ham Radio Base Station.

Example of a Ham Radio Base Station.

Offers the farthest operating range, and broadest array of communication modes, from voice communication, to text, photo, video, and digital telemetry, Ham Radio requires a FCC license to operate legally and is well-organized and self-regulated.

Ham radio is fairly cheap to get started in; you can find hand-held Ham radios on eBay for under $50.  New ham radio “Base Stations” run from hundreds to several thousands of dollars, but with an eye for bargains on eBay, flea markets, and other places you can set up a rather nice base station and talk all around the world for under $200.

Some of the best Ham radio antennas are homemade, simple to hide, and are nothing more than wire antennas strung between trees.  This type set up is very portable if need be, and can be setup almost any place in a very short time.

While it probably won’t matter a whole hell of a lot once TSHTF make sure you get your Ham Radio license anyway, the FCC can and will slap your ass with hefty fines and confiscate your radios and any computers used with them for operating a Ham Radio Station without one during “normal” times.

Some Other Things to Consider

Text Messaging
Various cell phones.

Various cell phones.

While on the ground during Hurricane Katrina, the only reliable way to communicate without using our radios was by Text Messaging.  This is a good piece of information to know if you are caught off guard when TSHTF.  While everyone else is desperately trying to call and jamming up the network, you might be able to get your messages through via text. While SMS (text messaging) worked during the aftermath of Katrina, I would recommend that you plan as if SMS messaging will not work especially if the crisis that shut down the “normal” lines of communication continues for weeks you can bet that new iPhone 73s that the service will no longer work at some point, but this is still good information to know.

EMP/Massive Solar Flare
Solar Flares. Photo Courtesy of NASA

Solar Flares. Photo Courtesy of NASA

Since we are talking about electronics and two of the scenarios many people plan for is an EMP type blast or the more likely scenario, a Solar Storm Event like the one that took place in 1859 (Carrington Event) you should try to store your critical electronics in a protective case.  One of the ways you can protect yourself from this scenario is by storing your radios and critical electronics in a Faraday cage.  I am not going to go into “How to Build a Faraday Cage” in this article, you can find a lot of examples out there on the web and YouTube.

Things to Keep In Mind

When selecting GMRS/FRS radios look for models that will run on 12 volt DC power or rechargeable nickel metal hydride (NiMH) battery packs that can be recharged from 12 VDC power systems without having to use an inverter.  A better choice are models that can also run on AA or AAA batteries as a backup, buy spare radios of each type if you can afford them.  Keep the spares in sealed metal boxes (that are grounded) to protect them from EMP.

Marine Band Radios
Hummingbird Marine Band Radio

Hummingbird Marine Band Radio

If you live far inland from either of the coasts (500 miles or more), I recommend buying two or more 12 VDC marine band radios those frequencies will probably not be monitored in your region, leaving you an essentially private band to use. (Never assume that any two-way radio communications are secure! Especially now a days!)

Choosing a way to communicate outside normal everyday methods can be a daunting task. So much of it not only depends on your needs but how you can apply your limited resources.  The return on your investment is inconsequential as long as your ability to get your message heard at a critical time by the people you are trying to reach.

I look forward to seeing your comments and as always, Train to Survive!

Tom

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