Emergency Communications: Time is short to get comms up and running!
From the Desk of Paul Stramer
Montana Comm Leader for Oath Keepers
NOTE: Paul will be a presenter on our public webinar on emergency communications and EMP Protection, this Monday night, Oct. 24, 2016, at 8PM Central. Go here to sign up for that webinar.
With the announcement on October 11, 2016 by Stewart Rhodes of a new Patriot Truckers Division named “Oath Keepers Highway Recon Team” or HRT, I have been asked to help organize some of the systems that will be used to network the truckers and everyone involved in passing information in the Oath Keepers organization. Here is the announcement on the Oath Keepers website:
Oath Keepers will be using several systems on the Internet and portable phones, along with CB and ham radio, but this article is primarily concerned with Grid Down radio communications.
As many of you know, I am in the communications business full time and have been for over 20 years now. I am also a general class amateur and a volunteer examiner #1524 for ham radio licensing. Here in Eureka Montana we have been adding new ham radio operators at a steady pace for over 8 years now and formed our first ham club in this area almost 20 years ago. We did this because of the looming crisis in the world. In that time we have helped over 300 people get their licenses in the area.
I have always insisted that the FCC rules from the very beginning have been designed for emergency and safety communications, and allow licensed ham radio operators to do things that others cannot do. That includes operating out of band, or with otherwise prohibited power when people’s lives and property are in danger.
To back that up I present here a letter from the ARRL (Amateur Radio Relay League) that clarifies this issue per the FCC rules. http://www.lincolncountywatch.org/hamguidelines.pdf
Notice that I said “licensed amateurs”. There are many reasons for requiring that radio operators be licensed to operate on the ham bands and other bands in normal times, or in emergencies.
Ham radio can be either a tremendous asset or it can be a big liability, depending on whether you know what you are doing, or not. By that I mean that a bunch of people who don’t know what they are doing can create so much interference with orderly communications protocols that the frequency becomes a hodgepodge of chatter and unusable noise. For evidence of that just tune in the CB band. It can also mean that people can become endangered by the very communications that are supposed to help them save the lives and property of the people they were trying to benefit.
There is no excuse for anyone not getting their ham license. The license is free, the study course costs only about $30, and the test materials cost only $5 – $12 in most places. The test is multiple choice. On the technician class test there are only 35 questions, and you can get 9 wrong and still pass the test. There is no longer any requirement on any ham test to learn morse code. We have given the technicians test to people as young as 8 years with good results.
At this point I always get the same questions. Why should I trade in a right for a privilege, and why would I want to let government know who I am? Let me try to answer.
First, radio waves do NOT respect any borders. They go where they will. You can argue that government should not be involved in making rules about radio saying that it’s “not in the US constitution”. There are a couple of things about that. One is that it IS in the US Constitution that government must protect our borders. That includes invasion. Radio waves can be used to invade also. I believe that it is within the realm of government constitutionally to protect AMERICA’S INVENTION of radio from invasion and incursion by ANY foreign power, and to that end there are treaties with other countries involving the allocation of frequencies and usage of those that are rightly entered into by the FCC, and have been, almost from the beginning of the invention of radio communications.
The second point is this. You don’t want to unnecessarily twist the tiger’s tail. People do that with the driver’s license VS the right to travel, and some end up in jail for a while, when there are much more important issues to fight about. The same applies here. I don’t see any licensed hams going to jail because they want to use radio in an emergency, or simply because they have the ham ticket in their pocket.
The third is about staying under the radar where federal agencies are concerned. Guess what. There are almost one MILLION licensed hams just in North America alone. That, friends is good cover, and cover enough for the purpose of preparedness. What are they going to do? Do you think they could try to make criminals of all those hams with the stoke of a pen, and if they did, do you think they could physically enforce that? On the contrary, they would be way in over their heads, and they know it.
If you want to find any ham radio operator that has a license just do a search here with your zip code. http://www.qrz.com When you apply for your license use a PO Box, not your physical address.
Go study, and when the interactive software says to schedule your test look up some local hams with the qrz.com site search link and ask them when the next test will be and where. You don’t have to have the callsign to own the right equipment, or to listen to what is going on out on the ham bands. You do need it when you push the transmit button.
We also recommend you get a GMRS license. GMRS stands for General Mobile Radio Service. You can just BUY a license for about $65 without any test, that is good for 5 years, and can be used for business as well as personal uses. There are 8 channels available with wideband, full modulation on UHF at around 462.000 mHz. The license is good for the whole family, and each license can have their own repeater. We are putting up a GMRS repeater in Eureka soon, in addition to about 9 other repeaters we already have.
See all the ham repeaters in the country here: http://www.artscipub.com/repeaters/ These repeaters greatly increase the range of your handheld or mobile radios, sometimes out to 100 or more miles radius from the repeater site.
See all the police, sheriff, and other emergency frequencies here: http://www.radioreference.com/apps/db/
You might want to get a scanner from our radio store at http://www.fm2way.com/scan.htm so you can listen to what is happening in your area, especially in any emergency situation. Your life might depend on it some day.
My recommendations to get licensed STANDS notwithstanding all the comments I will get on this article, from our readers, about not wanting to get ANY licenses for ANYTHING because they would be trading in a right for a government privilege. Just write your comments and I will answer them with some good reasoning on this. The rest of this will deal with what to do after you have your license.
What kind of radio should you buy?
To start with you will need a handheld dual band FM transceiver that covers at least the 2 meter and the 70 CM bands. And it would be best if that radio was also type accepted by the FCC to cover the business bands just above both of those bands. Band refers to a group of frequencies designated by the FCC for certain purposes.
The 2 meter ham band covers 144 – 148 Mhz (that is megahertz, or million cycles per second) The business band above that is the VHF business band and covers 150 – 174 Mhz.
Correspondingly there are two bands on UHF also. The ham band is 70cm (centimeters) from 430 – 450 Mhz, and the business band above that at 450 – 470 Mhz. All these frequencies (bands of frequencies) can be covered by ONE radio. We recommend and are using the Anytone 3208 U/V which fills all these requirements. Find it here: http://www.fm2way.com/fmhand.htm This radio will also do the GMRS band and comes programmed for your area.
You will be very pleasantly surprised at how well these small radios perform. I have talked up to 10 miles with just a handheld, to another handheld, and much further to a base, mobile, or repeater.
What is a repeater?
A repeater is a radio that is located at a very advantageous location like the top of a mountain, that listens on one frequency, and instantly transmits what it hears on another higher or lower frequency, in real time. That allows you to extend your range up to the footprint of that particular repeater. Most of our repeaters are either solar powered or have a battery back up system that will allow them to stay on the air for weeks during an emergency. Some of our repeaters have a footprint of up to 150 miles or more.
There are literally THOUSANDS of repeaters in America.
All of these handheld units use FM modulation. Modulation is the method of putting an intelligence on the signal that can be converted back to audio so you can hear what the guy on the other end is saying. FM is frequency modulation, or varying the frequency of the signal a very little bit so a detector in the receiver of the listening radio can re-create sound. FM is very impervious to noise, and to other weaker signals, so it’s usually either pretty clear, or it’s not there so it can be heard.
That makes for very quiet radio operation with little interference from things like alternators in a vehicle, or power lines, like you would hear on CB which usually uses AM or amplitude modulation, which varies the “strength” of the signal.
Groups of hams can monitor several frequencies at the same time by using a feature called SCAN which rotates around several channels (with a different frequency in each channel) and when someone talks on one of the channels being monitored the scan stops and locks on that channel. At that point if you want to continue on that conversation you can press an exit key or touch the transmit button and the radio stays on that channel. When you are done listening you can start up the scan and monitor all again.
Please watch this video about the possibilities of various types of radios that can be used for safety communications. This is published by AmRRon, which stands for The American Redoubt Radio Operators Network. https://amrron.com/
[ot-video type=”youtube” url=”https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=a3-bnIpDflc”]
I am MTOathkeeper on the AmRRon network, and a General Class Amateur radio operator with a callsign of KC7MEZ. I am also a volunteer examiner for ham radio with a VE number of 1524. See my station here: http://www.kc7mez.com The page gives a good overview of what we are trying to do with Oath Keepers. It also shows some of the alternative energy we like to use to power these ham stations.
In the announcement of the Truckers HRT division you will see a map, and after watching the above video it should be easy to see how these communications teams can be structured. We don’t give out the specific details for obvious reasons but if you are a member of one of the truckers teams, and have been vetted then there will be further explanations of how we do this on the radio. You can Join the HRT here: https://oathkeepers.org/truckers-program/
The following video will give you an idea of what the bands will be like in an actual emergency. Everyone will want to talk at the same time, and it will take some practice to make any real communications traffic out of what we call a pile up. This operator has a unique situation in that every time he gets on the air he has to deal with a pile up. But this is what it will be like when trying to communicate with radio when we have a “failure of civility” in our country.
[ot-video type=”youtube” url=”https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=h73EYcyszf8″]
To try to ease the pain in a real emergency we have band plans that will help to get the emergency traffic to the most people. But nothing will prepare you for this except EXPERIENCE and familiarity with your equipment and some emergency communications protocols knowledge. There is no substitute for experience and practice.
Oathkeepers band plan:
Click this link for a nice ham radio bands chart:
WHAT ABOUT ELECTROMAGNETIC PULSE (EMP)?
OK, now lets look at EMP protection. One of the best short articles I have seen on this was written a few years ago by one of our hams in North Idaho.
Protecting your expensive equipment against an EMP attack is not an exact science, since a deliberate EMP attack has never been done so that we have any real time experience of the results, but much testing has been done that does indicate what could happen. The above article is just a small overview but provides some inexpensive solutions on a practical level that can protect spare equipment you already have.
One of the most detailed discussions of this topic I have read is here:
WHAT IF I DON’T HAVE A HAM LICENSE?
Now a bit of practical information for local people that are NOT ham radio operators.
Even before you get your ham license, you can use Family Radio Service (FRS) and Multiple User Radio Service (MURS) frequencies without a license. The good news is that dual band radios, such as the cheap handheld Baofenge UV5R, can use all of the above frequencies and are a good choice to use once you have your ham license. And because those radios are so cheap, you can have a few extras (the more the better) and keep them in a faraday cage, to hand out to your neighbors once the balloon goes up. They will be useful no matter what your skill level is, and their utility will only go up as you learn more.
This video is found on the AmRRon website at this location.
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Stations like the one at www.KC7MEZ.com will be monitoring all these frequencies after civil unrest starts.
If you have a CB, don’t throw it out, get an antenna and put it on the air, especially in your vehicles. If you don’t get one here: http://www.fm2way.com/cb.htm I recommend the Uniden PRO 510 or 520 for a simple low cost CB because we have used them for over 23 years in logging trucks and contractors pickups with very good results. They are tough, and have a full metal cabinet.
If you are a trucker and need a Single Sideband CB the one I recommend is the Galaxy DX959. This is the one I run on my base station to monitor Ch3. It’s a completely legal CB with 12 watts output on SSB, which gives about a 3 times range boost over a straight AM CB radio with 4 watts output. We will talk more about Single Sideband in a future article.
Suffice it to say that with proper training, and the right equipment, you will be a big asset to your community and the safety and well being of your neighbors as well as your family in any emergency. To that end I hope you will ask lots of questions about Ham radio, and here is the phone number you can call to get personal attention to those questions. 800 889 2839
Again, The Cardinal Rule of Radio is “Ask lots of questions”.
Paul Stramer http://www.fm2way.com/
One of many National Commo leaders for Oath Keepers.