Are Your Communications Disaster-Ready?

Welcome to this week’s newsletter, brought to you by the “Fastest Way To Prepare” book & course, that will walk you through how to pick up “junk” cell phones for a few bucks apiece that have the same secure (non cellular) communication technology that people regularly pay $300-$600 for.  These are smaller, cheaper, tougher, and more secure than 99% of the handheld radios that you’ll find in stores.  They don’t require a license or a repeater, are SIMPLE to use, and have great range.  To learn more, go >HERE< now.

Are you set up for emergency communications if a tornado, earthquake, hurricane, winter storm or a “bad actor” took down cell and land-line connections in your area?

As a general manager of a Alaskan-based cellular company, I was tasked with investigating what the impact of a 9.0 or greater earthquake would have on cell phone coverage.  My final report had a lot of “ifs” attached to it: “if” the earthquake took out the telco that we interfaced with, cell phone coverage would be lost;  “if” there was heavy cell phone use, it could jam the lines; “if” a repeater site toppled in the quake, cell coverage in the vicinity would be lost;  “if” the quake took down electrical, we’d be online for as long as the emergency back-up power lasted–a week at most.

It taught me that in any emergency, there are a lot of “ifs” and not enough “absolutes”, which can make for a bad day for anyone who isn’t prepared for alternative communications.

When disasters strike, the consequences of procrastination suddenly become crystal clear.  The fallback–listening to an emergency radio–may or may not answer our questions such as whether travel is possible, or if our loved ones living outside our vicinity were impacted by the disaster.

Even more “mundane” questions become a big deal without cell phones.  As an example, how do you know whether someone picked up the kids/grandkids or if you need to travel 10 miles out of your way to check.

If you have put alternative communications on the back-burner, it’s time to jump in, feet first. Today’s post will throw out some of what’s possible and you can take it from there. 

For those of you who’ve already done the legwork and have communications covered, please jump in and share your advice!  There’s a lot to this, and what works for one person may not necessarily work for another. 

GMRS/FRS 

Otherwise known as 2-Way Radios, the benefits of Ground Mobile Radio Service (GMRS) and Family Radio Service (FRS) units are their affordability and their compact size. 

They both use frequencies in the 462 – 468 MHz range and some radios are dual FRS/GMRS. 

The FRS was set up by the FCC as an unlicensed band of 14 channels that have a half watt power limitation.  FRS radios are restricted radios that have antennas that cannot be removed.  Depending upon the terrain, their range is typically one to two miles, even when the box says 20, 30, or 50 miles.

There’s a LOT of confusion regarding FCC licensing on GMRS radios.  Here are 3 sets of facts about it: 

1.  GMRS is a licensed radio service which, unlike ham radio, does not require taking a test.  You are required to fill out a form, send in $90.00, and you are then assigned a call sign which is good for 5 years, at which time the license must be renewed.  GMRS operators are allowed external antennas, are permitted to go up to 50 watts of power and with the use of a repeater, their range can be 30 miles or greater.

but…

2.  In 2010, the FCC proposed to remove the individual licensing requirement for GMRS and instead license GMRS “by rule” (meaning that an individual license would not be required to operate a GMRS radio). This proposal is still pending.

and…

If you operate a radio that has been approved for both FRS and GMRS, and if you limit your operations to the FRS channels with a maximum power of ½ watt effective radiated power and an integral antenna, you are not required to have a license. (Note that some dual-service radios transmit with higher power on FRS channels 1 through 7; these radios can be used without a license only on FRS channels 8 through 14.).

From a Preppers standpoint, FRS or GMRS are handy tools for communications at home, a cabin or a base camp. As an example, I live on acreage on remote property with a large garden that is near, but not next to, the main cabin and guest cabins.  When SHTF and if looters make it past the 5 miles of gravel road between the small-hold farmers and my cabin (not likely, but it’s a possibility), these radios will come in handy.  Not only are two-legged predators a possible threat, but this area has mountain lion, bear, moose, coyote, wolf and recently, feral dogs. When patrolling property, gardening, or taking late-night trips to the outhouse it will include bringing a 2-way radio. 

CB Radio 

Citizen Band radio is meant for short-distance communications and will generally allow communications for up to 15 miles, give or take.  With the right atmospheric conditions, it’s possible to communicate with people over much longer distances–but broader transmissions cannot be depended upon.  CB radio is popular with Preppers because a license is no longer required to operate them and they can be picked up cheaply at second-hand stores and garage sales. 

CB radios have 40 channels.  The legal limit to broadcast CB is 4 watts of transmission power on AM and 12 watts on sideband modes.  It’s illegal to broadcast HAM radio over CB frequencies.    

CB radio is an affordable way to communicate with neighbors and those in your community during a crisis.  It will allow you to send and receive non-secure information to one another during a crisis. . . provided you can convince those you trust living within the limited CB range to set up for CB.  If not, listening to CB transmissions should still offer important information on road conditions and how the emergency has impacted your immediate vicinity.  

HAM Radio

HAM radio opens up world-wide communications and it’s why it’s popularity continues to grow.  Recently, Emergency Management and hospitals have recognized the importance of HAM radio to communicate during disasters that takes down cell and land-line communication, encouraging many first responders to obtain their operators license. 

When the FCC dropped the Morse code portion of the HAM radio licensing test in 2007, HAM radio experienced a resurgence of interest.   There are now 3 classifications of HAM operator licensing:  

The Technician license is an entry level license which requires passing one examination consisting of 35 questions on radio theory, regulations and operating practices.  The Technician license allows the operator access to all Amateur Radio Frequencies above 30 megahertz, covering local and within North America and includes limited privileges on the HF (AKA Short Wave bands).

The General license requires passing a 35 question examination and the Technician written examination and offers operating privileges on all amateur radio bands and all operating modes, including world-wide communications.

The Amateur Extra license requires passing a more difficult 50 question examination plus licensees must pass all previous license class written examinations.  An operator who holds an Amateur Extra license enjoys operating privileges of all bands and all modes. 

The cost for study materials to obtain a HAM radio license is around $26.00–most HAM operators recommend the Ham Radio License Manual written by ARRL Inc.  Make sure to get the current manual, so the study material isn’t out of date. The exam itself is $15.00 and licenses do not have to be renewed for 10 years.  The cost of Ham radio equipment starts at around $150.00, but for some HAM buffs have been known to spend thousands. 

In a wide-spread disaster HAM radio will pull in transmissions nearby, statewide, cross-country and abroad, allowing the operator to get news that might not be available in any other way, especially during a grid-down scenario. 

In September of 2013, Lee Besing guest wrote a popular article titled Emergency Ham Radio Portable Go-Kit that offers instructions on how to set up for HAM radio using battery back-up.  

One thing to keep in mind when transmitting over FMRS, GMRS, CB, or HAM radio; it is possible for your transmission to be triangulated and your position identified.  This is child’s play for the military and relatively straight forward for a determined civilian.Never share information about prep goods, food storage or share any information that would get the attention of a looter.

For a dirt cheap, “secure” communications option, check out the Fastest Way To Prepare course.  One section of one lesson will walk you through how to pick up “junk” cell phones for a few bucks apiece that have the same secure communication technology that people regularly pay $300-$600 for.  These are smaller, cheaper, tougher, and more secure than 99% of the handheld radios that you’ll find in stores.  They don’t require a license or a repeater, are SIMPLE to use, and have great range.   Learn more now by going >HERE<

If there was a disaster, do you have alternative emergency communications that will keep you in touch with the outside world?  If so,  do you feel one alternative is enough, or do you subscribe to multiple systems?  Please sound off by commenting below.  

God bless and stay safe,

David Morris and Survival Diva

 

Comments

  1. left coast chuck says:

    Our club has a satellite phone because it is located in the mountains and there is no cell service in the area and no land line service. Communication with the sat phone depends upon the location of the satellite in the sky. I don’t know the satellite pattern, but it appears that there are several satellites servicing the area and which satellite is in the area affects how good the service is. When the satellite passes behind a mountain and if there is not another one providing service, we don’t have service. It may come up again in just a few minutes as another satellite moves on station, but in our particular area service is hit or miss. I suppose of one of us stayed on the phone for several days at a stretch we could plot at what times we had services and the quality that exists at what days and times. So far no one has volunteered to perform that service. In a different area I am sure the same company’s satellites perform in a totally different manner.

  2. Just a comment on your description of CB radio service. While it is true that it is illegal for a HAM operator to transmit on CB channels the problem is actually just the opposite. We find far more CB users trying to use their radios on HAM frequencies. The CB radio band is 11 meters, just between the 10 and 12 meters of HAM radio. And it is just as illegal for them to transmit on HAM frequencies. Please be forewarned; the FCC takes a very dim view of any operators who violate their frequency restrictions.

  3. I have a surplus radio camper top that fits in a regular 8 foot pick up bed or a hummvee.It is radio shielded ( E.M.P. I guse ?). IE large Faraday cage. I want to make a mobile live in bug out como shack with all types of radios. of course solar and gas gen set. now on a trailer but looking into a 1980 Chevy 4×4 carbed and first gen electronic ign.( will retro to points if poss.) Question I need solid input on do’s and dont’s. any help would be great.I have cb, marine , frs/gmrs, 2 m /70cm, and 11meter now .intend to conect antennas up after said emp cme. but all mounts will be in place ready to screw all needed antennas.. thanks

  4. My plan (only partially implemented so far) is to use a ham radio JUST TO LISTEN in on what is happening, both locally and more wide-spread. You do not need a license to listen, but woe be unto you if you press that transmit button without a license! Also, your location can not be triangulated if you are just listening.

    I purchased a Baofeng VHF/UHF FM ultra-compact dual-band, dual display, dual standby transceiver at the recommendation of a good friend who has been a ham operator for 60 or so years. They are available from Amazon for about $30, www.amazon.com/gp/product/B007H4VT7A/ref=oh_aui_detailpage_o05_s00?ie=UTF8&psc=1 along with a two way speaker www.amazon.com/gp/product/B008RZ0EQ0/ref=oh_aui_detailpage_o05_s00?ie=UTF8&psc=1 for an additional $6 or so. Be sure to also purchase the ARRL book listed in the above blog. www.amazon.com/gp/product/1625950136/ref=oh_aui_detailpage_o03_s00?ie=UTF8&psc=1

    • Thanks for these links, Bob. I have known that a HAM will be a lifesaver when we have no communication capabilities. I, too, only want to listen to what is going on. We will be off grid at that time and, after learning what others went through during emergencies, radios won’t be much help.

  5. Our comms prep is:
    FRS radios for house to house, neighborhood watch/foot patrols; HAM Radio for County wide EOC comms/ National comms.
    In Florida a valuable resource (if only listened to on a scanner) is SARnetFL.com. This is a joint venture between HAM Operators, County EOC’s and Florida D.O.T. It is independent of the Internet, Cell Phones and Land Lines.
    Best Wishes,
    Stargazer

  6. Ouestion, what about Sat phones n how much is it to start a Ham radio operation?

    Thx

    • Survival Diva says:

      Fredric,
      The answer to your question about the cost of starting a HAM radio operation is whatever you’re willing to spend. It can be a cheap as $150, or it can cost in the thousands. The best analogy I can think of is if someone were to ask how much a car costs. . . for some a used Pinto would suffice. For others, only a Lamborghini will do. Typically, HAM operators start small and learn from other HAM operators–most are enthusiastic about helping newbies. A beginner typically builds up their equipment as they go. Start checking HAM operator sites and boards where you can post questions.

      Below, I posted a tutorial on SAT phones published by VoIP Mechanic. Because most SAT phone providers rely upon low-orbital satellites, they are vulnerable to strong solar activity like a powerful Coronal Mass Ejection or solar storm. SAT calls are patched to a ground based gateway or ground station, which leaves the call connection vulnerable to grid-down and disasters that take out the ground based gateway.

      Here’s the article. . .
      Satellite phones- what are they?
      A satellite phone is a mobile phone that connects to satellites rather than the traditional cell phone towers which typical cell phones connect.  Depending on the how the particular service is designed coverage may be a specific area all the way to the entire earth.  Many systems require a direct line of sight to the satellite which requires the user to be outside rather than in a dwelling where the structure will block the signal.  Buildings, trees and other obstructions can have an impact on the signal strength and affect the quality of the call. 
      How a satellite phone works.
      Satellite phones send radio signals to a satellite which then transmits back down to earth where a station will then route the call to the Public Switched Telephone Network (PSTN).   In some cases the satellite phone provider will transmit from one satellite to another satellite which has a connection to an Earth station. Outbound calls are relayed from the satellite phone on the ground to one of the satellites within the line of sight.  Next the call is relayed from one satellite to another at which it reaches the correct satellite to then connect back down to the appropriate ground station. The call is then transferred to the public voice network or Internet when it reaches the recipient.
      How much do satellite calls cost?
      Costs associated with voice calls from a satellite phone will vary anywhere from around $0.15 to $2 per minute, with typical rates being from .80 to 1.50/minute.  Some providers will offer better rates within specific geographic areas for even lower rates.  Calling a satellite phone from traditional landlines and normal cell phones is quite more expensive than other normal calls.  Satellite calls between different satellite phone networks is often very expensive, with calling rates of up to $15 per minute.  Most satellite phone networks offer pre-paid plans, with amounts ranging from $100 to $5,000.
      Who uses satellite phones?
      Typically the types of individuals who use satellite phones are ones with a need to have communication from remote locations.  Although the cost of these phones and services has dropped significantly over the last 10 years and more and more people are finding a need for them, the large numbers of users are associated with aviation, emergency services, government, maritime, military and adventure travel.
      Satellite phone features
      Just like cellular phones, satellite phones use SIM cards and offer an array of features.  These would typically include low battery and signal strength displays, call forwarding, phone books, voicemail, and text messaging.  Hand held satellite phones are battery-operated and would usually provide about 4 hours of talk time and 36-40 hours of standby time.  Many satellite phones have additional features such as:
      GSM compatibility enabling the phone to be used as a cellular phone.
      GPS displays of longitude and latitude.
      Solar panels for remote recharging of the battery.
      Paging, data transmission and faxing capabilities.
      Made for rugged environments with water, shock and dust resistance.

    • Quality Ham radios vary in price, but you can get non China handhelds for less than $150. Mobil radios are more expensive, but they reach out much further. If you operate on Simplex (line of sight), you really don’t need anything more than a handheld. Simplex is better if you only want to communicate within your own area as there will be less people able to monitor your communication. You can still communicate longer distance if there is a repeater in your area. The big plus with Ham radios is the hundreds and hundreds of frequencies you have available. A good place to start is Ham Radio Outlet. Great sales.
      I have 3 dual frequency (VHF/UHF) handhelds and 2 mobile radios, VHF/UHF for our preps. As a volunteer fire fighter, we took the Ham test as a group and now most of the volunteers are licensed. We added Ham frequencies to our dept. handhelds, so every one of us has Ham capability. I’m not really heavily involved with Ham and pretty much use it for emergencies and prepping. Living in the mountains, we have a lot of dead cell areas where Ham radios come in real handy. Hope this helps. Marty.

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