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  • Eduardo Abril de Fontcuberta -

Emergency COMM DOs & DONTs

Year 2- Week 32

If you are reading this magazine you can envision the following scenario: The grid is down due to a Solar CME or a High altitude Nuclear EMP (HEMP). No AC power, no phone, no Internet and no TV transmissions.

You feel afraid by not knowing the reach of the catastrophe. You don’t know if it is state, nationwide or global, and you don’t know how to proceed. Stay at your urban well stocked home or run to a mountain retreat. To make those life and death decisions you need information but there is no TV, no google and no phone service.

Don’t worry, even in the worst case scenario there are a couple of communication systems that will surely survive TEOTWAWKI: One is shortwave radio (SW) and the other is Ham radio. Why? When all else has failed.

It is simple: because Ham radio is an autonomous system based in resourceful operators that have both the knowledge and the equipment to keep citizen´s communication flowing without relying in public services. They can operate HF (3-30 Mhz) long range stations and gather global SIT-REPS, then relay them using short range VHF (144Mhz) and UHF (440 Mhz) bands or get on the air in broadcast channels so anybody with an AM or SW receiver can get up-to-date information of what is going on. No matter what.

This is the reason why Ham radio is so important and why I propose that you become knowledgeable in radio operation, if possible get licensed and ultimately be a part of the global Ham network that will keep the World informed, even when most households do not even have electricity. Indulge me for not including CB in 11m (27Mhz) but as I see it is just a small part of the bands available to Ham operators. Why limit yourself?

And what about shortwave? Shortwave or World Radio is a network of commercial high power stations that can be heard from 2,000Khz to 30,000 Khz, from just above the AM broadcast. This SW bands you will not be able to hear with your car radio but has a definite advantage on its global coverage. There are 14 International Bands expressed in their relative wavelength expressed in meters. I doubt that any kind of incident can have same-time global coverage, so there is a fair possibility that you will be able to hear stations from areas that have not been exposed and are still operative.

Thanks to the WWW you can make paper hard copies of the numerous stations that operate and where their antennas are. For example the BBC has a network of antennas that air their programs from all over the World

Therefore having a few SW receivers that can double as regular AM and FM receivers too, can give you autonomous global receiving capability. Most preppers will be familiar with the SW hand crank emergency radios, which are just a regular AM/FM/SW receiver with a not very effective hand powered generator, at a high price. I would recommend to but an ETON Emergency unit for the peace of mind, but base your receiving power in a couple true high quality receivers such as those from DEGEN, GRUNDIG or SIEMENS. I buy them as new on ebay auctions for very low prices and very high quality. Just remember to keep them in double anti EMP bags or in a Faraday cage.

SW can be received with HF Ham transceivers too and with Multimode HF/VHF/UHF transceivers that cover all HF bands, used for SW and by Ham Radio stations plus the VHF and the UHF band used by handhelds and low buck walkies FRS/GMRS/PMR446. These multimode radios can be bought around $1000 to $1200 in portable/mobile configuration for operation from 12V in vehicles or with standalone battery power.

The multimode mobile transceiver is the best option as the main Prepper COMM system as it can hear SW stations, handle HF Ham and communicate with the VHF and UHF walkies. I personally have a YAESU FT857D but there are newer units with touch screen such as the ICOM-IC7100. There is also the possibility of using decommissioned military radios such as the Clansman PRC-320 I use. Most of these don’t have digital capabilities but they have superb quality, are EMP proof and are built like a tank.

To be able to profit from all the immense communication capabilities that one of these multimode systems offer you should get a radio operator license. You don’t have to be Einstein or even handle Morse, called CW in Ham jargon, and just by contacting the ARRL for help and instructions, and then devoting a few hours to the study of the multimedia materials available, you will earn your FCC no-code license. This is the gateway to autonomous radio communications. There are many good resources in the WWW but I can recommend and Ham Cram free courses. Both will get you up to speed in little time and are absolutely free.

Just in case you don’t feel like studying, license free walkies are fine as short range family COMM. Be it Family Radio Service (FRS) and General Mobile Radio Service (GMRS) in the US and Canada or PMR446 in Europe, they can help you contact your kids at the mall or in your neighborhood, but little much more. Even GMRS with 5 watt power, as opposed to the very limited 0.5 watts of FRS and PMR446, are very limited in their transmission (TX) range. But they can hear in reception (RX) mode much better, those more powerful signals from the multimode transceivers.

Being able to hear will surely allow you to paint the crisis scenario and make better decisions, but will not help you in case you need to contact others or find people. To do this you need better transmission TX capabilities, way over what FRS/GMRS or PMR446 can offer. You need HF communications as you can’t rely on the repeater network that allow long range communications with VHF/UHF handhelds.

Buying analog affordable walkies that you can use as a short range COMM system and link to a more powerful Multimode HF/VHF/UHF system is the simplest thing to do, as spending your hard earned dollars in expensive handhelds will not be cost effective. But if you trust cheap Chinese handhelds, like I do, you can buy full featured handhelds such a BAOFENG 5RE for a GMRS walkie price. They will never be close to the superb tri-band submersible Yaesu VX-7R, but at a fraction of the price, the Baofeng may well be the only option for the budget concerned prepper.


Powered by a standalone battery, solar or wind power or even a vehicle 12V power and using the HF bands that cover from 3MHz to 30Mhz you will be able to contact stations from all around the world with a simple long wire antenna and a portable transmitter. Even PEDESTRIAN QRP stations, meaning operator on foot with a battery transceiver of 5 watts power or less, routinely contact stations at long-distance, called DX stations.

Even though after a TEOTWAWKI nobody is going to ask for the FCC license, you will need to learn how to operate effectively your station before that day, and the best way to do it, in my humble opinion is studying for your no-code FCC entry-level Ham license, without the need for learning Morse.

Just buy a multimode transceiver and make your own simple dipole of long wire antennas and you will reach to every corner in the world. Ham operators like myself with only 100W routinely contact all countries in their continent with ease and can reach global coverage if the operator learns how to manage ionospheric propagation of his transmission in the atmosphere.

With a simple and relatively affordable combination of multimode HF VHF/UHF mobile transceiver and a set of handhelds or GMRS/FRS walkies, if you have a smaller budget, you can have a fully autonomous COMM network that would survive any catastrophe even if the grid goes down permanently. With the handhelds or walkies you can reliably connect with you family in line of sight UHF up to 5 to 15 miles and even connect with them to your HF rig and use the transceiver to re-transmit your messages globally using the HF bands. Or just remain low profile and just receive SW stations from distant continents to stay informed.

You will never feel alone and isolated, get a Ham radio system and your FCC license and reach for the World.

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