Wednesday, August 12, 2009

Emergency Communications, What Works

How people communicate with one another when land line phones, cell phones and the internet are at best unreliable or nonexistent, is one thing that seems to get very little attention and is wide open to speculation.
A small group trying to survive hard times (which, depending from your viewpoint seems inevitable) will need to have a plan to communicate with each other. Aside from carrier pigeons, or smoke signals, there are modern options to consider and prep for. Three most readily available are GMRS or FRS radios, CB radios, and Ham radio.

GMRS/FRS: These radios are good for short distances with little terrain interference. Used as pagers/communicators inside a building or a camp, GMRS/FRS radios offer low-cost & convenience. Small and easy to carry, GMRS/FRS radio family biggest drawback is their range. While fine as a group communications tool, they lack the ability of medium or long rage communications.

CB radios: Around for several years as an offshoot of Ham Radio,CB does not require a license and, unlike amateur radio, it may be used for business as well as personal communications. Enjoying a boom in the mid-seventies and are readily available today, CB radios are still the main short range communications choice for Truckers.
You can find CB’s fairly cheaply at yard sales and flea markets. Mandated by 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 advocated using a linear amp, however for the most part, enforcement of the restrictions are few and often only when an illegal stations signal interferes with other communication methods. Long distance communication is possible when atmospheric conditions permit.
CB radios come in many different forms, ranging from legal 40 channel/4 watt models, to a grey-area type of “export radio”, that skirts legality by being built for ham radio use, but are 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. The unregulated “outlaw” nature of CB radio often fills the airways with raucous and foul language. At times, it’s best to keep small children out of the radio shack when the CB is on.

Ham or Amateur Radio: Offers the farthest operating range, and broadest array of communication modes, from voice communication, to text, photo, video, and digital telemetry. Requiring a license to operate, ham radio is well organized and self regulated.
Ham radio is fairly cheap to get started in as there are many used radio bargains around. New ham radios cost run from hundreds, to several thousands of dollars, but with frugal shopping, one can set up a rather nice base station and talk all around the world.
Some of the best ham antennas are homemade, simple to conceal, wire antennas strung between trees. This type set up is very portable if need be, and can be setup almost anyplace. Mobile ham rigs are available that can talk all over the world... A typical ham might check into a long distance radio net during a morning commute, rag chew with regular’s everyday from Florida to Canada and make contacts from east coast to west coast hams with ease.

Choosing a way to communicate outside normal everyday methods, can be a daunting task. So much of it depends on your needs, but how you apply your limited resources, and for what return is inconsequential as long as your ability to get your message heard at a critical time can be assured. For further help in weighing options and to learn more about what choices are available, these websites can be of some help.

Original work by W4DMH refined by KI4HEE

CB/Ham and Other

Ham Radio In US

Ham Radio In US

Ham Radio In US

Ham radio in Canada

Ham radio in Canada

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