We’re going to take a little break from terrain and touch on another topic – Communications or Comms. I’ll say it right up front – I know I’m going to catch a ton of shit over this little gem. Comms is about as hot a topic as different shades of Multicam and there’s as many arguments over the merits of what is and isn’t best in comms gear. But remember what the focus of this blog is: Rural Defense when SHTF. That SHTF could be in any number of forms – economic collapse, widespread civil unrest, Insurrection, a Zombie Apocalypse (I got an email asking why I don’t use that scenario since it’s such a “great catch-all surrogate” – Are you happy now?). This article isn’t geared for the Militia Unit in a tactical environment – there are better options for those folks. If you’ve read The Farmer at War you’ll remember the mention of their radio system: The Agric-Alert Radio system. This system allowed farms and ranches not only to alert security forces of attacks, but also to call for assistance from their neighbors. And just like those Marxist thugs that attacked those farmers you can bet that if you’re going to get hit the threat is going to take your phone and power out if it’s still on (those little green telecom boxes up and down the roadside don’t hold up to being run over – and please don’t ask me how I know this). In this entry we’ll look at some examples of comms solutions.
The first step of developing any system is examining the need. What do we need? Right off the bat I can think of three things that are critical: It needs to be cheap, reliable, and easy to power. Here’s what I came up with for a set of basic requirements:
1. A reliable, inexpensive, and readily available local communications system able to work throughout our entire AO. It has to use readily available power sources and should be capable of being mobile.
2. The ability to monitor official traffic and reports including LEO, EMS, and Weather as long as they are on-line and friendly.
3. The ability to communicate with the world outside of our AO. And not necessarily active communication which I’ll get into later on.
A fourth requirement that would be nice but just isn’t really feasible is a source of secure comms. Crypto gear isn’t cheap so I’ll rule that out. Now that we’ve identified three major requirements let’s look at our AO again.
Based on the old calibrated eyeball we need a local comms system that can reach at least 10kms (6 miles) in heavily wooded and hilly terrain. FRS and GMRS are neat and cheap but in our terrain (heavily wooded) and given that distance they don’t seem really practical. Handheld Amateur Radios (UHF/VHF) have gotten incredibly cheap lately. A quick check of fleabay shows tons of Chicom handheld dual-band handhelds for under $100. The drawback with these is that it takes some training to really use and program them. And not all of them take readily available batteries (for some stupid reason the cheaper ones normally use a proprietary rechargeable battery – not something I’m fond of). Another option is Citizen Band. CBs are cheap (Rat Shack has 7 watt handhelds that use AAs for $50), plentiful, and are almost idiot proof. Hell a lot of rural guys may already have a CB in their truck or tractor. The drawback is that if your AO is sited near a busy highway you may get a LOT of outside traffic and finding a clear channel might be a PITA. But I’m pretty sure if things go to hell most truckers are heading to the house to take care of their families. Now remember what I stated above – we’re not looking for a comms system to go on a long range patrol. We’re looking to get reliable comms between farmers, ranchers, and homesteaders. Given that this is how I rank the three options:
1. CBs (both handheld and base station)
2. Dual Band Base Amatuer Radios (HAMs, including handhelds)
I skipped some systems like MURS, Business Bands, UPCS, and others because they just aren’t common enough, complicated to program, or too short range. So for the sake of time and space we’re going to talk CB. As I stated above handheld CBs capable of 7 watts can be had for around $50 new. With that price it’s pretty realistic to assume that every home would have at least one on hand. A good rule of life after SHTF would be that anyone out in the AO away from their point defense locaitons (remember – our homesteads) should be carrying one. The cool thing with CBs is there’s also other options. That mobile rig in the truck can come out and get hooked to a 12V car battery and run as a base station on a homebuilt antenna. (see the resources I list at the end of this article). I bought a couple of CBs at a yard sale right before last Christmas for $20. And anytime I run across them for that price in good working condition I usually snag them up, box ’em up, and save them for a rainy day. Given the commonality of CBs and their ease of use IMHO for our purpose you can’t beat them.
So now we move on to our second requirement – Monitoring LEO, EMS, and Weather (at least for as long as they are broadcasting in the clear). The best (and pretty much only) option here is to have a scanner. True there are other systems and sources but using our criteria (cheap, reliable, easy to power) a scanner is the best choice. I’ve linked a site or two at the bottom that gives more information on scanners. Regular radio stations can give you some info but once shit goes critical I wouldn’t expect them to remain on the air with anything more than prerecorded EMS broadcast messages.
And we finally get to our third requirement: The ability to communicate with the world outside of our AO. For this purpose I firmly believe there is only one real solution – Amateur Radio or HAM. When the world has gone to shit, the living dead rise from their graves (that’s a freebie for you zombie nuts out there), and the British come for their back-taxes HAMs will still be on the air. The problem is HAM radios aren’t cheap. And the handhelds may not have the power to reach out and touch someone. Your best bet is to do some research (Links below), and shop around. A UHF or VHF radio is not something you can just unbox, plop down, plugin, and start using like an X-Box. It takes a little knowledge and understanding of science. Now if you get lucky and have a rag chewer in your AO (look for the antenna mast) you’ll be in luck. Otherwise someone is going to have to invest the time, money and effort into studying and buying a rig. And I know it won’t matter after the “rule of law” is gone but studying and getting that license now is a good idea. Practical experience before you need the skills goes a long way.
The final two solutions have one drawback – most of them require AC power. And that stuff don’t grow on trees. I’m not going to go into the zillion solutions to power your homestead after the juice goes out. Google will give you more info than you care to digest on that topic.
One thing I want to address: Whenever you pick up a radio be it whatever kind the first thing you do is listen. And with comms to the outside world that is critical. Don’t assume just because someone is on your freq. they are friendly. You’re not the only one reading this article and I’m not the only nitwit that has come up with this info. Practice OPSEC (that’s a subject for a later entry).
In the next entry I’ll go into some examples of comms procedures and we’ll look at what we can do to overcome the lack of Crypto.
Links for further study:
CB Radio Magazine Info Website – A good source for basic info
CB Radio Installation (has different installation methods including the direct to Battery connection for use as a base station)
Need it simpler? HAM Radio for Dummies (Used copies can be found ultra cheap)