First up: If you’ve served in any military or like environment and used tactical radios this is going to be all too simple for you. And that’s the point here – we’re going to try and make it simple for the non-trained to pick up and use. If it’s overly complicated chances are people will use bits and pieces and adapt the system to their own liking so let’s keep it simple and avoid any painful evolutions. The first thing you have to stress to everyone that will use a radio is that clear, concise communications are critical to effectiveness. If someone is screaming at the top of their lungs in a panic on the net it’s going to be a lot more painful than necessary to sort out what’s happening at their station. Hammer this consistently. Comms procedures are one area that has to be disciplined – hell even in regular forces comms discipline can be painful. Work it, be persistent, be tactful, be the example, but most of all be unwavering.
So we’ve identified our comms hardware and now is the time to put it to use. I’ve geared this to our local area radio system identified in the previous comms entry (in this case CBs) however it can easily be adapted to other systems as well. And to put it to use it has to be turned on and monitored. Folks should have their radios on and within earshot 24 hours a day. After all it would seriously suck to miss that spot report that 3 armed dirtbags have been spotted 200 meters south of your homestead because you were on the shitter. If you can’t be near the radio then someone in your point defense should be. There is another time folks should have a radio on them and have it tuned to either the admin or emergency channel. That’s when they are out away from their point defenses (homesteads). That way in case of contact or if they are needed as a response force they’ll be on the net. This is what makes those handheld radios so attractive.
So we’re going to identify some necessities that we need to develop and implement. Kicking it around I’ve come up with these necessities:
1. We have to identify what elements of communication are critical to everyone understanding so they can effectively communicate on the net.
2. Folks need to understand when to switch to the Emergency Net.
3. We need callsigns.
4. We need to be able to spell out complex words by using a phonetic alphabet.
5. We need to use prowords.
6. We need to assign frequencies.
7. We need a Net Control Station (NCS).
8. We need a procedure to ensure everyone is able to transmit and receive on our nets.
The elements of communication we want everyone to clearly understand and apply should be something like this:
1. Always assume someone you don’t want monitoring the nets is listening. Practice OPSEC (OPSEC will be covered in depth later on).
2. At no time does anything that would be considered OPSEC be transmitted outside of an emergency situation.
3. Take a moment to mentally (or actually) compose the traffic you wish to send.
4. Keep messages as short as possible. Transmit no more than five continuous seconds. If the message is longer use the BREAK proword (explained below). This is to make it harder for direction finding equipment to pinpoint you accurately.
5. Always listen to make sure no one else is transmitting before you key your set.
6. Speak clearly, slowly, and in a normal tone.
7. Monitor the radio all the time.
The second necessity we identified is to have folks understand when to switch to the emergency channel. It should be SOP throughout the entire AO that anytime you aren’t talking on a routine traffic local channel or monitoring the administrative channel you should be monitoring the emergency channel (many CBs have a channel 9 scanner which works great for this purpose). It needs to be reinforced if you hear or see something out of the ordinary like gunfire, an explosion, or heavy vehicle movement to switch to the emergency channel automatically and monitor traffic. The administrative channel is kind of like the old country “party line”.
The third necessity we’ll cover is that every station on the net has a callsign (a.k.a. a name or handle). This can be something simple like the families last name, a commonly known nickname, physical location, etc. It must be something commonly known to everyone throughout the AO. Referring to the map from out terrain piece I’ll just use the family names of the homesteads on the map.
The fourth necessity to avoid confusion you should stress the use of the Phonetic Alphabet. Although this is standardized across the military and most LEO/EMS entities it doesn’t necessarily have to use that format. The substitution of other words that also clearly convey the letter intended will work as well. I.e. instead of “Zulu” the word “Zebra” could be used. As long as they are not complex words (advise them to stick to short and distinct words) they should work. Keep it simple and easy for the tribe.
The fifth necessity is Prowords. A Proword is a word that has been assigned a meaning and are used to expedite messages. IMHO I would only expect the most common Prowords to be used and then in simple fashion. These are the ones that will provide you the most bang for the buck. i.e.
ACTUAL – normally reserved for the family/homestead leader. It’s used in conjunction with the callsign, i.e. “Briggs Actual” would get you Mr. Briggs Sr.
BREAK – Indicates that the sender is going to take a temporary break in transmission for a few seconds.
FLASH – FLASH is used in regards to traffic priority with FLASH traffic being a higher priority than all other traffic. A Sender starts a message with FLASH FLASH FLASH (always 3 times) when a message contains traffic that is of an emergency nature. All other stations should stop transmitting and monitor the message.
I SPELL – Used immediately before phonetically spelling out a word.
OUT- The station is done transmitting and no further traffic should be expected.
OVER – The station is done transmitting and is awaiting a reply.
ROGER – The station understands/acknowledges the traffic sent.
SAY AGAIN/SEND AGAIN – This Proword is used instead of “Repeat”. When a station doesn’t understand or didn’t receive a portion of a message they will ask the sender to “Say Again” or “Send Again”.
WAIT OVER – The sending station must leave the net – not normally for more than a few minutes. Using this Proword gives the expectation the station will return briefly with information or to continue the conversation.
WAIT OUT – The sending station must leave the net for more than a few minutes and will return later to complete the conversation.
Prowords also bring up the topic of duress codes. A duress code is a single distinct word used when a station is being directly threatened (i.e. a dirtbag is standing over the sender with a pistol pointed at his head during a comms check or a conversation). A duress code must be memorized by everyone and should be easily inserted into normal conversation. The word “Peachy” is an example. A station under duress might answer a comms check with “All Peachy Out” instead of a simple “Roger out”. This alerts the other stations that station is under duress and needs assistance. At that point hopefully you’ve developed a TTP to deal with this. We’ll cover that later in active defense. Also note that duress codes SHOULD NEVER BE USED in normal conversation. If you want to get real fancy each family/homestead could have its own duress code but frankly IMHO for the sake of simplicity a single word throughout the tribe is better.
The big thing with prowords is that everyone understands what they mean. If I use “Tally-Ho” as a proword for the QRF to assemble and no one knows what it means then It’s useless.
The next necessity to avoid confusion is to assign frequencies. In our case using the Citizens Band we reserve some channels for their intended use. Channel 9 is the normal emergency channel. Channel 17 (for North/South Bound traffic) and 19 (for East/West Bound traffic) is normally used by Truckers. We will retain the use of Chanel 9 as our Emergency Traffic/Alert channel. We also need to assign channels for normal routine traffic that is common throughout the AO. This is an example of how to break it down.
CH. 1-8,11-16, and 18 are used for local inter-homestead traffic. 9 is the emergency (our version of the “Agric-Alert”) net, and 17 and 19 we retain for truckers. Now we block off 20-29 and 30-39 for our local admin net. This is the net we put routine information on and conduct comms checks on. The idea is that we use the channel that corresponds to the date with a fall back channel 10 steps higher. I.e. on the first, eleventh, twenty first, and thirty first we use channel 21 and if it’s jammed/being used by outside sources/ otherwise unavailable we’d switch up to 31. We use Channel 20 on the tenth, twentieth, and thirtieth with a fall back to Channel 30. Note that SSB is normally in the bands above 30, could possibly interfere with AM traffic, and is used for longer range comms so we’ll try and avoid it. Good to have in a pinch but we’re going to try and avoid advertising our existence. I would advise everyone routinely monitor the administrative net and if they need to communicate amongst each other contact that station and have them drop to another channel.
Next up is our seventh necessity. Here’s the fun part: We’ve almost got to assign a Net Control Station (NCS). The NCS acts as our Emergency Ops Center (EOC) – the central hub for our comms. It’s a good idea to collocate your scanner, Amateur radio, and a couple of CBs (monitoring the admin and emergency channels but if you have a radio that scans 9 you can get by with one) along with an FRS/GMRS scanning radio (there’s a good possibility any threat might be using them) in one central well protected location If you have a HAM enthusiast in your AO they would normally be the natural choice (most of the ones I know would like nothing better to live on their rigs). Here’s a downfall – comms should really be monitored 24 hours a day. So it might be a better idea to rotate the responsibilities for monitoring the emergency net throughout the AO. One critical asset of a good NCS is the ability to pull information out of a station on the net. If blabbering jack is on the end trying to tell everyone what is going on and he’s excited and transmitting a lot of gibberish and extraneous info it’s the NCSs job to calm them down, ask pointed and direct questions, and get as close to the real picture of what’s going on as possible. Basically when SHTF the NCS controls the emergency net.
Our Final necessity is to be able to ensure everyone is able to transmit and receive on our nets. We accomplish this by using Comms checks. Comms checks should be conducted at least twice daily – normally once in the morning and once in the evening. If feasible the morning check should be no later than 30 minutes before morning twilight and the evening check should be no later than thirty minutes before the end of the evening twilight (you can get those times from the good old Farmer’s Almanac or the web). Why? Historically these are the times that are most likely for an attack to occur hence our TTP of “Stand-To” which will be covered later on in active defense. Now this isn’t to say that you might not get hit at midnight but if you’ve done a comms check then chances are your rig still works. Another good TTP is for everyone to switch their radios to channel 9 prior to bedtime which brings up another point – the radios ideally should be in the bedroom. That puts it near and pretuned in case it’s needed and also allows for monitoring of traffic. If channel 9 goes blaring at 0130 about an attack on the Briggs homestead chances are it’s going to wake you up. Putting the radio in the bedroom with a handheld is no problem but with a base station it may be. Plan accordingly. Daily radio checks are initiated by the NCS and answered by each station in a manner similar to:
NCS initiates the comms check: “All stations this is Briggs radio check”
NCS calls first station: “Mann Briggs Over”
Station (in this instance “Mann”) responds: “Briggs Mann Roger Out”
And so on and so forth until all stations have acknowledged. If a stationed doesn’t respond after three calls you should move along and try them once more at the end. If they still do not respond then it’s time to send some folks over and check on them. The NCS normally closes the comms check out with something simple like “This is Briggs out”
For those so inclined the US Army Center for Lessons Learned RTO Handbook is an excellent source of additional and amplifying info. If you haven’t what figured it out by now what we are basically doing is building a Comms SOP from scratch pulling from several sources and simplifying it wherever possible. The KISS principle is still as relevant as ever.
In the next installment we’ll look at some examples of how to overcome our lack of crypto and examine OPSEC a bit more in detail as it relates to comms. Reports and other emergency procedures will be addressed in their respective articles.