New Mexico Urban Homesteader

Hello, I am A 50 Something, Prepper ;-}; former 60's Flower Child, don't believe in taxpayer subsidized special interest groups (political parties), DO believe in the Constitution and Bill of Rights (1st 10). Long time Independent & Informed Voter. Lover of the outdoors and firm believer that History Teaches - if only we will listen!

(No longer Urban or in NM. Now Rural in the mountains of Maine.)

This blog was started at the request of some dear friends that wish to become Preppers.

“No man who is not willing to help himself has any right to apply to his friends, or to the gods.”

Demosthenes (384–322 BC, Greek statesman and orator of ancient Athens)

Friday, June 10, 2011

Crisis Communications

I have missed a few weeks recently as I was away on a land scouting expidetion. So to get back into the swing of things here is some important information on Crisis Communications ;-}

Crisis Communications

Just about any self-reliant, outdoors/wilderness, homesteading, Prepper or survivalist person should have emergency communications on their list of things to gain knowledge, goods and skills on. This is a very important aspect of preparedness and one well worth discussing.

Selecting the kind of crisis communications you need appears to be an easy task at first glance. However if your crisis plan is complete, you will quickly realize that there are many factors that are involved in determining your communication needs.

On top of this one must remember that when selecting electronic equipment for use during emergencies that can last several weeks without electrical power, there are features an emergency radio should have that may not be realized when electrical power is available from the nearest wall outlet – AND - Nothing is 100% reliable ALL of the time!

“Bad human communication leaves us less room to grow.”
Rowan D. Williams

Another important thing to remember is that radio communication is way different than your landline or cell phone; not only in the technology used, but in the general communication indulged. IE: Radio communications are not for just saying hello and discussing your new toy, gadget, recipe or latest gossip. They are for minimal communications, usually to inform another of location and or needed directions/instructions concerning the issue/crisis at hand.

As part of your preparedness plan determine what your crisis communication needs are by evaluating the questions below and then the pro’s and con’s of the various crisis communication methods discussed in this document.

Will you need 2-way communications or just listening for information? If you need 2-way communications ask yourself the following:

- What is your commitment in time and money to not only acquire the communication system you need, but also the tenacity to learn any new knowledge, skills or licensing necessary to utilize the equipment?
- What type of environment will you be communicating in?
Urban, rural, hilly, mountainous, flat, open water, local, cross country, etc?

Most radios are “line of sight” meaning that the single needs clear passage between the transmitter and the receiver. Concrete buildings or bridges, metal structures, hills, mountains, tunnels, caves and the like will absorb the transmission signal reducing the distance the signal travels.

The antenna will be the most important ‘distance’ factor after terrain; for BOTH transmitting and receiving.

- Make a list of the people you want to stay in touch with during an emergency. This will undoubtedly include family members, business associates, church friends and neighbors.
- Where are these people located in relation to where you are located? Same town, different state, etc?
- What is the terrain where they are located? (Urban, rural, hilly, mountainous, flat, open water, local, cross country, etc? )
- What crisis communication equipment and knowledge do they have?
- What repeaters or relays are between you and who you want to communicate with?
- Determine what it would take to stay in touch with each person (this includes their environment too).

For example, to stay in touch with my relatives who live in another part of the country will require an Amateur Radio, along with relay or repeater stations. To communicate with my fellow self-reliant homesteading friends, who are scattered over a wide geographic area, will also require the same. However, I can use either CB, FRS or GMRS radio to talk to the neighbors and friends who live in my subdivision and city.

Consider your resources. Make sure that you attend to first things first. As important as staying in touch may be, it’s not as important as food, water, and shelter. Make sure you take care of those things first, before you blow a bunch of money on high-tech communication gadgets.

- If you have less that $100 to spend and need one-way communication, get a simple AM/FM/NOAA radio that will run on solar power or via a hand-crank mechanism to keep you “in the know” of what is going on around you.
- If you need two-way communications and have a couple of hundred dollars, you can add a CB or FRS radio.
- If you have a bit more to spend on 2-way communications you can go Amateur (HAM), GMRS or MURS. Remember licenses are required for some forms of two-way communication.

Get a commitment from the people you want to talk to. It won’t do you any good to buy a radio if the people you want to talk to don’t have one. Go figure.

- This is why buying a radio is often a group decision. It’s also helps if you are using similar equipment so you can help one another when there are problems.

Develop a communications plan as part of your preparedness plan.

How often do you want to talk to the people in your network?

What are your procedures and protocols? Any “codes” that mean important things particular to your group?

These are things you need to figure out together, long before you are in the middle of a crisis.

When you first start out Keep It Simple – get a good set-up that is upgradable and expandable. You can always add to it as monies, time and experience call for it.

Run periodic test drills. Take a page from the military: practice, practice, practice.

You want a system you can depend on in an emergency. The only way to do this is by getting comfortable with it before you need it. Just purchasing a radio and then storing it in your closet to pull out and unpack during a crisis will NOT cut the cake!

If you are new to preparedness communications and need 2-way communication abilities these three rules are first and foremost, when considering preparedness communications. DO NOT put this off for later.

  1. It takes someone listening for communications to work and the best radios in the world are useless if no one hears you call for help.
  2. Establishing or connecting to a radio net of listeners, making sure that someone is out there listening for you, is VITAL and cannot be bypassed.
  3. It's impractical for most people to listen to radios continuously, so having a schedule for stations on your “net” to listen makes radio communication practical. Either use a published schedule, or a regular interval (every day at 7pm, for example) for the net to come on-line.

Bottom Line: Form this “radio net” NOW; set a non-SHTF schedule for regular practice. If you live rural you may want some kind of weekly or monthly “check in” communication scheduled.

When I evaluated all these questions I discovered that:

  • I have family and friends scattered not only locally, but nationally too.
  • There are various buildings, mountains and other obsticales to overcome between me and the people I will want to communicate with - both locally and nationaly.
  • I have minimum to average funds and time to devote to equipment, training and licensing.
  • I have some previous “radio” experience through C.E.R.T., the Red Cross and CB REACT.; yet I know relatively little about the current technology for civilian 2-way radio communications.
  • I need a system that will not only work for me in my current urban environment; I need it to work in my near future rural environment too.
  • My family and friends currently have several existing radio services. Some are HAM, some GMRS and a few are CB.
  • Whatever system I choose it has to be compatible with my existing group/network of “radio listeners”; whom I currently keep in touch with via a neighbor or my existing CB.
This means that for my specific situation I need an Amateur Radio System and if I can afford it, for the rest of my in town friends, some kind of shorter range FRS, GMRS, CB or more learning to modify the HAM to receive and transmit on these other frequencies – which by the way is currently illegal in the U.S.A. due to FCC regulations.

“We have two ears and one mouth
so that we can listen twice as much as we speak.”

(Greek philosopher associated with the Stoics, AD 55-c.135)

The range or distance a transmission travels between the sender (transmitter) to the Receiver will vary considerably between radio types, antenna types, terrain, obstacles and atmospheric conditions. Follow those criteria with the power of each individual piece of equipment. Note: More power does NOT translate to more range.

Because of all these variables it was very difficult to find specific range information on the various types of radio communication available to the public. There was one common thread from all the sources read and queried: If you're relying on the claims of the manufacturers, you'll probably be very disappointed.

One of the best articles where extensive “real world” testing took place was on CB, FRS, GMRS and MURS can be read in its entirety at

“True eloquence consists in saying all that is necessary,
and nothing but what is necessary.”
Heinrich Heine

Relay Communication - This has been done for as long as radio has existed. One station (person) receives a message and passes it along to another station (person), that passes it to another station (person); until it finally reaches the destination. Hopefully the message won't be distorted by the time it reaches the intended receiver.

Repeater Communication - Allows two or more radio stations to communicate with each other through a third system, which relays transmissions over a single frequency pair. A repeater station is really just a special kind of base station which employs a very tall antenna. The repeater usually receives on a particular frequency for each communication method. For instance 467 MHz for GMRS. When it receives a signal (usually accompanied by a special code which this repeater listens for especially), the repeater then automatically (i.e., without further operator action or control) retransmits that same signal on the comparable frequency. You must know the repeater’s frequency and “call sign” or code in order to use it.

A typical low-power handheld radio might be able to communicate with a base station on top of a mountain or a tall building 15 miles to even 30 or more miles distant.

Another kind of repeater, only recently introduced to GMRS, receives a signal on a 462 MHz frequency, and retransmits that same signal after a slight time delay on that same frequency. This kind of repeater can be much less expensive to purchase and operate, since it doesn't require a "duplexer" or a second antenna for receiving purposes. However, like a conventional repeater, this "store-and-forward"-type repeater still requires a control method to shut it down, if it is operated from a remote location.

The advantage of the repeater is in its capability to receive a signal from a distant transmitter, and to retransmit a signal which can be heard by a distant receiver, because of the station's greater antenna height.

If a repeater with a tall antenna can hear a mobile signal 20 miles away (a typical distance for a well-sited repeater), then it can usually transmit to another mobile unit anywhere within that same 20-mile radius. The two mobile units themselves do not need to be near each other. They could be at opposite sides of the 20-mile radius of coverage of the repeater, or 40 miles apart from each other, and still be able to communicate through the repeater.

“The single biggest problem in communication is the illusion that it has taken place.”
George Bernard Shaw

Normal speech - When using a radio that uses voice communication it is necessary for the person receiving the transmission to understand what you are saying. You must therefore speak as clearly as possible. Hold the microphone away from your mouth at a constant distance (a thumb's length at minimum) and speak clearly with a steady volume. Don't scream into the mic or move it close to your mouth because it makes the received transmission sound garbled and distorted. If certain words are not understood despite good speech practices it may be necessary to spell the word. This is done using a 'phonetic alphabet'. There are two common variations of this one for military and one for civilian use. Use whichever is understood best by the receiver.

Coded or encrypted information - By law it is illegal to convey a message using code or encryption. This takes valuable time away from the NSA which is already too busy eavesdropping on the rest of US communications. Instead they may hand the message over to Homeland Security and lock you up as a terrorist - no trial, no lawyer, no right to habeus corpus and no protection from self-incrimination. I don't know if this has happened yet but I don't want to be the first. Until all the domestic US spy programs are dismantled it would be best to avoid encryption and codes.

Secrecy - In general DO NOT convey important information over the radio. Not even bits and pieces of information that can be reassembled by those that may be eavesdropping. Use just enough range to make contact with the other station and no more. This can be done using radios with less power, smaller antennas, directional antennas and even using geographical features to your advantage. If you do not want the signal to travel several hundred miles use the higher frequencies that will not skip. If you do not want to be heard by spy satellites use lower frequencies that will not penetrate the ionosphere.

Limit transmissions as much as possible to avoid detection. To avoid the transmitter being located by direction finders do not transmit for more than a few seconds at a time waiting a few seconds between each transmission. Do this even if it means breaking up a complete message into several separate transmissions. This is common practice for the military.

“The biggest mistake is believing there is one right way to listen, to talk, to have a conversation -- or a relationship.”
Deborah Tannen

Antennas are the single most important factor in the range or distance a signal can be transmitted and received clearly. Here height and power play their biggest roles. This next site is especially good for information on HAM antennas … and there article on Ham Radio Antenna Selection Tips it second to none. Here is an excerpt:

When choosing or building a ham antenna (amateur radio antenna), the most common compromises you have to make will fall in the following categories:

• Cost (for a commercially made antenna or cost of parts if homemade).
• Available space (both horizontal and vertical).
• Durability.
• Performance (of course!).
• City bylaws (increasingly ... sigh!).

If perfect antennas were possible the person who made them would become a millionaire!

The bad news is that the perfect antenna does not exist, even in theory! The theoretically perfect antenna can never be built ... because theory itself is not perfect!

However, the good news is that experimenting with homemade antennas is one of the most accessible and enjoyable aspects of amateur radio.

“When people talk, listen completely.
Most people never listen.”
Ernest Hemingway

A general note on radio communications: Although a license is required for normal use with some methods, anybody who knows how to operate one may do so in an emergency, at least in the U.S. and Canada. This is allowed only for the communications necessary to deal with the emergency.

For example in the very rural and wilderness areas of Alaska there are more unlicensed HAM and Shortwave radio operators than licensed. Since they only go on the air once a week or so for “check ins”, the FCC currently leaves them alone.


  • Select the type of communications needed: One-way or Two-way
  • Select the conditions which you will be transmitting and receiving in. (Terrain, distance, mobile, base, hand-held)
  • Determine who you wish to talk with and where they are and what equipment they have.
  • For two-way communications form a “listener network” of people and set a schedule to practice via pre-scheduled check-in exercises.
  • Review your budget to determine the funds needed to obtain the knowledge, training, licensing (if necessary) and equipment to meet your crisis communication needs.
Remember no communication method is 100% perfect for 100% of the situations you may find yourself in. You may need more than one method.

There is no getting around the fact that during a crisis you need some way to stay in touch with the world around you. Whether it’s a $25.00 solar-powered radio or a $1,000-plus Amateur Radio system, you need a means of receiving information and if possible, a way of transmitting it (2-way communication). This is important not only for you and your family’s personal safety, but also for your psychological well-being too.

For more detailed and specific information (both layman and technical) see: Crisis Communications @

Some other good reads:

1931-The Amateur Radio ARRL Handbook
All About Antennas
Allocation of Radio Spectrum in the United States
Antenna Selection and Installation Primer
Band Plan
Basic Comms: Level 1 “Portable”
Batteries for Emergency Communications &

Broadcast Radio Bands
Building the Highly-Versatile-Orange-Box HVOB Communications go-kit
Communication for Survival

Difference between Satellite Radio, Ham Radio and Short Wave Radio
Electromagnetic Spectrum
Elements and Considerations of a Successful Disaster Preparedness Supplemental Communications Plan using the Personal Radio Services
Emergency Communications (an intro to CB, GMRS, and Ham radio)

FCC Wireless Services at a Glance May 2011 (HAM, Shortwave, FRS, GMRS, MURS, CB, etc)
Glossary - Abbreviations
Glossary of Jargon, Abbreviations and Terminology for: Amateur Radio (HAM), Short Wave
Ham Radio Antenna Selection Tips
HAM Small Hand-Held - How much range can you get?
How to Get More Performance From Your Hand Held Radio Modernsurvivalonline.COM

John Wagner's Shortwave Tips & Tricks
List of HAM Repeaters Across the US
NOAA Nationwide Station Listing Using Broadcast Frequencies

NOAA Station Listing and Coverage
Quick Guide to the Shortwave Spectrum
Real World Ranges for CB, FRS, GMRS and MURS Radios
Shortwave Frequency List

Sign Language-The Universal Language of the Plains
Spectrum Chart Radio Frequency Bandwidth

Tactical Radio
The Considerate Operators Frequency Guide

The Radio Spectrum
Types of Radio Bands
Typical Antenna Selection Tips US Amateur HAM Radio Bands
US HF Amateur Bands
US Radio Frequency Allocation Chart as of October 2003 (in order for me to actually read the thing I view it at 100%)
Which Radio Is Best for Emergency Comms By Virginia RACES
Which Radio Services Require a License?

Prep On


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