Monday, March 30, 2009

Ham Radio for Survival Communications

I just read a short piece called "Communications Capabilities" by Joseph Parish, which was linked by Survivalist on the Delaware Prepper's Network. It is only five paragraphs, and here is the gist of what it says:

"Perhaps many of you may be considering purchasing a ham radio for this purpose. When you do think about one of these long term radios you must also be aware that you will need the appropriate power and accessories to go with it. Will you construct a twenty foot tower to place you ham radio antenna on?

I myself have found that the ham radio route could be a tad too expensive plus it ends up being very restrictive. It is only usable at your home and in the event that you have to bug out then your equipment would need to stay at your house."

OK, let me translate that for you: "I don't have the first clue what ham radio is all about, but I'm scared of it, so you should be as well." Am I taking this out of context? Go there and read it for yourself.

I have been a ham radio operator for more than a few years. I would have gotten my ticket much earlier had it not been for two factors: the Morse code proficiency requirement was daunting, and I was loathe to register myself with the federal government. But I finally did it, and I found out that once you wade in, Morse code is not only not so daunting, it is actually a fun and efficient form of communication. And as for registering with the feds, that is really not such a big deal. They don't come around messing with you and checking you out, and they don't care what address you use so long as any correspondence they may send you finds its way to you within 30 days. This is so if there should happen to be a problem, they can bring it to your attention within a month. That's not so onerous a burden, is it?

Oh, and by the way, there is no longer a Morse code requirement. Not everyone thinks eliminating the code requirement was such a great idea, but that is the way it is now, so any who felt like they were held back by that requirement don't have to worry about it anymore.

What did Clueless Guy say about it? "I myself have found that the ham radio route could be a tad too expensive plus it ends up being very restrictive."
The key words in that statement are "restrictive" and "expensive". Let's take those words one at a time. First, what does "restrictive" mean? Well, the first restriction is that you must pass a written exam which is designed to demonstrate that you 1)are not a complete moron, 2)know how to operate your radio so as not to jeopardize anyone's health or safety unnecessarily, nor unnecessarily interfere with other legitimate users' use of the bandwidth, and 3) have some inkling of just what ham radio is about.

Second, with your license, you will be issued a callsign. You must identify yourself with this callsign at the beginning and end of every radio contact, and every ten minutes during that contact. No, you won't receive a letter from the FCC if you accidentally go 12 minutes or even 20 minutes before IDing, or if you fall asleep while waiting your next turn in the roundtable. But if you make too much of a habit of it and refuse to try a little harder, you may eventually hear from them. The reason you must ID is, primarily, to keep just anybody with a radio from usurping our bands. If you don't use a valid callsign, we won't talk to you; and we will be coordinating our direction-finding efforts on another band so you can't hear us closing the web. And when we find you, you will be receiving a visit from the enforcement folks at FCC.

Third, they really don't like for you to get on the international HF bands, engage someone in Jordan in a conversation, and start telling him what jerks you consider all Arabs to be; and other, similar foolish behavior. Do that for long, and you will be hearing from the FCC, and perhaps some other agencies as well.

If those things seem too restrictive to you, then please, take the guy's advice and don't bother with ham radio. We truly don't want you. On the other hand, if you have heard CB and are looking for something better, then by all means, contact us. Every ham in the world will do anything in our power to help anyone who is truly interested in our hobby.

On to the other word: "expensive". I have built simple 2-way ham radios for free, including the antenna. OK, that's not fair because you can't expect the beginning ham to know how to do that. But you can get a 2 Meter VHF hand-held (known as an HT or handie-talkie) or mobile rig for around $100, brand new. With that rig you can communicate simplex over a 5 to 50 mile range, or through a repeater for easily 50 miles or more, or even statewide via linked repeater networks. Most hams start with such a rig.
When you are ready to add HF capabilities and get on the regional emergency nets and even talk with hams worldwide, a basic rig that covers all the HF bands can be had for around $500. If that is too much, you should be able to come up with a used rig for a couple hundred, or even less.
Or if you are really scraping by, just get your ticket, then contact the local ham club (which is probably who will be administering the exam anyway), and I guarantee somebody will either sell you an older rig cheap, or let you borrow one for awhile. Hams are just like that.

If you are in the Huntsville area, the ham club meets at the Red Cross building every Friday night at 7. If you are elsewhere, Google it, check the yellow pages, or contact me: tracy (at) alabamaprepper (dot) com and I will be happy to assist you.

I will close by saying that twice, I have found assistance on the 2 Meter band to choose a safe route home when I was caught out driving when a tornado touched down. The first time I was out of cellphone coverage, and didn't have a cellphone anyway. The second time I was in town during rush hour, and had a cellphone but the cellphone network was immediately jammed and stopped working. I turned on my 2 Meter radio and found an impromptu emergency net forming, with the local hams following their training to assure smooth communications.


Stephanie said...

Great info, thanks so much.

We are not ready yet to start this hobby, but I definitely see it in our future.

Tracy said...

When you get ready, let me know if you need any help.

PH said...

Great post. This was helpful to me. I'm not interested in the hobby aspect so much as the survival aspect. HAM is on my list of things to do once basic preps are taken care or. I'm going to link this on our Pennsylvania Preppers page. Thanks

Humble wife said...

Came over from Pennsylvania prep. Lots to think about and consider in prepping. Thanks!

Bulldog115366 said...

Great Post!! Check out the post by WV Santa over on the Canadian Preppers Network for more. Also, I delt a bit more with this topic on the Maryland page as well. I agree that we may well need this form of coms to get linked up with family when TSHTF!!!!!!

wvsanta said...

Great post and am glad to see a fellow ham blogging. I did a piece for the CPN on emergency communications and there are some more comming. Also I would add that if need be all my ham gear is portable and my antennas do not need anything but trees and some rope. I will have a post showing my mobile setup in my service truck on the Canadian Preppers Network (CPN) soon so look for it. If anyone would like to re post what I did on the CPN just email me at the address on the West Virginia site I would be glad to share
God Bless from the Wild and Wonderful West Virginia