All Circuits Are Busy: Emergency Collapse Communications

by Tess Pennington

Our communications systems are still considered among the world’s most extensive and dependable. However, the infrastructure is extremely outdated and unusual conditions can and do put a strain on our grid. With the rise of natural and man-made disasters and an aging infrastructure, experts from the private and public sector warn that we are just one major catastrophic event away from the possibility of an event taking down the grid, thus causing a complete meltdown of life in America as we know it today.

Consider, for a moment, how drastically your life would change without the continuous flow of energy the grid delivers. What would our lives be like without access to communication channels telling us what is going on? How vulnerable would we feel not getting our daily dose of local, and world news? For that matter, how would we get in touch with loved ones to let them know how we are?

According to James Rawles, author of How to Survive the End of the World As We Know It, most radio and TV stations have enough fuel to run their backup generators for only a few days. Ditto for the telephone company central offices (COs). If that is the case, then what will happen when those generators run out of power? As he points out, “there will be an acute information vacuum.”


Communication in a grid-down scenario is going to be vital in any serious emergency. Therefore, the best way to to prepare for this situation is to equip yourself with the knowledge and tools for communication. Rawles states, “Once you’ve mastered short-range communications and public service band monitoring, the next step is to join your local Amateur Radio Relay League (ARRL) affiliate club and study to get your amateur license.” Because many of us are not familiar with the vast array of emergency comm devices, the following list is recommended in How to Survive the End of the World As We Know It, (p.193-198) as well as a brief description of how they operate:

Shortwave Receiver

Shortwave radio is a type of long-range radio transmission that bounces signals off a layer of the atmosphere called the ionosphere to be received in another part of the world. The ionosphere, located about 100 miles (160 km) over the earth’s surface, has the unique ability of being able to reflect certain radio frequencies. Unlike AM and FM radio, shortwave radio frequencies can bounce off of the ionosphere and be heard many thousands of miles away. This allows users to be able to hear shortwave radio broadcasters from other countries throughout the world. The ionosphere typically bounces the widest variety of shortwave radio frequencies at night, especially within a few hours of sunset and sunrise.

Rawles suggests that your receiver be a compact, portable general coverage AM/FM/weather band/CB/shortwave receiver. The secret to making a receiver last are to buy a couple of spare hand-reel antennas, show care in putting stress on the headphone jack and power-cable connections, and always carry the radio and accessories in a sturdy, well-padded, preferably waterproof case.

The top brands are Grundig, Sangean, Eton, Kaito, Sony

Transceivers

A transceiver or transmitter/receiver is a device that combines transmission and reception capability on shared circuitry. In regions where digital coverage is spotty, a transceiver may be equipped for analog to ensure that there will be no loss of signal. Transceivers can handle analog or digital signals, and in some cases, both. Communication and reception are dependent on the range of frequencies. For instance, if you live on a piece of land where there are a lot of hills or trees, your range would be affected. Satellites can also play a part in how well the transceiver works and transmit across greater distances. Keep in mind, the more high powered a transceiver is, the more expensive it is, and also the larger it tends to be.

Ham radio transceivers, for example can broadcast and receive transmissions for over 50 miles, and some can let you talk with people from the other side of the planet. One prepper advised me that for a small broadcasting radius (10 miles or fewer), tune all your radios to the 440 MHz band or anywhere from 144 to 148 MHz (each radio must be on the exact same frequency). Conversations on a ham radio are not secure or private, so don’t broadcast any personal information over the airwaves, just in case.

There are two different types of transceivers:
  • Full duplex - In a full duplex transceiver, the device can transmit and receive at the same time. Cell phones are an excellent example of a full duplex transceiver, as both parties can talk at once.
  • Half duplex – A half duplex transceiver silences one party while the other transmits. Many radio systems operate on a half duplex method, which is why people signal when they are going “out,” alerting the other user to the fact that the frequency is open for transmission.
Experts say that the transceivers that are portable and can attach to gear or uniforms are good, they do, however have a disadvantage of being weak, with a limited range which can become problematic at times. On Survival Blog, Rawles indicates that he prefers Multi Use Radio Service (MURS) band, since most MURS radios can be programmed to operate in the 2 Meter band, and because they have much better range than FRS (Family Radio Service) radios. But like FRS, they are unregulated in most private use. (No license required!) It is also important to note that the CB channels, FRS channels, and 2 Meter band frequencies will likely be very crowded WTSHTF, particularly in the suburbs, but the less well-known and less populated MURS frequencies will probably be largely available at any given time.

The top brands include MURS, Yaesu VX-3R VHF/UHF, Handheld VHF 2 Meter Amateur Radio Tranceiver 5watt, TYT TH-F5

CB Radio

CB radio or Citizens’ band (CB) radio is a communication device that allows people to talk to each other using a radio frequency. The CB radio user has 40 channels to choose from and uses an 11 meter band or 27 MHz. You want to make sure that your CB radio is SSB capable.

Top brands include an Cobra 148GTL, Midland 1001Z, Cobra 75 WX ST

Field Telephones

Field telephones are mobile telephones designed for military use, and have the capability to withstand wartime conditions. They can draw power from their own battery, from a telephone exchange (via a central battery known as CB), or from an external power source. There are some that are sound-powered telephones, and do not require a battery.

Rawles believes that having reliable field telephones is essential to coordinate retreat security in a post-TEOTWAWKI world. For semi-permanent installation, it is best to buy cable that is rated for underground burial (UB), to conceal and protect all of your lines. Burying your lines will also prevent both intentional and unintentional lines cuts and breaks. He goes on to further suggest buying extra field phones, so that you can run commo wire to your neighbors and coordinate with them as well. To purchase field telephones, look on eBay, at Army surplus stores, or emergency supply stores.

Top brands are TA-1042 DNVT, TA 838, TA-312

Table Radio

Essentially table radios are contained radio receivers and can mostly be found on eBay. Many can run on battery power, thus making them useful as emergency radios. Because some table radios still use the vacuum-tube technology, they are virtually EMP proof. Rawles suggests finding a radio with shortwave bands, such as a Zenith TransOceanic H500 and to purchase a redundant commo gear (headsets, antennas, etc).

Top suggested brands include: Zenith TransOceanic H500, Drake R8B

Some other features to consider when purchasing emergency communications equipment is:
  • You have more control when you have knobs on the radios rather than buttons.
  • Antenna masts that can be telescoped when not in use.
  • Vertical yagis antennas stick out, but horizontal ones blend in. (They just look like television antennas, to the casual observer.) So consider getting one that pivots for operation in both polarizations. Not only will it give you better OPSEC, but it will give you better versatility.
  • If a license is required to operate
  • The power source it uses to operate.
During emergencies, our total dependence on communications becomes all too clear. And, if the emergency is severe enough, the communication could be limited, if not non-existent for a given amount of time. Each of us have read enough survival books to know that the “comm down” scenario is a very real threat, and happens more often than not. So, when we are on our own, will you have your own communication devices set up to communicate with others or will you take a gamble and stay in the dark?

Tess Pennington is the author of The Prepper’s Cookbook: 300 Recipes to Turn Your Emergency Food into Nutritious, Delicious, Life-Saving Meals. When a catastrophic collapse cripples society, grocery store shelves will empty within days. But if you follow this book’s plan for stocking, organizing and maintaining a proper emergency food supply, your family will have plenty to eat for weeks, months or even years. Visit her web site at ReadyNutrition.com.

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3 comments:

  1. I understand your concerns.
    It is a good thing to have some form of 'backup communication'.
    In a REAL 'SHTF' scenario, however, batteries will last for but a few hours, and the 'power grid' will be nonexistent (as well as your individual abilities to generate electricity, due to EMP effects). Even IF YOU had the foresight to protect your equipment, do you really think that OTHERS will have had the same foresight?
    It does no good to be able to communicate, when there is no one else on the air.
    A good idea is the usage of 'vacuum tubes' (however). Not that it will really help much...

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    Replies
    1. Perhaps I'm missing something; what makes vacuum tubes beneficial over transistors and electronic circuitry in this regard?

      Vacuum tubes are much more prone to burning out than electronic circuitry, and if no replacement tubes are available, your point is moot anyway.

      So please explain.

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  2. AM radio waves use the ionosphere and other layers to bounce radio transmissions also. You are right about FM, which, like microwave communications, are line-of-sight communications which require other facilities to receive and re-transmit the data to another line-of-sight station, and so on... the major difference is that shortwave transmitters are permitted to transmit at much higher wattage than AM stations. The wattage required are both cost-prohibitive (commercials are generally for local business of no practical use to distant listeners), and take up a lot of frequency space that can severely limit the number of local stations that can broadcast with a given area.

    It would be good if this could be corrected in your otherwise good article.

    ReplyDelete