Having basic listening and communication capability in one’s local area is a critical survivability step in anyone’s personal or community defense preparedness plans. Without information, there is no intelligence, and without intelligence, you have sub-optimal defensive capability.
If you can operate your iPhone, you can quickly become proficient in basic radio communication.
To enable a person with no specific technical knowledge to quickly acquire the ability to establish basic, local 2-way communications to aid them in personal and community preparedness and self-defense.
Get on the air FAST, with minimum cost, minimum training and maximum range.
Contents / Layout:
Here is how the rest of this document is laid out:
- Background & Introduction
- Preparatory Info
- Equipment List
- Usage Scenarios
- What to Read, Watch & Study
- How to get your license
- Your Checklist – Do This Now
If we had to list a set of overall requirements for this guide (101), it would be this:
- Tactical Communication (Stable Simplex 0-2 Miles)
- Local Communication (Stable Simplex 0-20 Miles, Repeater 0-40 Miles)
- Effective Simplex as much as possible
- 2M VHF
- Cost Effective
- Simple to Operate
- Fit scenarios of on-body carry, mobile (vehicle) or residence
- Field Ops not in scope, but may work for some situations
- Simple to Maintain
- Portable, Mobile-capable & Rugged
- Commonly used equipment
- Multiple-use, Interoperable
- Expandable or can serve as building block for future capabilities
2. Scope of this Guide:
- Band / Frequency: The world of radio communication is huge. We are going to focus efforts on only what is needed for beginners to get moving. This means 2 meter VHF with either hand-held or mobile radios, operating either on foot, in your vehicle, or in your home.
- Your own equipment: It means that your goal is to rely on direct radio to radio contact as much as possible, and rely as little on someone else’s public repeater stations as little as possible. There is no guarantee they will always be operating.
- Field Ops & HF: We will not discuss portable / solar power or field operations other than vehicle power. HF will not be discussed since it is not a beginner topic.
- Threats: We are going to assume that there is no specific threat from you using whatever transmitting power you need to make contact (ie, no enemy direction-finding threat from you blasting out a huge signal).This does not mean that you should not practice OPSEC at all times, and always use the minimum power necessary to get the job done. OPSEC is Operations Security, and it basically means “need to know basis”. You don’t ever give up any more information than is necessary if you are operating in a self-defense mode. How you train is how you will behave in a stress situation. Check Sam Culper’s post on OPSEC.
3. Background & Introduction:
Although we have IT and military backgrounds, we were new to amateur radio. Our goal was to define some local communication requirements, and then self-experiment, trying to view the process as a non-technical person would experience it. Our plan was to start with the most basic, inexpensive equipment and keep adding, upgrading and tinkering until we had solid communications. We wanted to create a plan that required as little training, cost and maintenance as possible, resulting in a recipe that anyone could use to easily implement a basic information / communication ability.
What was supposed to be a one month article turned into a many month live experiment. We found that things won’t usually work as expected “out of the box”, and we were learning about equipment capability and options as we progressed. You will need to do some reading, experiment, and lean on other hams for advice. Use this guide as your road map and be persistent. This stuff is important, but it also isn’t too hard. You can be listening in a couple days, and transmitting with a license in as little as 30 days if testing is available.
Communication in general, and in particular Amateur Radio (same as Ham Radio), has dozens, if not hundreds, of knowledge areas and technologies. It is easy to get lost and feel overwhelmed with the choices available. When you are feeling like you are buried in the weeds, pick your head up and focus on the Objective. Refer back to this guide or one of the excellent websites and resources out there (will discuss later), and only do things that support your near term objective – local, reliable comms on 2M VHF.
As we went down this path, we recently found an absolutely excellent article that was right in line with some of what we wanted to write and recommend. The author is Popeye, an AmRRON Operator (we will explain AmRRON later).
We borrowed heavily from Popeye’s article on AmRRON and blended it into how we wanted to present this block of instruction.
4. Preparatory Info:
These are somewhat random bits of information and advice that should help you build a fundamental knowledge base.
Listening, Talking & Training:
Listen First. Listening and gathering intelligence about your area is significantly more important than transmitting. For general preparedness, you should listen much more than you talk. There are many fine articles already written on monitoring, so we won’t cover it here. It is often called SIGINT, or Signal Intelligence. You can listen without a license, which means you can buy the appropriate radio today, get familiar with how it works, and work on your license at the same time.
Talk. You will not know protocols, frequencies and whom to contact when it matters most unless you practice. Establish a regular communication plan (weekly practice) with your friends and participate in weekly net check-ins with local ham groups. Make your friends today. Meet them face to face while you still can.
Training Tip #1. Download the app called Zello. It is a simulated walkie-talkie for your cell phone. It is useful for simulating and reinforcing radio conversation (proper procedure, phonetics, etc) as well as a quick way to troubleshoot during live radio when you can’t reach the other station. It can run 1-1 or as a group channel for rapid group coordination, and will capture missed messages for later playback. Please note it is not secure.
Training Tip #2. Read & Join AmMRON. It is free.
Become a Corps member for $40, even if all you do is listen to the AmRRON Corps Zello channel. If you are serious about Patriot comms, it is the best $40 you’ll ever spend. Yesterday I heard one Patriot walk two others through a step by step on how to migrate Thunderbird email and encryption keys from one laptop to a new laptop. You can’t buy that kind of help desk or radio support anywhere for $40. Ham Radio Operators in general have a helpful attitude. A Patriot Operator is a potent combination for the forces of Liberty.
Training Tip #3. Buy the Communications S.O.I. ‘Quick Reference for the Communicator’ by John Jacob Schmidt for your communications binders (SOI=Signals Operating Instructions). It is $6, a ready-made communication plan and reference, and well worth it. Plus, it helps AmRRON expand their training and outreach. It would take you months to figure out a workable format on your own if you were just starting. With the AmRRON SOI you will have the same guide in your hand that hundreds of other Radio Patriots are using. Standards.
Tactical and Local:
We view Communications at 3 levels, as does Popeye: Tactical, Local and Multi-State. Tactical and Local Comms are more immediately important that what is happening in another state. Popeye’s original article includes Multi-State, but we did not include it in this write-up. Multi-State involves additional licensing, knowledge and equipment, so we felt it would be best to leave it out of the 101 article.
Master Your Equipment:
Master your equipment now. You will not magically push the right buttons when goblins are running down your street. Read the manuals, twist the dials and explore the menus.
I can’t tell you how many times I’ve tried to check into a net only to find my tone settings somehow changed and I could not activate the repeater, which means I could hear everyone else but they could not hear me. That’s annoying in normal times when I have to dig out the manual try to troubleshoot something I didn’t take the time to learn, but may be life-threatening when you’re trying to call for backup or warn your family.
Just like groups may standardize on rifle styles and ammo calibers, you should standardize on the communication equipment for you or your group. The controls and operation will be familiar, which is especially helpful in a stressful situation. We also chose some of the most common radios as recommendations so that if you need to use someone else’s, there is a higher likelihood of being a model you are familiar with. Also, within a manufacturer, different models will have similar operation, so there is some transfer there as well.
Don’t Rely On Someone Else’s Infrastructure:
Communications are either simplex or repeater. Repeaters are someone else’s public radios (infrastructure). They receive your message, and repeat it over a larger area. You can communicate over much longer distances using repeaters, but you are now dependent on someone else’s infrastructure working. Simplex is when 2 radios talk directly to each other. There are pro’s and con’s to both.
Whenever possible, you want to be able to communicate simplex, because if the grid goes down or there is general mayhem, there may not be any operational repeaters for you to use. It also helps with OPSEC since it is likely that less people are listening on a Simplex channel than a Repeater channel. The downside to simplex is that your range is greatly decreased. You will see that we lay out the conditions for each scenario. Tactical or Local and Simplex or Repeater operation.
License or Not:
It is possible to do Tactical communications without needing a license if you use FRS or MURS radios (much lower power / range), or if you choose to just operate without a license. We are going to focus on ham radios which need a license. They are cheap (same as FRS) and fit every scenario. Amateur radios give you much greater power, range and frequency spectrum to use, and you can upgrade antennas (can’t do that for FRS, FCC illegal).
We will include a section at the end on how to get your license fast. There is an ongoing debate about getting a license and being on the FCC’s list, or just operating illegally.
Here is our position: Get a license if you are operating amateur radio.
Read the rest, here.