Communications & Receivers Category

Saturday, April 5, 2014

Dear Hugh,

I wanted to take a minute to put this out. If you have an old 12vdc power plug from say any old unwanted device you can make a power source for your CB. I did this in my all wheel drive car. It took all of 20 minutes, just plug it in while the car is on and it works. You can pop a magnetic antenna on the roof and you're in business. Finish the CB chassis install using two screws to hold the radio to wherever you want to mount it, and another two for the mic. Now, your install is complete.

Good luck. -Fitzy in PA.

Hugh Replies: That is an easy and excellent way to get mobile communications up fast. On some vehicles, you even have the option, through the fuse box, to have that plug on all the time or only when the ignition is on. I find that different expeditions have different needs, and this is a nice feature. The only caveat is that auto makers usually don't run more than 16 gauge wire to many of these plugs, since their usage was initially intended for a very short duration– to heat up a cigarette lighter. As long as you are not heavy on the mike, there should be no problem.

Friday, April 4, 2014

This article was very informative, well written and pulled it all together for the reader. Good job!

Radio communications has been a prepping priority for me from the days when the LAPD could be heard at the top end of the standard AM broadcast band by detuning the radio and scanners were just a dream. That aside, a recent experience of mine regarding the Plain Old telephone (POT) mentioned by D.C. might save some SurvivalBlog readers a few headaches. A POT has always been a prepping priority for me. I'll try to keep the story brief without sacrificing detail.

About three weeks ago, I contacted AT&T customer service with a complaint that my hard wired ATT internet service was intermittent. During the ensuing 45 minute call, the helpful rep at the other end of the line found that the hard wired line into my house "had problems" at their end. After another 10 minutes, he changed lines (apparently rerouted by computer) but the problem persisted. He said that the lines in the area were getting old (in my rural foothill community 100 miles north of Sacramento) and suggested that I convert to ATT's "U Verse" system which, he said, was a fiber optic system. He said only that the new system would also increase my Internet speed. I had heard about this system previously and what I had heard made it sound reliable and trouble free. This was before D.C.'s article was published.

The ATT rep transferred my call to the "U Verse" rep who signed me up for the system at a promotional bundling rate about 50% less than my current rate for the first year and about 20% after that. Win, win, win, right? An installer was scheduled to come out in a week but cancelled and showed up the following week. During the install, the installer admitted that he had received limited training in the new system but said that only a portion of the system was fiber optic in my area and that only the big cities got more complete systems.

As the install progressed, I learned the following: (1) The telephone was going to work off the Voice Over Internet Protocol (VOIP). I don't know about you, but I don't want any of my phone calls going anywhere near the Internet if I can help it, regardless of any so-called privacy systems. (2) To maintain phone service in the event of a power outage, he was installing a battery back-up unit, which would be powered at my expense, and would provide only 4 hours of phone service in the event of a failure, assuming I was able to power the computer. I can, but that's not the point. A battery back-up for your phone, gimme a break!! In the event of an outage at nighttime, you wake up to no phone in the morning. And (3) the new system was incompatible with my hard-wired alarm system. The ATT tech and the alarm co. tech spent about ½ hour on the phone trying to resolve the problem with no results. I allowed ATT to complete the install and the Internet, at least, was lightening fast. Before leaving, the tech suggested a "line share" system which would restore the phone to hard wired status but keep the Internet speed.

Rest assured, I was on the phone to ATT the next day. After assuring the CS rep at least three times that neither the previous rep or the U Verse rep told me about the issues with the alarm or battery backup, she agreed to send out another tech to install a "line share" system, normally extra, at no additional cost. That was done with the second tech installing some sort of splitter box, removing the battery backup unit, and me rewiring the alarm to its previous status to avoid a $67.00 service call. He confirmed everything the previous tech had said and further said that he would never give up his hard wired line.

I learned from both techs that ATT is trying to phase out hard-wired phone connections as the system is aging, expensive to maintain, and Government regulated whereas the fiber optic system is not (yet).

I don't know if these issues might occur with other telephone companies or not, but the moral of the story (at least for me) is, as D.C. suggests, get a hard wired phone if you can and, if you are considering one of the new fiber optic systems, be sure to find someone who will explain all of the bad points as well as the good ones. In fairness, all of the seven people that I talked to sorting this mess out were very helpful and the telephone company did not try to push it off on the alarm company or vice-versa. None of them had anything good to say about the new system and understood completely why I wanted to stay hard wired. YMMV. Be safe and prep as if your life depended on it. - Gary D.

HJL Replies: VOIP is the future of all phone lines. As the telephone companies upgrade their equipment, dedicated trunk lines are disappearing fast. Even the POTS line that you used to have servicing your home is only copper to the closest switch (or sub-switch) where it was digitized and injected into the system. It makes sense from the phone companies perspective as it is easier to maintain and upgrade equipment. The NSA likes it because it is easy for them to shadow the digital data as well. In the end, you are fighting a losing battle when trying to maintain POTS and you end up with a false sense of security. Your phone line can no longer be considered secure even if you have copper at your house.

Thursday, April 3, 2014

In a post-disaster scenario, good information will equate to life, while bad information or a lack of information could lead to death. I have recently been discussing the issue of post-disaster information gathering with many Christian/Patriot/Prepper friends of mine. We came to the consensus that while information on this specific topic is widely available, it is scattered around in different places, and we have not seen one definitive source that covers all the bases of effective information gathering. It is my intention to write this article in a way that a person that is anywhere on their prepper journey may glean something from it, whether they be new to this mindset or a veteran. This is not intended to be an in-depth technical article but rather a "how to" guide regarding multi-faceted information gathering.

There are many ways that information can be gathered and disseminated in a post-disaster environment. It has been my observation that most folks in prepping circles are aware of this, but we as human beings have a tendency toward tunnel vision on some things and ignore others. This is often to our detriment. Information gathering takes many forms and goes beyond the technology involved. By our nature, we, preppers, like to focus on mechanical, technical, and logistical solutions to problems. These are all important things, but it also means that we may inadvertently compartmentalize our thinking, and thus we don't really see the big picture.

One of the most common sources of information is the Internet. Many preppers tend to overlook this area of information gathering in favor of other non-conventional methods, which will be discussed later. The typical prepper's concern regarding the Internet is that the Internet is vulnerable to attack and disruption in a multitude of scenarios, such as an attack on the power grid, EMP attack, cyber-attack, or government censorship. There is validity to these concerns, but one must also remember that the Internet was originally designed to be a robust network that could reliably send and receive data for military purposes. The Internet is more robust than many in prepper circles believe that it is, since it was designed with the ability to re-route itself automatically in the event of a disrupted data communications path. I am not saying that the Internet should be relied upon 100% for all of your information gathering needs. Rather, one should consider the Internet as a single tool that is included within a tool box that contains many other tools. There are also concerns that the government may activate an Internet "kill switch" as authorized by executive order and federal legislation. While this is not out of the realm of possibility, this would only be done in a worst case scenario and would cause incalculable damage to our economy. If it does occur, then we need to be sure to have alternative streams of information available.

Internet information sources obviously include the whole gamut of websites. As most Internet-savvy people know, information that comes from sources on the Internet can be of unknown veracity. This includes major media news websites, which all have their own political and financial agendas. I have observed that many people (not just those in prepper circles) may read something on the Internet, and therefore tend to assume that it must be true. When it comes to information that comes from the Internet, or from any other source for that matter, I would encourage you to use an old journalist's axiom for ascertaining the veracity of information. The axiom is, "If your own mother tells you that she loves you, confirm it with an independent source." While this may sound excessive, the point of this hyperbole is to always confirm information with independent sources, regardless of how good you think the source or the information is. This keeps you safe and alive, by not taking inappropriate actions based upon bad information.

The next source of Internet information involves the use of social media. I know that many in prepper circles, myself included, believe that engaging in social media communications can be a violation of communications security (COMSEC) and operational security (OPSEC) principles. However, if you look at social media from an information gathering perspective, you will quickly see that it can be a valuable source of real-time information and intelligence. This is well demonstrated by events that have occurred in the Middle East during the "Arab Spring". Social media was used extensively to coordinate activities amongst protesters as riots and gun fights occurred. What this means for the prepper is that this information can be used to our advantage. We can use information that comes in via social media information streams for our own purposes, while purposefully not providing information back out to the masses that jeopardizes or own COMSEC or OPSEC. As long as one receives the information but does not provide any, social media can be an advantage. This can be accomplished by establishing very basic and vague social media accounts that do not include identifying information and that are only used to observe other people's posts for intelligence gathering purposes. Each individual must weigh the advantages and disadvantages of social media information gathering to decide for themselves if engaging in social media is prudent.

The other obvious area of Internet communications is e-mail and instant messaging. E-mail communication, while convenient and reliable, can be easily intercepted, thus violating OPSEC and COMSEC. Despite these drawbacks, e-mail communication can be advantageous for communicating with family members or friends during a disaster. I do not rely upon this method for disaster related communications with my immediate family, as we use amateur radio for that. However, many in my extended family are not amateur radio operators, and thus they rely upon commercial communications methods. The fact that they rely upon these method does not diminish my need to communicate with them. Surprisingly, to many of us that come from an earlier generation of Internet users, many young Internet users now consider e-mail to be blasé. E-mail still provides a unique store and forward messaging capability that is not completely duplicated by social media or instant messaging. Security concerns regarding e-mail are valid; however, encryption systems are widely available for free on the Internet. These encryption systems allow one to conceal the content of e-mail messages and assure that only the intended recipients are able to read the message content. These encryption systems include the GNUPG/KLEOPATRA system, as well as the AES256 software program. Depending upon the type of encryption system that is used, user training will be required to use these systems. As a technically-savvy person, I know that there are concerns that our friends at the NSA may be reading our e-mail. As to whether they have the ability to read encrypted e-mail messages, there is considerable debate in the information security world regarding this topic. What is agreed upon is that it would take an extremely well-equipped, funded, staffed, and motivated adversary to break this type of encryption. These types of resources are typically available only to nation states and their intelligence services, and are not likely to available to other potential adversaries.

Another source for communications and information gathering in a post-disaster environment is cellular phones. Cellular phones are but another tool in the information tool box. From personal experience, I know that cellular phones are not reliable for voice communications post disaster. The main issue with cellular phones is the overall system design. When engineers design parts of the cellular network, they must balance system reliability and capacity with economic reality. What this means is that at any given time, and depending upon the type of system, it is assumed that only 10% of subscribers that are within range of a tower site will actually be engaged in a call. This is an economic reality that cannot be ignored. If the systems were built to provide 100% capacity, 100% of the time, the costs of building and maintain the cellular network would quickly soar past what is economically feasible. The carriers would go bankrupt if they tried to build such a system. It is because of this system design that cell phones are so unreliable in a post-disaster environment. When nearly 100% of subscribers within range of a cell site attempt to make calls all at the same time, the system is quickly overwhelmed. One thing to consider if you find yourself in this situation is to utilize SMS text message capability to communicate and gather information. The reason for this is that the text message is sent as a compressed data packet and occupies less time and bandwidth on the cell site. SMS text messages also provide a limited store and forward message capability. Again, think of cell phones and text messaging as but a single pellet in a shotgun blast of information gathering options. Broadband data communications (3G, 4G, LTE) are typically slowed considerably post disaster, and it is likely that these types of data services will be completely unavailable. Cellular towers are required by the FCC to have back up power capability, but again, due to economic considerations, most cellular providers provide only the bare minimum. This often means that only back up batteries, and not generators, are on site. A responsible prepper should not rely on cell phone connectivity when the Schumer Hits The Fan.

A system that local, state, and federal government employees use for disaster response communications is called the Wireless Priority System (WPS). This is a fee-based system that is available from all the major wireless carriers. This system gives priority access to available cellular communications circuits to WPS users. If there is a queue built up waiting to access the cellular network, WPS gets priority access to the wireless carriers' systems, if the circuits are still available and have not been completely destroyed. This system is available only to government users, but I mention it here with the purpose of adding to the readers knowledge base and that some SurvivalBlog readers may meet the criteria to use WPS. The responsible prepper should also be aware of cellular text to e-mail gateways, which allow a text message to be sent to a recipient and delivered as e-mail, and vice versa. The obvious advantage is that it allows cross connectivity between a PC user and a cellular user. Each cellular carrier has a different procedure for accessing its text to e-mail gateway, but it is readily available on the Internet.

The other type of telephone system that is available is the Plain Old Telephone (POT). There was a time when a home telephone was a staple in nearly every American household, but those days are over. Due to increasing costs, more and more people are dumping their landline phones in favor of going strictly to cell phones. While there are economic advantages to this, I would encourage readers to keep a landline phone in their home, if their budget allows it. The telephone companies are still required to maintain multiple backup power sources at their switching centers and central offices. If you use a plain old telephone at home, be sure it is the type that connects to the telephone company grid directly. This is because the power to use the telephone is provided by the telephone company, and it does not require grid power, as long as you are not using a cordless type phone. A newer type of technology that has gained popularity in many homes over the past few years is Voice Over Internet Protocol (VOIP). This technology allows you to connect a home telephone to your broadband Internet connection to send and receive calls. The problem with this set up is that it is only as reliable as your Internet Service Provider (ISP). Where I live, my ISP uses a combination of commercial, solar, and generator UPS to maintain connectivity. However, they also utilize 5GHz microwave links that are susceptible to disruption by tower damage, path loss, and power outages. The POT network still uses a combination of twisted pair copper and fiber optic technologies to interconnect the entire country. The cellular network still interconnects with the POT network to provide its point to point connectivity. This is why it is possible for a person on a cell phone in New York to call a person on a cell phone in California. Having a POT-type landline phone allows you to tap into this network directly. Again, the POT is certainly vulnerable to damage and disruption, so a responsible prepper should always have reliable alternative communications that do not rely upon the grid. There is a similar system available to government employees and elected officials for POT, similar to what WPS does for cellular. Federal, state, and local government may access a system known as the Government Emergency Telephone System (GETS). Using this system, a user is issued an instructional card that gives them priority access to landline telephone systems. Additional information regarding GETS can be found here. Again, the information is provided for the good of the order in hopes that it may be useful to the reader.

Commercial media outlets, such as broadcast TV and radio, may also be good sources of information. However, do not rely upon the media to provide accurate, up to date, and unbiased information. Commercial media sources will always have political, social, and economic agendas. Governments will typically rely upon commercial media outlets to communicate to the masses. Consider any information that you receive from the commercial media to be of questionable veracity if you cannot confirm it with an independent source, using other information gathering methods. As an example, there are many documents that the federal government has written and distributed ahead of time to various agencies within itself, as well as to state and local governments, to be used for media communications. One such document that I have seen is a post-nuclear attack public communications document. This document has pre-selected verbiage within it that would be used by multiple entities in a post nuclear attack environment. It is clear that as one reads the document, the federal government intends to heavily utilize commercial media sources to communicate their message, though it would be wrong to assume that ALL information that commercial media distributes is false or deliberately misleading. I believe that as preppers, we should be more pragmatic than that. Instead, take the kernels of information from the media that you know to be true because of verification from other sources, and disregard the rest as being a part of the media or government's agenda.

Television and radio outlets typically do have backup power sources, as required by the FCC, but the length of time that backup power would be available for them to transmit varies greatly by circumstances. A fact to remember regarding television stations is that most major cities still have direct broadcast television stations on the air. Many people are already aware of this, but again, due to generational differences, many younger people are under the false belief that TV signals can only be received if they are receive through a satellite, cable TV, or the Internet. If you are in or close to a major metropolitan area, chances are you can receive DTV signals with a simple indoor antenna system. I live in a rural area in approximately 75 miles from the nearest metro area, but using an outdoor antenna on a 40-foot tower, I am able to receive 30 or more channels from the metro area at no cost. We were able to take the money that we would have wasted on satellite TV (money that would have fed the liberal media machine) and instead use that money for our preparations. Broadcast media is also connected into the Emergency Alert System (EAS, or formerly known during the Cold War as the Emergency Broadcast System), that is a primary mass communications tool used to inform the public of emergency information. This works by having certain stations act as a primary entry point for the state in which you reside. Other stations in turn monitor the Primary Entry Point, and the EAS broadcast is daisy chained across the state.

Also consider that newspapers or other print media may or may not be available, depending upon the circumstances. Typically, the lag time involved with the print media does not make them a good source for immediate, up-to-date information, but it can be used to form a general picture of the current world intelligence situation. In a prolonged event, traditional print media, such as newspapers, would quickly be unavailable due to logistical problems. As time progressed during an extended event, print media may again become available, as it is a media outlet for which some older technologies may still exist. I think of many churches or businesses that may still have old lithograph machines tucked away in storage. This would only come into play during an extended event but is a possibility that we may need to face.

There are also many non-traditional and non-conventional methods for information gathering at the prepper's disposal. These include amateur radio, Multiple User Radio Service, Citizens Band (CB) radio, shortwave news broadcasts, utility monitoring, and NOAA weather radio. As a responsible prepper, one should have training and experience with as many non-conventional communication systems as possible. One thing that all of these systems have in common is that they do not rely upon an interconnected power or communications grid in order to function. They do require power sources, but this can be provided by battery backup systems, which in turn can be recharged by solar power systems. Amateur radio is very advantageous, as it allows communications over long distances without interconnecting wires or cables. It also allows you to collect reliable, real time information from local sources. Amateur radio has many other unique capabilities that are discussed elsewhere, but amateur radio systems are what I use to gather information "when all else fails". You should also have the ability to receive on Multiple User Radio Service (MURS) frequencies, Family Radio Service (FRS) frequencies, as well as Citizen's Band (CB) frequencies. Educate yourself on ways to keep from being located when you transmit a signal, as well as ways to encrypt your messages, if it is legal and prudent to do so. You should also possess and know how to utilize a good quality shortwave radio (HF) receiver with an external antenna. This will allow you to receive off-shore news broadcasts, which may be the only broadcasters still on the air in a post-nuclear detonation, EMP, cyber attack, or censorship environment. A good rule to follow is to keep any transmissions that you must make to an absolute minimum, while maximizing your time receiving information that is coming in. When it comes to information, with a few exceptions, "Tis better to receive than to give."

From another information gathering standpoint, utility monitoring is highly advantageous.. Utility monitoring involves the use of radio receivers or scanners to receive police, fire, EMS, and other governmental communications. Utility monitoring also includes power company communications, as well as military communications. Utility monitoring allows you to tap directly into the unfiltered information stream between the personnel on the ground and the higher ups. In this way, you can compare information that you gather here with information that is being disseminated via other means, thereby allowing you to ascertain what information is true, false, or invalid. While most mission critical law enforcement and military communications are encrypted or utilize frequency hopping technology to deter eavesdropping, useful information can be gleaned from unencrypted communications, and can provide pieces of information that may not be available through any other sources. Different locales and agencies use different types of radio systems, and I would encourage you to learn as much about their operation as you possibly can. It is very advantageous to acquire the necessary receiving equipment and skills NOW, so that you can master it before the time comes when your life depends upon your ability to receive accurate information. Go to to find your state and county in the database. The database includes frequency and trunking system data for many agencies in your area.

You should also make sure to keep a functioning NOAA weather radio in your home. The NOAA weather radio system is owned and operated by the National Weather Service. Most of the continental United States is within range of this system. Not only does NOAA weather radio provide severe weather information, it is also used to provide EAS civil emergency messages of many different types, including Civil Danger Warning, Civil Emergency Message, Earthquake Warning, Evacuation Immediate, Fire Warning, Hazardous Materials Warning, Law Enforcement Warning, Local Area Emergency, 911 Telephone Outage, Nuclear Power Plant Warning, Radiological Hazard Warning, and Shelter In Place Warning. Every home in the country should be equipped with a NOAA weather radio warning alarm device, as a cheap and effective form of information gathering. NOAA information is also county specific, and allows targeted dissemination of information.

Another area of information gathering methodology is tried and true and involves little to no technology. It involves interpersonal perspectives. Our society has become very technically advanced, and it is my observation that our technological advances in the area of communications have altered the way that we interact personally. As a simple demonstration of this, just look at how teenagers communicate via text message. I came to this realization after watching a young relative of mine. We were at a family gathering, and my teenage relative had one of her friends from school with her. I observed that even though they were sitting right next to one another, they were sending text messages back and forth to one another but were not engaged in an interpersonal conversation. This may come as a surprise to many of us from an older generation, but it is a reality that cannot be ignored. Our younger generations must also realize that in many ways, the art of conversation is being lost, and with it, the ability to gather information that may not be available through any other source.

Other interpersonal perspectives involve your community and neighbors. I am very blessed to live in a rural area that is 10 miles from the nearest town of any size. I am at least 60 miles from the nearest metro area. It has been my observation, since moving to the country, that rural people rely more upon interpersonal communication than our urban brethren do. This is not a dig at urban folks, it is merely an observation of human behavior. My nearest neighbors live about a mile down the road, and they have been a real blessing to us. When we were new to the community, I expected to be treated as an outsider for a while, as this is another aspect of rural living. Rural people tend to be more tight knit, and it can take some time to earn their trust and friendship. This can be a blessing and a curse, but overall and over time, rural people are some of the best friends and neighbors you can have. Many folks see this as being "click-ish", but I have observed that it serves an important vetting purpose that determines who is trustworthy and who is not. I suppose it just depends upon your perspective. Our experience has been positive; after a while of living out here, my neighbors have become some of my best friends. Having these good relationships with your neighbors, as well as the other people in your community, plugs you into an information source that cannot be duplicated in any other way. It has been said that all disasters, regardless of scale, are primarily local in nature. This is because it is what's happening right now in your community that has a direct effect on your family. We should all strive to become an integral part of whatever community we live in, because the more integrated you are, the better your ability to not only receive information but survive and thrive, in general.

We should also strive to maintain true friendships. This may seem like a simple statement, but in this day and age, it is not. It is a common assumption amongst many people that they have hundreds of friends. This is due in part to the growth of social media, which allows people to see a number of "friends" that they have. This is a dangerous assumption to make. After a disaster or SHTF situation, interpersonal relationships will be tested to their limits. Stress and hardship have a unique way of refining relationships between people. I would qualify that by saying that it is my belief that I have hundreds of acquaintances, but I have very few actual friends. As technology has redefined the way we communicate and receive information, it has also redefined the word "friend". We need to hold on to the traditional definition of the word and maintain true friendships that will weather the storms of adversity. We should also strive to maintain healthy friendships with our brothers and sisters in Christ, as it is our church family that we will all turn to in our hour of need. We should also strive to maintain healthy relationships with our immediate and extended family. As difficult as it may be, due to our differences, it is crucial to effective information sharing.

The last point to discuss is this. Use all the methodology heretofore mentioned to piece together the truth about any situation that you may be in. Think of it in this way. Your post-disaster situation is similar to a jigsaw puzzle. Pieces of information that you gather can all be assembled to form a cohesive picture of the current international, national, state, and local intelligence situation. Never rely upon one single source for information (especially the government or the media) to determine relevant action, except in obvious situations where immediate action must be taken to protect life and property. Relying on single sources of information in a post-disaster environment could be dangerous. This is because singular sources of information are almost always slanted or skewed in some way, in order to fit someone's agenda, whether it be the government, the media, or a multitude of other people or entities. By assembling a comprehensive intelligence picture via multiple streams of information, you can compare and contrast all information. When comparing pieces of information, each single piece of information should be issued a "vote". If you have three pieces of information that indicate a given thing and a single piece of information that indicates something else, the three pieces of information taken in their totality "out vote" the other single piece of information. After putting the pieces together and getting a whole, clear picture, do not hesitate the action that is required to guarantee the safety of your family, friends, neighbors, and community. Do not allow the normalcy bias to override good decision making. It is my hope that this article has been useful to you and has been worth your time to read. I also hope that you have already made plans to deal with the threats that you foresee and that you already maintain good situational awareness at all times. If you fail to plan, then you plan to fail. May God bless you in your endeavors, and I hope that you communicate daily with the Prince of Peace, Christ Jesus.

Wednesday, April 2, 2014

Dear Hugh,

I am surprised that you did not touch on the tactics used by the Russians in the recent annex of Crimea. One of the first things the Russians shut down was the local Internet and cell phone communication. They were able to isolate the area from communications in and out. I thought CB and Ham radios were a thing of the past, but after seeing what happened in the Ukraine I am looking to set up a base CB in my home and a mobile in my Jeep. For Jeep owners, there are numerous after-market CB kits available specifically for Jeeps. My long-term goal is to get a Ham license and a digital police scanner. All the best - PJW

HJL Replies: You hit the nail on the head right there. The same rules apply for communications that apply for your PMs. If you cannot hold the total product in your possession, you don't really own it. I spent a year as a system administrator, working with a team to install one of the first digital phones systems in the U.S. I was quite surprised to find that all phone systems have the capability and the requirement from the government to be co-opted when so demanded. Your cell phone is only good as long as the company and/or government allow you to use it. With Ham/CB/FRS/GRMS you have the total capability in your possession and cannot be effectively blocked. Those with Ham licenses are often the only ones to get information in or out of a country that is in upheaval. A lesson that we should all heed.

Saturday, March 15, 2014

Thinking about volunteering your time with your County Department of Emergency Management? You may have to leave your concealed carry weapon at home!

As a fairly new licensed Ham Radio Operator, I thought it would be great to volunteer and become a member of the local Amateur Radio Emergency Services (ARES) organization. I submitted an application for membership and completed the required FEMA on-line courses. I received a packet in the mail that contained additional forms that needed to be submitted. One of the forms was a County Department of Emergency Management Emergency Worker Registration Form. The second item on the form required me to certify my non-drug use and agreeing to not have "any concealed weapon in my possession while engaged in emergency worker activities". It referenced a state legal code.

I reviewed the state code and could not find any mention of concealed weapons. I contacted the ARES membership representative, who said he would check on it and get back to me. I decided to fill out the forms, except I drew a line through the portions referencing concealed weapons. I included a note on the front of the forms packet noting my action.

About a week later, I received an e-mail from the ARES representative who stated that my application could not be processed with the modifications. If I wanted to re-submit, I could, without the changes. I also received a phone call from another representative, basically stating the same information, except he added that the local sheriff is the one who levied the requirement. He also stated that, as a volunteer, I would never be placed in a dangerous situation. I chose to not resubmit my application.

This letter is not meant to reflect negatively in any way about the ARES program or its members. During the short time I spent with the members, I have no doubt about their character and outstanding dedication to their mission.

I fully understand that if I had been asked to work in a school or federal building during an ARES event, there would never have been a question about my not being allowed to carry a weapon, but for them to forbid ANY possession is unacceptable, especially during an major emergency situation.

Additional Information:

For those who are not familiar with the ARES program, it is a group of licensed amateur radio operator volunteers who prepare and make themselves and their radio equipment available in times of disaster– earthquake, flooding, volcanoes, storms, and more. ARES members participate in drills and exercises on a regular basis. Our local county ARES also supports local events, such as the March of Dimes walks. (ARES members participated in the last Boston Marathon and were very helpful, especially when the government blocked all cell phone coverage in the area, not knowing if cell phones were triggering the explosive devices.) - G.S.

Hugh Replies: I served as the ARES coordinator for our county for a short time. I eventually gave it up because I couldn't spend the time that it required. We were never asked about Concealed Carry, but it was understood that ARES might be stationed within government buildings that had restrictions (court houses, schools, federal buildings, et cetera). I suspect that is the reason your ARES group had that restriction. Some states treat your vehicle as an extension of your home, so you may have some flexibility. In a non-emergency-practice, rules like this generally have bearing, but in a complete failure of society, I suspect it really won't matter. Use your best judgment.

Saturday, March 8, 2014


I have switched from Google to as my search engine to gain some privacy on the web. Is there anyone providing an email service that would get me away from the eyes of gmail? I am sure most of your readers would appreciate the same information if you know of any resources.

Hugh Replies: Currently, one of the best places you can start with is They list services and programs that are open-sourced and free from spying eyes. They will also tell you the weaknesses of any as they become known. It didn't take them long at all to de-list Tor-mail when it was compromised. Any time I need a program or service, this is my first go-to list.

Thursday, March 6, 2014


While the routers and switches do require power (which will be spotty at best), they too will be fried by the EMP. Many of the modern ASICs are based on IBM proprietary copper chips and as a result really don't get along well with any form of EMP. It's bad enough that I've seen a floating ground stretched between two buildings fry Cisco, ACC / Wellfleet, and Extreme gear.

The only purpose-built router that is tempest hardened is the very old TGS router by Cisco. This was an AGS that was built into a hardened shell. Wide scale deployment of this router outside the Air Force was not seen.

Telcos, of course, were and are so cost constrained in most of their wide scale deployments that pennies per device and dollars per central office are the dividing line between profit and loss. Hence to think they would spend extra on Faraday cage enclosures or tempest rated devices is laughable.

My estimation, having consulted with all the large regional carriers globally as well as having built a large number of FOREX networks, is that it won't even take a Carrington level event to nail the Internet or most banking. - H.D.

Hugh Replies: It is a common misconception that all electronics will be killed by an EMP blast. This just isn't so. The EMP needs an antenna to transfer the energy into the conductors of the electronics, and any length of metal can act as a antenna. Some electronics, such as your land-line phone or your AM radio, by necessity have long lengths of wire designed into their operation. The phone uses copper wire to connect to the closest switch, which is sometimes up to two or three miles of wire. Your AM radio has a built-in antenna that probably has more than a 100 feet of copper wire. These lengths of conductors make for efficient transfer of energy, and those electronics will probably die. Your cell phone, on the other hand, has a very short antenna, and the amount of energy transferred into the electronics is much, much smaller. Of course, the cell tower is probably connected to the power grid and will most likely be taken out, making your cell phone useless, even if it survives the EMP event. Modern electronics are so sensitive to static electricity that they ALL come with some amount of built-in protection. You can view the protection on a tiered basis. The integrated circuit will always have protection as part of its design. A well-designed PC board will have another layer of protection on it, and so on. Protection built into electronics will work regardless, but protection designed for external connections requires the help of the installers. If your ground is not properly connected, you are starting out in a hole and will probably loose the device. Cars are designed to operate in noisy environments. Even though there is significant wire that interconnects the small computers, they have relatively decent grounding, shielding, and rf/emp spike protection. It all depends on how close the electronic device is to the source of the EMP, how much antenna the device presents to the EMP spike, and how well protected the device is from an EMP spike. Military-grade electronics will generally be hardened because they are expected to be targets. Consumer devices will display varying levels of protection, depending on how they are installed and any added protection given to them. The bottom line: You don't know how close to the EMP spike you will be, so if you absolutely need survivablilty in your electronics, you have to go with the best protection possible. If your electronics are nice, but not necessary, you can relax the requirements a bit and hope for the best.

The Internet is a complex beast. For operation, it requires connectivity. The better the connectivity, the more useful it is. Small islands of operation only give you local communications, but even if sufficient chunks of the Internet survive, it won't be the same. Commerce and banking are the core of commercial Internet. Without those, an Internet will only give us communications at best. T.P. sent me the link to this video clip from “Jericho”, which had me ROFL. Caution: This clip contains some offensive language.

Tuesday, March 4, 2014

Hello Hugh,

I'm a ham radio operator, and in my monthly ham radio magazine, QST, I saw a chart of ham radio licensees by year. See It is amazing. Take a look at the chart at the bottom of the page and observe the steep increase in licensees, after four years of decline. What's the pivotal year? 2008! That coincides with the point in time many of us first took an interest in preparedness, coincident with the acceleration of the political decline in America.

It appears that SIXTY THOUSAND people have received ham radio licenses during the Obama administration, including several in classes I have taught. We don't discuss preparedness so much in our classes, but it's on their minds.

How encouraging that 60,000 new licensees are better prepared to communicate after SHTF and better prepared to rebuild our great nation! - CJ

Hugh Replies: While I'm sure that as the “preparedness attitude” increases with the general population, they tend to look at Ham radio as a primary form of practicing communications, but I don't think it's the primary motivation in the increase of numbers. Only about 17 percent of the U.S. population is concerned with prepardness beyond about three days. There is some ambiguity in those numbers, and they are hard to verify, so don't take them too seriously. Personally, I tend to think that they are on the high side. Ham radio operators that I have spoken with feel that that is a good percentage number to use when speaking about Hams who utilize the bandwidth to prepare for communications when the SHTF. Most Hams that are involved in the emergency communications part of the hobby do so as part of an American Radio Relay League (ARRL) affiliated American Radio Emergency Service (ARES) club or possibly the Military Auxiliary Radio System (MARS) or similar organizations. Their participation in emergency communications tends to be centered around government priorities– mostly local, county or state. For several years, FEMA has pumped dollars, not just into local emergency organizations like fire, ambulance, and police, but also support organizations like ARES clubs. The next time you are on a “field day” exercise, ask to see one of the local Ham's “go bags”. What you will most likely find is an assortment of communication gear, connectors, coax, power wiring, et cetera. Very seldom will you see a “go bag” that is actually oriented towards survival. They are mostly concerned about having the right connector to hook any antenna up to any radio in the field. It is an appropriate bag for the goals that they have.

A bit of history here might help. Citizens Band (CB) radio was initially required to operate only with a license. As deregulation began, the requirement for licenses for CB radios was relaxed and the flood began. In the late 70's Amateur Radio was booming as CB became congested and “unruly” in its operation. As pagers and cellular communications became common though, Ham radio licenses began to decline. Around the same time, the U.S. Federal Communications Commission (FCC) came up with the idea of auctioning off spectrum licenses to generate income. The Ham bands, originally occupying what was considered unusable bandwidth, now was in possession of prime radio frequency (RF) real estate. The ARRL needed more Hams to justify to the FCC why that spectrum needed to remain untouched. Thus began the process of the removal of licensing requirements from Ham radio. The ARRL, as the primary voice of Ham radio in the U.S., worked with the FCC to restructure the system. Many changes were enacted, from the FCC handing the testing for licenses over to clubs, to the removal of the code requirements and simplification of the testing questions. I should also mention that the ARRL is also a private company that sells publications. They have a vested financial interest in having a large base of Hams to sell their publications to.

When you speak with an old-timer Ham, you will often see torn loyalties. They readily recognize that if those changes were not made, the user base would have declined to the point where there might not be such a thing as Ham licenses, with the FCC grabbing of spectrum. On the other hand, the license does not represent what it once did. In the 1950s and 60s, most Hams built their own equipment from scratch and had a full understanding of how it worked. Often, Ham radio was the pioneer on proving new communications techniques, like spread spectrum, digital, and slow scan. Today, most Hams buy their equipment and have a rudimentary understanding of RF (if any at all).

In any event, the result is that it is easier than ever to obtain a Ham license today. You can practice communications on a personal level and in real or simulated events, if you are part of an ARES organization. Some times local governments don't even deal with ARES (due to legal questions in activating them), and they just want individual Hams to participate in their organization. Regardless of the reason for the increase in the number of Hams, we should take advantage of the opportunity and license now, so we can be practicing prepardness communications.

Monday, February 24, 2014


Thought I would give my two cents worth regarding T.K. 's question about emergency communication in his valley. About 20 years ago I posed the same question to a ham operator friend of mine. His suggestion was for me to buy a cb with sideband. He claimed that would be the easiest and cheapest way to call for help if needed. He also stated that I may not be able to reach anybody locally due to my remoteness but should find somebody in the country if not the world to respond. I was skeptical at his claim to say the least but decided to give it a try. Soon after, I purchased an older mobile rig and antenna at the local flea market for under 35 dollars. That started my journey to becoming a ham operator myself. With that first setup, I logged many hours talking to places from Japan, Alaska even Australia. Most of my contacts were in the States however. Locally my signal would travel well enough to be able to communicate with my friend about 30 miles away. Which doesn't sound impressive except that there was a very large mountain in our line of sight. When people would come to visit we had good reception throughout most of their drive up. It would be easy for me to get long winded about the possibilities, technicalities, probabilities, ect. So I will conclude by saying that my belief is that T.K. would do good to try cb radios and go up from there if need be. - M.Z.Y.

HJL Replies: CB radios are a good, relatively easy way to start, but you need to be aware that CB frequencies (known to hams as 11 meters) suffers from the same problems that 10 meters does. Ionospheric skip is highly unreliable. One of the nice things about obtaining a Ham license is that a much broader spectrum of RF is available for use. When 10 meters is down (due to sunspots, solar storms, etc...) other longer wavelengths are generally more usable. The really long wavelengths (80 meters and 160 meters) tend to be better at night. When 40 meters isn't working so hot, 20 meters is usually good. With CB, you get 11 meter performance and that is all. Granted, in a SHTF situation, governance of the airwaves may not be an issue, but you really need to practice communications before then. To have the flexibility, ham licenses are practically a must.

Friday, February 7, 2014

Hello Sir,

In an effort to get our neighbors in the valley to keep in touch in case of emergency, what type of radios would you recommend? We are roughly under five miles apart with hilly, somewhat cliffy topography with a lot of brush at an elevation of just under 7,000'. I used to use Spilsbury "backcountry radios" between outfitters and air taxi services in the Idaho wilderness, but those are fairly spendy set-ups and hard to find. I doubt the neighborhood will opt for hams either. Any other options? You're recommendations or those of experienced readers would be appreciated. - T.K.

Monday, January 20, 2014

Q: Do Faraday Cages need grounding?
A: No. A Faraday cage designed against EMP, if properly constructed, will keep any charge outside the shield. The shield interior is separate, so anything inside, even though it touches the inside of the shield, is safe. However – if the cage is improperly made and there are wide holes in the mesh exceeding the size of wavelength to be blocked, grounding could help. As an example, this Youtube video link is of EMP testing my company has done with another firm’s professional EMP simulator. You can see a shielded laptop on the left and an unshielded laptop on the right. The left laptop, although you cannot see it due to the lighting, was not affected – in other words, grounding was not necessary at all. The right one was shut down – hard to see, but visible. This also shows you the probable impact of EMP on a computer – just a shutdown – if you do not have wire connections to the computer, like a power cord or a lengthy Ethernet cable. With [external] connections, the damage can be much greater.

Q: Do you have to insulate electronics inside a Faraday Cage?
A: See above. You don’t need insulation for electronics inside a properly constructed Faraday cage. There was no insulation and the computer was fine. Additionally, your electronics are usually in a plastic casing – so they are already insulated anyway. Insulation doesn’t hurt, however.

Q: I have read that you have to have an EMP-proof car to survive. Is that correct?
A: Your car will probably okay. If you were not actively driving at the moment of the strike, you are even more likely to be unaffected.

From the EMP Commission report: “We tested a sample of 37 cars in an EMP simulation laboratory, with automobile vintages ranging from 1986 through 2002. Automobiles of these vintages include extensive electronics and represent a significant fraction of automobiles on the road today. The testing was conducted by exposing running and non-running automobiles to sequentially increasing EMP field intensities. If anomalous response (either temporary or permanent) was observed, the testing of that particular automobile was stopped. If no anomalous response was observed, the testing was continued up to the field intensity limits of the simulation capability (approximately 50 kV/m).

Automobiles were subjected to EMP environments under both engine turned off and engine turned on conditions. No effects were subsequently observed in those automobiles that were not turned on during EMP exposure. The most serious effect observed on running automobiles was that the motors in three cars stopped at field strengths of approximately 30 kV/m or above. In an actual EMP exposure, these vehicles would glide to a stop and require the driver to restart them. Electronics in the dashboard of one automobile were damaged and required repair. Other effects were relatively minor. Twenty-five automobiles exhibited malfunctions that could be considered only a nuisance (e.g., blinking dashboard lights) and did not require driver intervention to correct. Eight of the 37 cars tested did not exhibit any anomalous response.”

Q: Won’t solar flares end everything?
A: If we have an extreme solar flare like the Carrington Event, there is a big chance of damage. What is left unsaid is that utility companies are working to ensure continuity of service. How effective they are is unknown – but the US government already has active early warning satellites. The plan is to notify utilities in advance so that measures can be taken to minimize impact. While these measures are apparently effective so far, there are two areas of concern – 1) instead of hardening the system, our protection relies on utilities taking the right steps every time, bringing the human factor into play. 2) A larger solar flare event could cause significant damage beyond anticipated levels, and there is a scarcity of data on this subject, at least in the unclassified world. However, utilities have hopefully learned from the Quebec area solar flare of 1989.

Q: Will my phone/iPad/electronic device be affected by a solar flare?
A: Not unless they are connected to long conductive cables, antennas, or power lines. If you have a device like an iPad, unconnected to anything, it will not be affected by a solar flare. There is simply not enough energy to break through the devices’ internal EMI shielding (which are there to protect the various device components from affecting each other.)

Q: The military has done extensive research on this topic, won’t it all be fine?
A: While testing individual devices and components, and even vehicles has been done, there has been no testing on a whole-system level of, for example, a city with a power plant. So while individual components might be affected, the exact level of damage is unknown. A grid exercise was conducted last November to try to simulate damage, but this is nowhere near the actual real-world experience necessary to understand the practical effect of EMP.

Q: Complicated electronics are very likely to be damaged, so my laptop is very vulnerable, right?
A: In general, the more complicated an electronic device is, the less likely it is to be damaged. While at the circuit level, a laptop is relatively vulnerable, one must remember that the laptop components – hard drive, CPU, etc all have some level of EMI shielding to protect from interference by the other components. This makes laptops relatively tough. On the other hand, simple electronic devices like a solar cell-powered calculator don’t need EMI shielding so they are actually more vulnerable, in reality.

- Joel Ho, Founder, MobileSec Solutions LLC

Thursday, January 9, 2014

If you have finally decided to take the plunge and eliminate social networks from your life (Facebook, Twitter, etc.), the skills for maintaining interpersonal relationships should not be completely thrown by the wayside.  Over the course of the last five years our “group” has created a network of people that has proven to be very valuable.  One disclaimer that I must put forth is that the flippant nature of social networking on-line must be completely discounted as OPSEC is paramount.  I would never bring someone into my home to have contact with my family or include them in my preps if I didn’t fully trust them.  This is why most of the people in my network I have met through my church.  Developing a relationship with other families who have similar values and beliefs has been the backbone of the group that we have formed.  Although there are only a dozen active members (not including 14 children) we have developed a set of skills that crosses many areas of need come TEOTWAWKI.  Aside from having a wide range of skills the ability to work together as a team, the members of our group encourage growth “as iron sharpens iron" (Prov. 27:17).

I have isolated six areas of preparation that our group network has been most beneficial:

1. Physical Training:

This has been the greatest area of growth for our group.  Five years ago more than half of the members were overweight and only a few exercised on a daily basis.  As a challenge to all of our group members we started our road to fitness with an eight week program similar to the Get Healthy Challenge.  Group members kept in touch with each other on a daily basis to hold one another accountable.  After this eight week program we decided to focus on strength and core training through the Hundred Push-ups and Two Hundred Sit-Ups challenges.  While working on individual fitness goals group members encouraged and challenged each other with daily progress reports through e-mail, phone or text to see how the others were doing.  Doing these challenges with our wives was also an eye opener, as many of the women took the challenges more seriously than the men.  One of the wives actually won the Two Hundred Sit-up Challenge ending with 312 total reps.  Over the course of the last year the physical training has been taken to a much more intense level.  The majority of the group members participated in a Tough Mudder  Event and a GORUCK Challenge.  While not every member participated in these events due to ability, injury or pregnancy the bottom line is that all of us are in better shape today than we were five years ago.  The average member has lost 20 pounds (I have personally lost 40) and we all have a regular schedule of physical activity that maintains strength, flexibility and endurance.  The challenge, support and accountability that doing these types of activities as a group brings is immeasurable.  I doubt that most people would see the same results if done individually.  Working at the retreat property together has also been good physical training for the group.  Bucking hay, cutting and hauling wood and other chores at one of the two sites we have as retreat properties can be grueling work.  You really find out who your friends are when the hay needs to come in or several cords of wood needs to be put up.  Physically the group dynamic is tested with hard physical labor, but working together completes the task sooner and builds relationships with group members.

2. Medical Training:

This has been the weakest area for our group as we need to increase our level of training.  We do have a doctor (optometrist) and a registered nurse in our group.  Although they both have medical training, by no means are we able to fulfill needs like trauma care or even general surgery.  One of the goals is to get several of the members to take an EMT course at the local community college.  This would not solve all of our needs for medical training, but it would be a start for gaining more knowledge concerning emergency medicine.  This course will be a major undertaking, as 120 hours of classroom, observation and practicum is a commitment that will not be taken lightly by most families.  Ultimately the benefit of the knowledge of life saving skills will have to outweigh the cost of loss of time with one’s family.

3. Food Preps:

Buying in bulk is always better when done as a group.  Greater quantity means lower cost per unit and the most value for the money you invest into your preps.  We bought beef from a local slaughterhouse, grains from the local co-op and worked on preserving them as a group.  Whether it is canning, storing in Mylar with oxygen absorbers or dehydrating, it is always better to have more hands helping with the work.  While most of the food preps were done successfully we have decided as a group to not try to brew beer anymore.  After hours of labor and weeks of waiting we had a pretty nasty batch of skunk beer that was not worth the effort or resources allocated.  Pickling has been discovered as a fun way to spend time together as a group.  Many of the wives were looking for ways to put up excess garden produce, so pickling parties became the summer staple.  Developing the mindset that putting food up was important became the norm.

4. Ammo/Shooting Preps:

Again working as a group to purchase ammo in bulk has always been better than trying to find the best deal for each individual.  Utilizing common calibers as the group standard for our center fire rifle and pistol, 12 gauge shotshells and .22 LR we were able to accumulate adequate supplies of ammunition for each group member.  The greatest resource to ammo preparation as a group has been reloading.  Most of our group members did not know how to reload ammunition when we formed five years ago.  Today most have at least a working knowledge if not their own presses and dies.  We have worked together sorting range brass, going through the steps of case preparation and even pooled our resources during the recent shortage of components.  Sharing load data and ballistics has also helped with refining the accuracy of the rounds we produce through reloading.  It is always better to have someone else check your load data just to be safe when reloading.  We have also purchased several sets of reactive steel targets for our shooting sessions.  While I admit this is the area that the guys enjoy the most and pour the majority of their enthusiasm behind, the wives in our group have all taken classes (as husbands are often the worst firearms instructors for women) and are continuing to hone their skills with range time.  The area for improvement would be to take a tactical course like one at Thunder Ranch or Gunsite Academy.  We did participate in a 1,000 yard long range shooting match (which just demonstrated everyone’s then-current lack of ability beyond 400 yards) as a group, but this was more of a recreational activity, not tactical training.  A couple of the guys do IPSC or IDPA, but the majority of the group is not involved in competitive shooting.  To encourage group participation in a serious training course or a competitive shooting series is the goal for the future.  While all group members have firearm proficiency, few have had shooting experiences under pressure.

5. Communications Preps

Our group started out with FRS/GMRS radios as our primary method of communication in the field, and then we got CBs which were slightly better, now most members have Ham radios.  Studying and taking the ARRL tests together was also a good experience.  While the technician test is not hard, it did require some studying to refresh knowledge of electronics and radios.  It was also amazing all of the different FCC requirements and regulations that we needed to know.  Pooling resources together to build antennas and radios is another good function for the group.  A few members have actually joined a local club that maintains the repeater in our town.  The next step would be to have more members go for their General licenses to increase the bandwidth we can access and broaden knowledge concerning Ham radio.

6. Spiritual Prep

As I mentioned earlier, all of our group members were found through our local church.  We are not exclusive to church members (as some have left the church but are still a part of the group), however it was important to find people that all had similar values and beliefs.  The group members have been a part of a couple of small group fellowships that meet at least once a week.  There is a family Bible study, a women’s study and a men’s study that meets at different times on different days.  This has been probably the most important area of our network.  To “bear one another’s burdens (Gal.  6:2)” and not only hold each other accountable, but to support one another through trials and blessings is perhaps the greatest function of our group.  One of our group members is active duty Army and has been deployed four times overseas.  The group has rallied around his wife and children to provide support during his prolonged deployments, which to me fulfills the second greatest commandment (Matt. 22:39).  While a group may be squared away with beans, bullets and Band-Aids if they are not squared away with their Maker then all is for naught.

Thursday, December 26, 2013


While it's true that Anderson Powerpole connectors can be soldered, this is usually not a good idea, for several reasons:

1) Soldering is weaker than crimping because it interposes a soft metal-- and possible air voids-- between the copper of the wire and the copper of the terminal. A properly crimped connection places the wire in compression and the surrounding terminal in tension, ensuring a mechanically strong joint.

2) Soldering adds resistance to the connection. In a properly crimped connection, there are no gaps at all between the wire and the terminal. However low the resistance of solder, it's higher than nothing. In the extreme case, soldering is completely unacceptable for joints in lightning protection systems, since the high current of a lightning strike will hit the extra resistance of the solder, vaporizing it, producing a small explosion and sending the current in search of a better connection to ground-- for example, through your radio equipment. Crimping and welding are the only acceptable options for those connections.

3) Soldering degrades the long-term reliability of the connection. Some types of solder and flux can trigger chemical changes that will embrittle copper wire. Solder also has a different thermal coefficient of expansion than copper, so over time, heat cycles create stress at the surfaces of the wire and terminal that can produce microscopic cracks and eventual separation. I've found soldered connections in old radios where the wires were physically loose within a visually perfect and undisturbed sleeve of solder.

4) Soldering degrades the long-term mechanical strength of the wire itself. When solder wicks up into stranded wire or around solid wire, it makes the wire stiffer. The last point reached by the solder becomes especially likely to kink and break because the transition from the soldered section to the unsoldered section concentrates bending stresses at that point. As with any stress concentration, this can lead to wires being broken by relatively mild stresses, including simple vibration. Stranded wires will die faster than solid wires, one strand at a time. I've also found many soldered connections where the wire was broken off INSIDE the insulation, right at that point, leaving soldered strands on one side of the break and loose strands on the other.

Because of this tendency for soldering to create stress risers, wires that have been soldered to Powerpole contacts should have a cable clamp installed at some distance from the connection to prevent the soldered joint from flexing. The Underwriters Laboratories (UL) standards require such clamps, as Anderson Power Products notes on its own web site, and when I was doing this kind of work, military and aerospace connectors were not allowed to use soldered contacts at all.

In amateur radio and similar applications, Powerpole connectors are almost always used with unsupported stranded wire, and high-quality crimping tools will absolutely give the best results. (And the same is true for ring and spade terminals, butt splices, and similar connections. Crimp all of these, don't solder.)

On the other hand... in an emergency situation, considerations of strength and long-term reliability can be ignored. In my vehicle emergency kit, I carry a small butane soldering iron and solder rather than crimping tools to go with a small assortment of electrical terminals. - P.N.G.

Thursday, December 19, 2013

To say that I’m a neophyte in the electrical world, or as we say here in Alaska a “Cheechako”, is making a big understatement.  So, a couple years back my co-worker and friend got me into Amateur Radio, also affectedly known as Ham Radio.  I studied my ARRL Technician book and passed my test, but it just barely rattled what I had in my head 20 years ago from my only electronics class I had back in High School where we studied Ohm’s law, identified a resistor, and made a strobe light.  So, I’m on a big learning curve. 

I searched around and studied lots of reviews and settled on a nice hand held radio, a Yaesu VX-6R.  It works great for VHF and the 2M repeaters that I have in my town.  As with anything, you always strive for bigger and better!  Must be the Tim “The Toolman” Taylor gene that all guys have (emphasis on the Toolman grunt)!  So, I’m studying to upgrade my license from a Technician to General and get into HF.  Not only am I doing this to get more into my hobby, but I feel this is part of prepping that is just as important as beans and bullets.  Besides studying to upgrade my license, I have been assembling gear for my “shack”.  Again going around the net (great review site for Ham related stuff is and talking with fellow Hams, I decided to get a radio that is not only good for a base station, but mobile.  I ended up getting another Yaesu, a FT-897D.  That turned out to be the easy part, the rest of the gear list is probably going to be never ending and always changing.  This brings me to what I wanted to write about, the Anderson Powerpole.

From what I read and have experienced so far is that the Anderson Powerpole is the gold standard for 12VDC power connection.  There are probably people reading this and saying “Whoopee, who cares about connecting wires”!  I was there too at one time, being upside down hooking up trailer lights by twisting 2 wires together and wrapping them with electrical tape.  The genius with Powerpoles is not only the ease of installation, but the mobility and adaptability of this product.  One of the best features of the Powerpoles is that they are genderless, no male or female fittings.  One reviewer called it a hermaphroditic plug.  Because of that several emergency groups like RACES and ARES make Powerpoles a standard for equipment so everyone has the same ability to hook up all their equipment into various power sources.

So, I went to Powerwerx and bought several sets of Powerpoles, a roll of 12 gauge red/black zip cord, extra clips, a RIGrunner (more about that later), and a few other sundry items.  A set of Powerpoles are 2 plastic housings, one red and one black (for positive and negative wires), 2 metal clips, and a roll pin.  Now came the important question, to crimp or solder?  Well, I tried both and found that solder worked the best foe me.  I didn’t buy the fancy crimping tool for the Powerpoles and ended up deforming a couple of clips, and deformed clips won’t fit into the plastic housing.  The lockup for the clip and housing is very precise.  Same with over soldering the clips, if you have a blob of solder on the outside of the clip, it won’t lockup, but at least one can correct that easily.  There are several great sites for assembling Powerpoles like from the Powerwerx web site and Youtube.  What worked for me was to put the zip cord, whoa what is zip cord? It’s basically just like the power cord on your lamp at home, two wires side by side, but in this case they are red and black and can be pulled apart if need be.  So, zip cord in my vise straight up and down, and a great tip.  RED on RIGHT!  It will help keep the poles in alignment.  Place a clip, straight on top, with the “tongue” away from you.  I stripped off about an 1/8 of an inch more than needed to wick the solder, bottom up, into the wire.  Let it cool and click into the plastic housing.  Now after getting both housings done, you will notice that there are tongues and grooves in the sides of the housing.  If you want, you can take the red and black housings and join them together to make a “plug”, and to make it lock up just push in the roll pin in the hole provided by the joining of the two housings.  Again there are awesome videos on Youtube showing how to assemble Powerpoles, both crimping and soldering.

Now I mentioned a RIGrunner.  This is another little gem I discovered in this adventure produced by West Mountain Radio that uses Powerpoles in a central power distribution box.  Basically it’s a little metal box with several Powerpole connector outlet stations (the number dependent on model) that uses standard ATC fuses like in your car.  All the stations are the same, both input and output.  All you need to do is attach a power source like a 12v battery and your equipment like a radio and antenna tuner and you are in business.  Make sure to use the proper fuse with what is coming in or out.  I have a 40amp fuse for the power in and 20 amp fuses for my radio and tuner.  The model I got also included two USB charging ports for phones and pads.  So, what does all of this do for me?  Well, I have a very clean and safe setup for my “shack”.  All my power cords are in plastic housings, ran through a box with fuses, and are very adaptable and mobile.  Adaptable?  Let me explain.  My current power source for my radio is a box that plugs into a standard wall plug, so it converts 120 VAC to 12 VDC for my various equipment.  If the power goes out, then what?  I made a few adapters with my Powerpoles. I got a set of battery clips from Radio Shack, just like the ones you see on battery chargers.  At the end of the wires I installed a Powerpole set, so now I can use a 12VDC battery from my truck or camper.  I also got both male and female cigarette lighter plugs with Powerpoles on each end to either attach to a battery or insert into an existing adapter.  I also made a six foot extension cord.  The amount of adapters is dependent on your imagination.  You can set up inline fuses, filters, splitters, and so on.  Mobility?  I picked my radio just for that.  So, let’s say its bug out time.  All you need to do is just pull plugs and go.  I have most of my adapters in a canvas bag and pelican case for my radio.  So, aside from my antenna and coax, I could be unplugged and ready to go in a couple of minutes and have the ability to hookup to just about any 12VDC source.

Well, there are probably people out there saying “what good is that for me”, or “I’m not into Ham Radio”!  Let me expand on that.  I just recently moved from one place in Alaska that measured snow in feet to another place in Alaska that measures rain in feet.  Now driving on snow isn’t that bad, driving on ice is just plain horrible.  There is no steering out of it, or braking.  It’s just hold on for a terror of a ride, which happened to me on my little hill of a driveway.  So, I grabbed a few bags of salt and did my best impersonation of Johnny Appleseed and hand tossed out all the salt.  That wasn’t very easy or efficient!  So, after rummaging around the garage and shed, I found a hand held/hand cranked grass seed broadcaster.  That worked a little better, but still wasn’t what I was looking for.  So, I remembered seeing an ATV mounted broadcaster once on a hunting show.  They were putting in food plots for deer, and why wouldn’t that work for salt?  I found a not too expensive one on Amazon and placed my order.  In about a week I got my seed broadcaster, and I put it together.  Now when they said universal mounting, they were being very liberal with that statement, but I got it together.  This is basically a tub with a 12VDC motor that spins a segmented disk around and you control the spread by the size of the adjustable hole by the hopper.  Now came a problem, the power hook up was with a 12VDC cigarette lighter, and I don’t have one on my ATV.  I pulled off the seat and looked at what was a standard motorcycle battery, so I came up with a solution.  I cut a length of zip cord and soldered on battery connectors and bolted them to the battery.  I installed a set of Powerpoles to the other end that terminated right near the edge of the cowling and ran it under the seat near the engine zip tying it to the frame.  I also used some heat shrink tube near the Powerpole plug and zip tied both ends to give it some tension relief.  So, it’s all protected somewhat from the elements.  I made another female cigarette adapter with a longer piece of zip cord and now my problem is fixed.  Yeah, I know, not the most efficient, and I could have gone direct to the battery!  Tell me, who doesn’t have at least a couple of items that run on a cigarette lighter?  With this set up I can use my salt spreader in the winter and then take it off during hunting season without a huge hassle.  I also gained another 12VDC power source for my equipment.  A couple of tips, I bought some end caps to seal up the plug when not in use, a great item!  Also, a clip that locks two plugs together, so that they don’t rattle apart.  Another great item!  I just want to mention that I have no affiliation to any items, businesses, web sites, and nor do I receive any compensation.  Just one man’s opinion about a great product.

I hope this Cheechako in the electrical world was able to show you a great little component that I consider to be the equivalent of duct tape.  When I first opened my box and saw the bag of Powerpoles my first thought was, “what is this, Legos?”  Well it’s just like Legos, they snap together and with a little imagination you can build just about anything.
73, - Dan from Alaska

Monday, December 2, 2013

If you’re reading this blog you are no doubt already well along on preparedness spectrum, finding yourself someplace between never in America and not if but when, more likely you’re nearer the latter.  You’re probably well versed in all aspects of food procurement, preparation and storage, water purification, providing shelter and security for yourselves and your families as well many of the other nuances related to preparing for future contingencies.  There is a world of good information available on all these subjects and more and, for most of it you need look no further than right here on the SurvivalBlog.

One key question is how we will communicate when land lines and cell phones are no longer dependable.  There is precious little available on the traditional information sources relating to communications, especially communications specific to person-to-person private communications.  This article is one person’s attempt to mitigate that void.

Walkie-Talkies and Ham Radios

Whenever interests do seem to drift to communications, walkie-talkies and ham-radios seem to be consensus topics of discussion.  Don’t get me wrong.  Some 2 Meter handie-talkies should be a part of everyone’s inventory, as should a good general coverage short wave radio receiver.  Transmitting via HF shortwave comes with its own set of complications.  It requires course instruction, licensing, a sizeable capital investment in equipment [especially for high power HF] and it may also necessitate significantly compromising one’s privacy and anonymity. (The home addresses for most hams are available online.)  Again, there is already considerable information out on the Internet and in the SurvivalBlog archives, relative to these subjects so I’ll not delve any further into it here. 


A Short History of Portable Satellite Communications                         

Satellite communication technology has evolved over the years not unlike the evolutionary progression of other technological innovation.  Take computers for example.  Early computers cost hundreds of thousands of dollars and required a degree from MIT to operate them.  They filled complete rooms, even requiring their own air conditioning systems.  Only the largest of corporations could afford them.  Now computers are small enough to fit in your pocket.  They can be operated by small children and they are affordable by nearly everyone.

Similarly, just 30 years ago a satellite communication terminal would have cost tens of thousands of dollars to purchase, it would have required the same MIT degree to operate and it would have taken several strong backs just to transport it. 

In 1995 the MSAT constellation was launched with a footprint covering North and Central America and with it came the first portable satellite terminal.  Eye popping at the time, the MSAT constellation supported the briefcase sized Mitsubishi ST151, weighing in at 30 pounds and costing approximately $3,500.  While representing a significant breakthrough in satellite communications, the ST151 would dominate the portable satellite terminal market for less than one year.  Hand held, as in “hand held satellite telephone”, was not even in our vocabulary yet.

1996 ushered in a truly revolutionary phase in personal mobile sat comms with the launching of the mini-M terminal, supported by the Inmarsat satellite constellation, the first commercially available constellation with a world-wide footprint.

Priced about the same as the ST151, the mini-M weighed in at less than 6 pounds.   Virtually plug and play, the laptop sized mini-M also supported slow speed data transmission, heretofore unheard of in personal satellite communications.  Perhaps the most significant advancement of the mini-M was the improved quality of the voice transmission.  Also, unlike the 151, which had a North America footprint only, the mini-M could be used virtually anywhere in the world.  As significant a break through as the mini-M was, and it was significant, it would dominate the portable satellite communications market for less than two years. 

In 1998 Iridium launched its worldwide canopy of 66 satellites and rolled out the first handheld satellite phone.  Slightly smaller than the early bag cellular phone, the Iridium handheld would again revolutionize personal portable satellite communications.  Just a few years later that bag sized phone would shrink in size and cost less than $1,000.00.  Iridium, for the first time, made personal satellite communications affordable to the masses.  Now just about anyone who had reason to travel beyond land line or cellular service had an affordable communications option.    

As with the development of many industries, there have been breakthroughs and advances to satellite technology followed by failures and set-backs.  Not every constellation has been successful from the outset.  Competition remains fierce as satellite providers vie for market share.  The ultimate beneficiary of all of this will be, as it always is, the consumer.  There are currently 4 Satellite Networks available, Iridium, Inmarsat, Globalstar and Thuraya.

There are pros and cons to each constellation.  The purpose of this article going forward is to help you evaluate those pros and cons so that you can determine the best choice for you.  It’s not difficult.  There is overlap.  There’s no right or wrong to this process.  It’s just a matter of understanding what’s available and how the choices mesh with your needs.  A comparison chart has been provided which includes technical specs on each phone.










140 x 60 x 27 mm

143 x 55 x 30 mm

170 x 54 x 39 mm

128 x 53 x 26.5 mm


247 g

266 g

279 g

193 g


Glare-Resistant LCD Display

Glare-Resistant LCD Display

Monochrome Display

Glare-Resistant Color Display

Antenna Design

Retractable Omni-Directional Antenna

Retractable Omni-Directional Antenna

Fold-Out Directional Antenna

Retractable Omni-Directional Antenna

Durability Specs

Military Grade (MIL-STD 810F)



IK 03 (for shock)

Ingress Protection

Dust proof, jet water resistant (IP65)


Dust resistant, splash resistant (IP54)

Dust resistant, splash resistant (IP54)


66 Low Earth Orbit (LEO) satellites orbiting 485 miles from earth

66 Low Earth Orbit (LEO) satellites orbiting 485 miles from earth

3 Geostationary (GEO) satellites in fixed orbit 22,000 miles from earth

2 Geostationary (GEO) satellites in fixed orbit 22,000 miles from earth


Global, pole-to-pole coverage

Global, pole-to-pole coverage

Coverage over 3 regions

Coverage over 2 regions


Talk and move freely 66 Low Earth Orbit satellites overhead

Talk and move freely 66 Low Earth Orbit satellites overhead

Talk with regional mobility limitations 3 Geostationary satellites in fixed location

Talk with regional mobility limitations. 2 Geostationary satellites in fixed locations

Phone Registration

Network registration

Network registration

Requires GPS fix and network registration

Requires GPS fix and network registration

Time to Power on and Make Call

Under 30 seconds

Under 30 seconds

72-120 seconds

Up to 1 minute

Ability to receive incoming calls

Capable of incoming call notification

Capable of incoming call notification

Capable of incoming call notification

Capable of incoming call notification

Ability to send/receive SMS Messages 

if antenna extended or retracted

if antenna extended or retracted

if antenna extended or retracted

if antenna extended or retracted

Ability to send/receive SMS Messages





Ability to connect to laptop





Battery Talk Time

3.5 hours

4 hours

8 hours

6 hours

Battery Stand By Time

30 hours

30 hours

100 hours

80 hours



If you know anything at all about hand held satellite telephones no doubt you have heard of Iridium.  It’s become almost a generic term for the product.

The 66 low earth orbit (LEO) satellites comprising the Iridium constellation were commercially rolled out for service in 1998.  Initially the Iridium business model failed and Iridium filed for bankruptcy, going off line for a year or so.  Although hard to see at the time, this may have been a good thing for the industry in the long run in that it resulted in much more competitive pricing and a much simplified model for usage pricing, two things that survive to this day and apply to all handheld options.  Although the Iridium constellation is older the satellites continue to function efficiently. 

Characteristics of a low earth orbit canopy of satellites:

  • Satellite’s position with respect to the users location on the earth surface is continually changing as the earth rotates under the fixed canopy of satellites.  During extended conversations this dynamic can result in the user being passed off from one satellite to the next as one satellite exits proximity and the next enters.  It happens infrequently but this passing off can result in a call being dropped.
  • Quicker set up and registration process when initiating a call.
  • Less latency during conversation.  Latency refers to the amount of time that passes between the time you stop speaking and the time the other party hears what you said.
  • Iridium is a fully duplex terminal meaning, even if both parties talk over each other both ultimately will hear what the other person said.
  • Direct over-head satellite access facilitating usage particularly when operating in populated areas, among buildings or in mountainous regions where clear line of sight to the satellite could be obstructed.  (More on this later when we discuss the comparison with geosynchronous satellite orbits.)
  • Better coverage at the higher and lower latitudes.
  • The Iridium 9555 and Extreme 9575 are unquestionably the most ruggedized of all handhelds.


Inmarsat is the oldest of the commercial communications constellations having been operational for over 30 years.  It is perhaps the most financially viable of any of the constellations.  Arguably the most powerful of all communications satellites, Inmarsat’s three new F4 birds, in service for just over 3 years, enjoy the longest remaining “projected” useful life of any constellation in operation.

Unlike the LEO Iridium constellation, Inmarsat’s high earth orbit (HEO) satellites orbit the earth at 22,000 miles directly over the equator.  The users position with respect to the satellite remains fixed, much the same as television satellites do.  Consequently the Isatphone Pro remains attached to the same satellite for the duration of the call.   No system is perfect so, while the Isatphone Pro may occasionally drop a call, it will not be caused by transferring a call from one satellite to the next.

Because all satellite terminals require clear line of sight between the antenna and the satellite, issues can arise which affect the ability to see the bird.  This is particularly true if operating at extreme high or low latitudes where clear line of sight to the satellite might be obstructed by the horizon or even buildings or terrain. 

Another feature, which might be considered a double edged sword, is the fact that the Isatphone Pro requires a GPS fix prior to operating.  Obviously this can be advantageous in an emergency situation when it would be helpful to automatically transmit your position via SMS.  There is also the possibility of compromising security in the event the user does not want his position known.

The Isatphone Pro is the most recent addition to the handheld market, having rolled out commercially just over three years ago.  It’s compact design, affordable price point and ease of use has contributed to its commercial success. 


I’ll mention Globalstar only briefly.  Re-launched in 2006, the LEO Globalstar constellation initially endured a myriad of problems and equipment failures resulting in a reputation for unreliability.  I know that Globalstar is diligently working to re-establish its credibility in the marketplace. [JWR Adds: On August 28, 2013, it was announced that after a one billion dollar investment, Globalstar has resumed full operations, with their second generation constellation of satellites. So it is now functionally comparable with Iridium. Time will tell if they've successfully worked all of the kinks out. Most industry analysts are confident that they have.] 


The Thuraya constellation consists of two high earth orbit (HEO) satellites in similar orbits to those of Inmarsat.  Since there are only two satellites (compared with Inmarsat’s three) Thuraya cannot provide worldwide coverage.  The Americas are not within the Thuraya footprint.  Thuraya covers most of Europe, Northern Africa, Asia and Australia.

Thuraya is not without its attributes.  It supports high speed data.  The actual handsets are considerably smaller than either the Iridium or Isatphone Pro.  Thuraya handsets are comparably priced with the Isatphone Pro. 

None of us know what is going to happen, if it’s going to happen, when it’s going to happen, how long it’s going to last or how bad it’s going to be.  Neither do we know how much warning we’ll have, if any.  We only know this can’t end well.  We prepare for the worst but we hope for the best. 

Now I know that preparing is about establishing self-reliance, off the grid self-reliance.  Don’t need anyone for anything.  Yet man is not an island.  We are social animals and that is not going to change regardless of what does or does not happen.  It may have to take a back seat for a while but we’re not going to change. 

Imagine for a moment, not being able to personally communicate with anyone outside of shouting distance.   Just because things might go to hell in a hand basket doesn’t mean we no longer will need to communicate with our kids on the other side of the country, or our parents in Florida or Arizona not to mention our “group”… which just may not be where we need them to be when it hits the fan.  Again, if we had a clear road map as to how this will all ultimately go down, well, we may not need a lot of things.  But we don’t.   

Handheld satellite telephones (even the more expensive models) are a fraction of the cost of ham radio equipment.  They require no license or registration.   They require no formal instruction in fact, if you can operate a cell phone you can operate a sat phone.  Perhaps most importantly, they allow for personal and private one to one communications with anyone on the planet, at any time, for any reason.

I know we’re not all in same place on the preparedness spectrum and it can be almost impossible to talk with family or friends who may not yet see the world as we see it, but people change.  We did.  They will too. 

Make a list of those folks with whom you would like to remain in contact.  It may be a short list to start but it will grow as more and more people become enlightened.  Exchange satellite phone numbers with each other.  Establish a list of contacts.  Consider the possibility of someone maintaining a discreet list of like-minded satellite phone owners.  It’s not far-fetched.  It may be a new idea to many of us but not to all.  Lists like this already exist all over the country.

About the Author: I'm a survivalist and an entrepreneur with a passion for blue water sailing.  My wife and I founded International Satellite Services in 1996 while living on a remote island in the Northwest Caribbean. Our company provides portable satellite Internet and voice solutions for individuals and businesses operating in remote areas off the grid.  We provide services via the Inmarsat, Iridium, Lightsquared and Thuraya Satellite Networks.

Friday, November 29, 2013

Hello James,
While researching availability of a First Person Video controlled RC plane I have come across two viable contenders.  One is incredibly affordable (less than $400) and the other I'm awaiting pricing on.  These are ridiculously valuable tools to scout remote areas, perform surveillance/security, and get a lay of the land.

The first is the Spyhawk.  It is for sale at their web site or at Amazon.   On the controller is a small display and you can pilot the craft from that controller.  You can watch a good video here. The second is the Zephyr II. There are some people who have expanded it's range up to 27 miles.  For some exhilarating video of it flying through the mountains, urban areas, and downtown New York City, check out this Youtube channel

The mini-UAVs are massive force levelers, IMHO.  Imagine knowing the ground around you in a 27 mile radius as if you had walked every canyon, climbed every ridge, and mapped out every drainage.  Limitless possibilities!  Imagine scouting out your local town to see what is around you or what the easiest way out of town is.  Keep track of local herds of wildlife and predators.  In a grid down situation you could quickly and stealthily find out how the larger population centers are doing or if traveling down a road scan ahead for roadblocks and the like.  Where I live many people have summer homes and we've had suspicious vehicles driving by; what better tool than to follow them and get great video of them and their vehicle.  Need to drop a message to a friend; just fly over and drop a note by adding another servo.   Know of a drone doing surveillance?  Crash into it.  The possibilities are endless.

There are many, many criticisms to be had regarding these.  I'm sure soon we will see new regulation banning/licensing these (get one now!)  I'm sure there are a ton of ideas for how they can be modified.  One idea I have would be to control it via a cellular USB modem as it might be less susceptible to getting jammed.  Well I'm looking forward to other readers comments.  I know these have been mentioned here before but I've never seen such a readily available out of the box solution.  Incredible! - Michael H.

Monday, November 25, 2013

Mr. Rawles,
If you have not yet heard of the Serval Project, I would encourage you to check out the web site. This is an Australian based non-profit that is attempting to build the software and hardware for a mesh network that can be erected post-disaster. It is all open-source and there is even a free Serval app available at the Google App Store.

For those of you not familiar with the idea, mesh networks are self-contained networks that run off of the same protocols as the internet, using the same hardware, but are not necessarily linked to the actual World Wide Web (hence, no ‘off-switch’). Each item on the network, be it a laptop, desktop, android tablet device, or android smart phone would be connected to each other, using the app or other software, giving each user the ability to place a phone call, send a text or image, etc. with any other entity on the mesh network. Literally, two devices can connect to each other with no other technology required. There are other apps similar to this, such as Open Garden, but Serval looks to be entirely self-contained.

One issue with android phones is the range (however, there seems to be a work around that adds range to the phones if they are rooted). The people at Serval are attempting to remedy this by designing and building an ‘extender’ that they claim will push the maximum range to kilometers. It is called a Serval Extender, and while it is not available yet, this is an open source movement that many people are working on, and it is only a few months along in its development. Therefore, I expect to see several items available to enhance this concept on the internet soon, either for sale or the instructions as a free download (It would be similar to the Raspberry Pi or Arduino concept, which is open source hardware that is now widely available with tons of resources on the internet for free).

Keep in mind, the original intent was for post-disaster networks to spring up with ease. The designer was inspired by the Haitian earthquake. He realized that once the cell network went down, there were potentially hundreds or thousands of smartphones that could be used to communicate which instantly became useless. He conceived Serval as an app that could go on each phone, and you could immediately be part of a this new network.

Assuming the technology survives an EMP a group could deploy this network and use existing phones, tablets, computers, and their chargers for commo gear. You even keep the same phone number! The messages are sent encrypted. Unless the looter bad guys have Serval on their phones, you could probably consider the network private. I doubt any other device would be able to translate the signal, although it would be pretty easy to detect. This, in my opinion, is more advantageous than GMRS or CB because of the ability to send texts and images. The power requirements for these would be negligible, low in fact. One small PV panel could run the extender, one more to charge the devices, or just use hand cranks.

I think this would create an interesting dialogue on, and I hope others look into this. I look forward to the responses! - Dan in Florida

Friday, November 1, 2013

There have been many articles written by the prepper community outlining why having a communications plan for a grid down situation is so important.   So we are not going to go in depth about why you need a communications plan, but rather offer concrete suggestions on communications in general and particular products that every prepper should own.

I am a licensed ham radio operator and have been participating in Skywarn spotter activities and off grid battery operated events for over ten years.  I am also a pilot and a licensed EMT, both activities in which radio communications are a matter of life and death.  I am not affiliated with any of the companies I recommend in this article nor do I stand to make any financial gain through any of them.

In an age where we enjoy unprecedented global communication, it is good to remember how fragile the communication infrastructure really is.   Cell phone service is usually one of the first services to go down in an emergency.  Even in a localized crisis, such as the Boston Marathon bombing, the cell phone system was overloaded with calls and went down in many parts of the greater Boston metro area. In a power outage many cell towers, if they have a backup at all, will only have a few hours worth of emergency power.  Even land lines are now routed through computer switchboards that are susceptible to hacking, power outages and EMP’s.  Basically, it is not wise to rely on phones for reliable communications in a emergency. 

There are three main types of radio communication requirements for preppers:

1.  Short range (under 50 miles).

2.  Long range  (around the world communications are possible).

3.  Scanning to keep tabs on what is going on around you. 

The single best thing you can do for your communication plan is to get your ham radio license.  The test is very easy to take.  I took it when I was 12 and passed.  You get a basic grounding in radio theory and it opens up thousands of short and long range communication frequencies for your use.  The world is literally your oyster!  The first level of ham radio operator is technician. This level allows you to use short and medium range frequencies while restricting most long range wavelengths.  The technician class license test consists of a 35 question written exam.  The best way to prepare for the test is to buy the American Radio Relay League Ham Radio License Manual.  It comes with lots of practice questions and is the standard to which all other ham radio test books are compared.

The most common kind of short range communication is hand held FRS (Family Radio Service) or GRMS (General Mobile Radio Service) radios.  You can buy them at  Wal-Mart or any large outdoor camping store.  They usually have rechargeable batteries and some have NOAA weather channel listening capability. Many also come with ear pieces that allow you to operate them in situations where hands free or quiet operations are desired.  While I certainly recommend that every prepper have at least five or six of these radios, they should not comprise the bulk of any communication plan for several reasons.  Most radios in this class bundle FRS and GMRS frequencies into one unit.  Channels 1 to 14 can be used without any sort of license while channels 14 to 22 require a GMRS license which is not hard to get, you just have to send $80 to the FCC.  The problem is that these radios are immensely popular and unless you live in a very unpopulated area, all 22 channels will probably be packed with people trying to communicate.  Range is also very limited.  Regardless of what the packaging, says I haven't been able to use them beyond 5 to 7 miles, less in hilly or wooded areas.  However they are a cheap, sturdy, and easy to use form of communication, and therefore have their place in a prepper’s arsenal.

The best short range communication device is a 2 meter portable ham radio which is relatively cheap and reliable. The 2 meter frequencies that this radio transmits and receives on are so named because the radio waves they transmit are 2 meters from crest to crest.  Most come with a rechargeable battery, and some can be powered through a 12v power source, thereby allowing them to run off car batteries.  2M radio frequencies are called line of sight frequencies, meaning that the radio waves travel in a wave motion in a straight line off the antenna.  After about 50 miles the earth begins to curve down and the radio waves continues to travel in a straight line into space.  This is why these radios are limited to about a 50 mile range.  You can extend the range through repeaters (which are radios set up on mountains or on top of buildings that take your signal and retransmit it) but when SHTF most repeaters will drop off line pretty quickly and therefore will not be considered here in detail.  The pros of these kinds of radios are many. There are hundreds of available frequencies, so even in busy metro areas you should have no problems finding a clear channel to communicate on.  These radios can be powered through many different power sources and have excellent battery life.  They are a great cross between power, range and portability.  They are light and can be easily carried wherever you might need to go.  You can also buy a variety of accessories for them, including everything from ear pieces to extra battery packs.  Portable ham radios are also a very good resource.  Most portable ham radios are powered by a 12 volt car battery.  They can be installed directly in a car or carried in a backpack. Portable radios generally transmit with a lot more power and therefore can extend your range, especially in wooded or mountainous areas. 

Ham radio is the best way to communicate in an emergency, but CB radios are also an option.  They require no license to operate and most medium/large trucks already have one installed.  This makes them a good potential source of road conditions and general outside information especially when bugging out.  Mobile CB radios that can be installed in a vehicle are quite popular and should definitely be installed in your bug out vehicle if your prepping includes one.  The same problems with FRS and GRMS radios also hold true for CB radios, in that not many channels are available for a lot of users and offer less range then a ham radio.

Long range communications may or may not need to be a part of your prepping plan.  If you and your loved ones will be located within reach of the short range communications mentioned above, then I would just skip this section altogether.  For those with longer range needs, I would suggest you obtain a general or extra class ham radio license.  This will open up long wave length, long range communication frequencies for your use.  The radios and equipment in this class are more expensive and require more knowledge to operate.  The scope of long range communications are outside the parameters of this article.  Suffice it to say that if you are interested, there are lots of good books on the subject and you could spend a lifetime learning about this class of radios and the associated theory. 

In an age of relatively secure digital communications (NSA snooping aside) it is important to remember that radio communications are public and can be heard by anyone with the right equipment.  The easiest thing to do is come up with some code words and phrases for common words, locations and names that you might need to use over the airwaves.    

Last, but certainly not least, comes scanning.  Having the ability to listen to a wide range of communications including police, fire, EMS (Emergency Medical Service), military, aircraft, school and prison systems, public works and more will be invaluable.  The situational awareness that you gain will give you a edge no matter where you are or what situation you are thrust into.  There are two main kinds of radio systems that you might need to keep an “ear on”, trunked and non-trunked. Trunked systems have several communications frequencies and a control frequency.  The system will dynamically switch which frequency you are communicating on based on what frequency is open at that time.  Trunked systems are usually used in and around big cities when there are a lot of users and not enough frequencies to go around.  Listening to a trunked system requires a trunking scanner.  The best way to tell if you need to spend extra on a trunking scanner is to go to the Radio Reference Database and type in your zip code.  At the bottom of the page, it will list the trunked systems in your area.  If you want to listen to those services, get a trunking scanner.  Regular scanners are fine for all non trunked systems.  Non trunking systems are like an FM radio station; they always transmit on the same frequency and don't switch, any scanner, even a trunking one, can listen to non trunking systems.

No matter what your level of preparedness, you can fit some level of communications gear into any budget, from a $40 pair of FRS/GRMS radios to a $2,000 multi-band ham transceiver.  Either way, you will sleep better at night knowing that no matter what happens, you will be able to keep in contact with your loved ones and improve your situational awareness.

The following is a list of some gear I recommend preppers have.  I have tried to list several price options in each category to satisfy any budget.

Portable Ham Radios

Yaesu FT-1900R

Yaesu FT-8900R

Handheld Ham Radios

Okay (inferior quality but very cheap):
Baofeng UV5RA

Yaesu FT-252

Yaesu VX-6R
Tri-band, waterproof, scanner

Portable CB Radios

Cobra 19DXIV 40 Channel Mobile Compact CB Radio

Uniden Bearcat 980SSB with weather watch.

Handheld CB Radios

Cobra HH38 WX ST

Non-trunked Scanner:
Bearcat BC355N

Trunking Scanners

Analog Trunking
Bearcat BCT15X
This scanner has analog trunking: (This is an older standard for trunking systems.  Most municipalities still use analog trunking, and so this radio will be the best choice for most preppers as digital trunking capability doubles the price.)

Digital Trunking
Bearcat BCD996XT

Tuesday, October 22, 2013

I was impressed by this guy's threads on basic, old, transistor radio "revival". 

His simple, well illustrated threads at Instructables are written for the novice radio tinkerer. 

First, instructions for a GE P780B.  (I have one of these, they're built like tanks and are worth seeking out.)

Second, an American made, Zenith portable. The Zeniths from the 1950s to 1970s are very well made and have audio and DX qualities that place modern portables to shame.

Regards, - F.G.

JWR Replies: I also recommend the G.E. transistor radios. The technology was improved slightly with the SupeRadio series, which was made for G.E. in Japan starting in the 1970s. These used a perfected superheterodyne circuit and large speakers for full, rich sound. When paired with an inductive antenna enhancer (such as a Terk, Select-A-Tenna, or Kaito brand) to boost the built-in ferrite rod AM antenna, you have a great AM and FM DXing radio with quite good monaural sound.

Wednesday, October 16, 2013

As and engineer and founder of an EMP protection startup company , I wanted to explain some EMP basics and also educate readers about current Directed Energy Weapons (DEW.)

Qualifications: My team has developed the first EMP simulator-tested laptop EMP shield that lets you protect and use your laptop (including wireless.) So, over the past year, we’ve learned firsthand what’s true and what’s not regarding radio frequencies. All subjects mentioned are the opinion of MobileSec Solutions LLC but not legally binding.
General Overview
Electromagnetic pulse (EMP) is generated usually when a nuclear device is detonated in the upper atmosphere. Non-nuclear explosive devices work too but on a smaller scale; even a transformer exploding, as in the movie Small Soldiers, generates a localized pulse. EMP is comprised of the fast rise-time E1 component, the lightning-type E2 component, and the solar flare type E3 component. Different things are vulnerable to different components of EMP, so let’s cover what you actually need to know.

The most important concept is wave physics, or the frequency and wavelengths of the EMP waves. Basic physics teaches that higher frequencies equal shorter wavelengths. If a wavelength is larger than the opening, it is blocked. So smaller wavelengths need smaller openings for a blocking material to work. Therefore, in general, if we block high frequencies, we probably block low ones too. In practice, shielding effectiveness does not always work this way, but this is a “good enough” explanation.

An EMP generates a broad band of waves ranging as high as 10 gHz (gigahertz). Our focus is on preventing damage in the range of roughly 200 mHz - 1 gHz, mostly the domain of E1. Above 1 gHz, it becomes increasingly more difficult to create damaging waves, although theoretically possible. As wavelength decreases (and frequency increases), eventually you get into microwave territory, so the shell of a solid object starts to absorb the energy, not the interior electronics. Of course, slightly heating a laptop frame cannot damage it. The E2 and E3 components are far lower in frequency, with E3 having such a long wavelength that, as long as your devices are not connected to any large conductive lines (like power lines or antennae), and are small, they should not be damaged by E3.

These facts have enormous implications for the range of the various EMP components. E1 and E2, have much higher frequencies, so they are basically dissipated in the atmosphere by water vapor over a long distance. In other words, for E1 and E2 to be affecting your electronics, your general metro area must have been specifically targeted by an EMP weapon. One cannot make an EMP with an E1 pulse across the entire continent – the power requirement is beyond even nuclear capabilities. However, it IS possible to generate a wide-ranging E3 pulse (due to its much longer wavelength).

Incidentally, this also explains why, if you search the internet, you can see government buildings use 1-inch copper mesh. This hole size is geared towards E3 only. Apparently, the logic is that a nuke would have to be targeted at that specific area in order for the building to be impacted by E1 and E2 (which require MUCH smaller mesh hole sizes, which increase the cost dramatically). That means that particular nuclear device is NOT targeting anywhere else – so short of nuclear war, the loss of any one single facility cannot significantly impact the US. Furthermore, within each E3-shielded building, certain rooms ARE shielded to a much better standard to protect the really mission-critical equipment from E1 and E2. This provides a high level of protection while reducing costs.

Potential EMP Sources
EMP doesn’t correlate with yield – any nuke can generate an EMP, so “rogue states” can do it – and in fact, some have tested missiles apparently optimized for EMP. The sun can generate a massive solar flare E3 pulse too.

Protective Materials
Our testing has shown that the best materials are copper and stainless steel for shielding purposes. Copper is the single best material that is somewhat cost-effective (however, mixed materials, such as silver-coated or copper-coated stainless steel, can perform even better). It is very good for E3, in addition to E1 and E2, but it is also expensive and very fragile. Stainless steel blocks higher wavelength RF energy slightly better and is much stronger and cheaper. Interestingly, aluminum foil works too. With the built-in EMI (electromagnetic interference) shielding inherent in most electronics, using any of these materials is sufficient protection.

Material Configuration
For all practical purposes, material thickness is irrelevant for EMP (almost any available material is thick enough). Solid sheets are the absolute best. However, if visibility is needed, use many small openings (pinholes) in the material versus a few large ones. 100 OPI (openings per inch) balances visibility and protection - we even use it in our products so we can testify to its effectiveness. Above 100 OPI, visibility degrades, and below it, protection decreases. The main issue with protective materials is creating a solid seal around an enclosed object. Your material must contact itself all around. We use magnets sewn inside the mesh material to force a seal. Conductive thread has not been necessary in our tests.

EMP Best Practices
To minimize chances of EMP damaging your electronics, a few basic steps will help a lot. Turn off electronics not in use. Unplug devices that do not need to be plugged in at that time. For your laptop – disconnect cables connected to USB or serial ports, or all ports for that matter. Our testing showed that striking the USB or serial ports – pathways into the electronics of the laptops – made the laptops much more vulnerable. Have a few backups inside Faraday cages (electrical insulation, we’ve found, is actually not very important because the nature of a Faraday cage keeps all the energy on the outside surface of the shield, not the inside. This also means that grounding a Faraday cage is irrelevant – it just bleeds the energy out faster, but since all the energy is on the outside, there’s no damage to your electronics anyway.

To test protective shielding, put a cell phone inside and try to call it. If you can’t, odds are good that your shielding will withstand an EMP. However, it may be the case that you can get a call through (if you are very close to a cell tower) but the shielding is sufficient. EMP can be analogized like a gunshot sound – without protection, your hearing will be damaged. With earmuffs, you can still hear the gunshot, but it’s no longer able to damage your hearing. By the same token, no earmuffs will help you if you are standing next to a main battle tank about to fire – you will feel it. Everything depends on circumstances.

Directed Energy Weapons
We also wanted to talk about some of the newest known tactical energy weapons out there and how to counter them. We will cover the Boeing CHAMP missile, the Active Denial System, Bofors BAE Blackout system, and the recently revealed NATO EMP system.

Boeing CHAMP Missile – This missile is supposed to create a high-powered microwave (HPM) that disrupts electronics within a single target building. Based on the public video footage (available on Boeing’s web site), we believe counters are relatively simple. In the footage, it’s clear that every computer tested was a desktop. The reason for that appears to be that the weapon attacks through the power supply and building wiring In other words, unconnected laptops may well be unaffected . Simply unplugging devices or having better grounding should prevent damage. Additionally, enclosing electronics within a Faraday cage should enhance protection even further. We actually achieved a similar effect, albeit on a smaller scale, while doing our EMP testing and solved it by grounding. Additionally, careful analysis of the footage reveals that many of the computers remain semi-operational even after the strike while being plugged in. It’s possible that the worst damage from this missile could just a simple reset of your electronics.

Active Denial System – This military program is another HPM device, operating on the 95 gigahertz frequency. It generates heat in the 1/64 th inch of your skin, stimulating nerves and creating an instinctive pain signal. Unclassified demonstrations show soldiers having no choice but to flee. But, based on the data provided, we believe it can be countered with a literal aluminum foil shield or other metal shield. As the wave only penetrates the very outer layers of skin, a very thin metal film should be enough to counter this weapon. Additionally, this system reportedly works only in clear weather – rain or fog apparently reduces the weapon’s effectiveness to merely being a nice warm feeling. A metal shield to block the microwaves, or even a body of water, should reduce this threat significantly.

Bofors BAE Blackout – Not much is known about this device. The range is reportedly relatively high – up to a few hundred meters - but the machine is bulky. It operates on the L-S radio wave bands. Therefore, we believe that a shield made out of stainless steel, or copper, with relatively small holes (100 OPI) should prevent damage to enclosed devices. Again, aluminum foil can be used too.

NATO EMP – This device was unveiled recently – it just made the news within the past two months. It is a vehicle-mountable device that stops cars by interfering with the electronic control systems. It’s touted as a way to safely shut down speeding cars (to prevent car bombs at checkpoints). The issue we see is that, given that it does not destroy the electronics of the cars, the strength of the wave transmitted cannot be very high. In other words, it should be relatively easy to, again, use a metal mesh material or aluminum foil to reduce the effectiveness of the device.

 As you can see, the major directed energy weapons that are being touted as “next generation” are generally not a material threat – assuming you have done some basic preparations.

The Real Threat
In our opinion, most of the threat of current known EMP is overblown.

However, there are two major sources of very serious EMP threats. The first is the rumors of classified EMP weapons. If these weapons exist and can in fact generate significant E1 and E2 over large regions, they are a major threat. Additionally, if these weapons can generate up to 300,000 volts/meter (50,000 volts/m is the limit for military testing as per RS-105) as claimed, they can become catastrophic events. EMP shielding your electronics is critical. As a side note, EMP testing by the US Congressional Commission on EMP showed that most vehicles are either fine or relatively easily repaired in an EMP event, so vehicle shielding is most likely unnecessary – unless these weapons exist.

The second is the effect of E3 on the power grid. Utilities have never been tested against a large scale EMP event – the most recent solar flare that caused major damage was in 1989 in Canada. A perfectly timed solar flare has the capability to fry the power grid – perhaps permanently. A full EMP, not just a solar flare, would have an unknown effect because utilities have never been tested to our knowledge on a full system level, only piece by piece. Utilities themselves acknowledge that cooling systems and fans are relatively easy to affect. Normally, that is not a problem, but if the cooling system for a nuclear power plant was disrupted, it could be catastrophic.

There are almost 200 commercial nuclear reactors in the US. One EMP could cause almost 200 simultaneous nuclear meltdowns if cooling [for the plants and their co-located spent fuel storage ponds] goes offline. At a minimum, the entire Northern Hemisphere would be uninhabitable. This would be an almost extinction-level event and it is a real threat. Even a solar flare could potentially cause damage if this is not taken seriously.

- Joel Ho, Founder, MobileSec Solutions LLC

Monday, September 30, 2013

I'd like to discuss a couple of low power ("QRP") ham radio transmitters. The first kit is a 10 Watt 75M SSB transceiver appropriately named The Survivor. For the modest sum of $140 you get all the parts required to build a practical rig with a digital frequency readout capable of making voice contacts at night out to a range of 200 to 300 miles using simple (low to the ground) wire antennas in NVIS mode. Another ham radio operator provided some additional tips and advice on building this kit on his blog.

The second kit is a crystal-controlled half Watt CW transceiver with a built in iambic keyer called the RockMite. This is available in versions for the 80M, 40M, 30M and 20M ham bands. The basic kit (minus knobs and connectors) runs $29. For an additional $16 you can purchase the knobs and connectors. The kit is designed to fit into an empty tin Altoids container, or you may purchase a deluxe enclosure called the 'MityBox' from American Morse Equipment.

These compact radios can easily be powered using a 12 volt gel cell and used to provide long range communications during off grid/grid down situations.

- 73 from Rick H. in Ohio

Monday, September 2, 2013

Dear James,
I need to respond the the letter "Stuff Hitting the Fan - Part 3", with regards to communications. I am a ham radio operator holding a Amateur Extra Class license, and have a little CB and shortwave experience.  As such, I want to make some corrections R.L.'s letter and offer some advice.

1. An adequate ham transceiver for the HF bands (160m to 10m), will also cover the non-ham bands as receiver. This includes all of the broadcast shortwave bands, and the AM broadcast bands in the United States.

This will not include US broadcast FM, or the police and fire frequencies, which are outside it's frequency range (you would need a VHF transceiver for those bands). So if you get a HF ham transceiver such as the Yaesu 450D, you can save half your money by not buying a shortwave receiver too.

2. All shortwave broadcasts use the AM mode. None use single side band or CW. 
3. Shortwave broadcasts to the western US are pretty rare right now. On the eastern seaboard you can get Europe, but there aren't many people targeting the US with shortwave because of the prevalence of the Internet. There are, however, some stations you can pick up in Nevada (for example) that are clear even though they are not targeted to the US.

These are: the Australian Broadcasting Company, Radio New Zealand, and China Radio International. Unfortunately, the Brits and the Germans are no longer broadcasting in English to the US. If you speak Spanish, there is a lot of shortwave activity coming out of Latin America. 

4. There is a cheap and legal way to make your CB base stations more effective. Use single side band (either lower or upper), and use a horizontal dipole antenna not far off the ground. This will cause your signal to go nearly straight up to the ionosphere, where will be reflected back down like water out of a shower head.  The advantage here is that your signal will get into places like  between building, gullies, valleys and behind mountains, where it would normally not be able to go. The receiving station should have their antenna set horizontally to receive this well. This sort of antenna usage is called NVIS for Near Vertical Incidence Skywave. -The range for NVIS is typically a radius of 250 to 400 miles. Your actual range will depend on the time of day, the condition of the ionosphere, and the amount of transmit power used.

Thanks for your efforts, - Jeff Bear

JWR Replies: As blog reader "Templar" mentioned, NVIS will not work at CB frequencies unless there are exceptional ionospheric conditions. NVIS is generally limited to the 2-10 MHz range. Higher frequencies usually punch through the ionosphere. (This exaggerated scale illustration from QSL magazine sums up ionospheric skip.) As I mentioned in my novel "Patriots", the key advantage of NVIS for HF transmission is that it is very difficult to locate via radio direction finding if the intercept outstations are beyond groundwave reception distance.

Thursday, August 15, 2013

Introductory Disclaimer: I am not an expert in amateur radio in the sense that I have extensive electronics knowledge, nor am I an expert in prepping. However, I have some experience in disaster and lightweight, portable radio operations and have an interest in being prepared.

I have been an amateur radio operator, or “ham,” since 1997 when I was first licensed as a fifteen year old. At that point I was drawn to the hobby because my grandfather has always been very active in the amateur radio community and a stickler for disaster communication readiness. In 2011 I finally upgraded my license to a “general class” which opened up privileges on all amateur frequency bands. This has allowed me to communicate with amateurs all over the world from Europe to Africa to Southeast Asia.

About two years ago I discovered an area of ham radio that combined my interest in radio with my love for the outdoors. This program encourages hams to “activate” various summits for points. One of the primary guidelines for the program is that you operate without the benefit of commercial power. That is, you must operate using batteries or some other kind of power as long as it isn’t a generator. By nature this means that using low power, five to ten watts, is much more efficient than running fifty or one hundred watts. Furthermore, because of the low power nature of this part of the hobby it is much more efficient to operate using Morse code than voice communications (more on that later). What I have also come to realize with my study of preparations is that this form of communication is almost tailor made for disaster scenarios. What I intend to do here is lay out my argument in favor of low power ham radio for preppers as well as offer some steps for the new ham.

Low power, amateur radio disaster communications.

For about a century amateur radio has been the backbone of disaster communications across the globe. Even with the advent of cell phones ham radio operators have been crucial links in the communications chain, especially in the immediate area of a natural disaster such as a hurricane. Cell service may be available outside of the affected area but ham radio can help bridge the gap across the “last mile” so to speak. In a large scale disaster or collapse scenario it would be unwise to rely on any form of telephone or internet communication. I believe this is where amateur radio would really shine. I could also lump in CB radio here as well but I believe that the variety of frequency options available to amateurs gives them a much greater flexibility and reliability than citizen’s band (absolutely nothing against CBers here I’m just trying to be realistic).

Amateur radio operators have privileges ranging from 10 Gigahertz all the way down to 1.8 Megahertz. This means that hams have access to frequency bands that support both short and long range communications twenty-four hours a day. For instance, one of my favorite bands to operate on is the 40 meter band (7 MHz). During the day it is good for communications out to a couple of hundred miles while during the nighttime hours is can reach out to several hundred to thousands of miles. Depending several factors including time of year, the solar cycle and propagation, hams can operate on frequencies that allow for worldwide communication with a minimum of power.

This brings me to my argument for low power communications. I am currently using two radios for my ham activities, neither of which put out more than five watts of RF power. FCC regulations allow hams to use up to 1,500 watts on most bands but encourage the use of as little power as is necessary to maintain two-way communications. Using Morse code, a simple wire antenna and a small battery I have made successful contact with stations as far away as Eastern Europe. On a typical day of operating from home I can count on several contacts around the southeast with only two to three watts of power.

Let me pause here to address power supply considerations. When I operate portable I use a 1.2 AH sealed lead acid battery. It weighs about one pound and will sustain operations for several hours depending on how much I am transmitting. With two of these batteries I can easily operate all day. I haven’t purchased one yet but many hams use small solar chargers to replenish their batteries for extended portable operations. One thing that I would love to explore would be mounting a small solar array on my roof which would be connected to large batteries in the house. The solar panels would offer a slow trickle charge and the large battery would sustain longer durations of communication. This would effectively remove my radio station from the grid which would mean uninterrupted communications in a disaster. Naturally batteries would not last forever without recharge so in a situation where the grid was down it would take discipline to operate some while allowing the batteries sufficient time to charge whether by solar power, wind power or a generator. Again, the benefits of operating with only a few watts in this scenario are clear, less draw on the batteries equals longer time on the air.

My argument from here will be centered on two things, the simplicity of low power radios and the benefits of using Morse code. As far as simplicity goes, a low power Morse code radio is not only budget friendly but also quite easy to assemble and maintain. I have built and operate a radio that is about the size of a paperback book and weighs about one pound. It also gives me three bands to choose from which I picked for long distance and local communication (different frequency bands propagate differently). My entire portable station which includes; the radio, antenna tuner, wire antenna, battery, ear buds and key only weighs a few pounds and fits neatly in a small backpack. There are other options for radios that are built in Altoids tins and batteries like those used in RC aircraft that cut down on weight and size even more! All of this adds up to an extremely portable radio station that you can reliably communicate across the globe (North America to Australia is not unheard of with five watts of power).

Now let me take a few moments to address modes of communication as a ham. Amateur radio has done a stellar job of evolving with the technology of the times. Now there are modes that are completely digital and occupy a very small amount of bandwidth. Typically, this involves the addition of some kind of computer so I will not go into detail here. The two most popular modes of communication for hams are single sideband (SSB) and Morse code (also known as CW which stands for continuous wave). Sideband is obviously the more convenient of the two because you just talk into a microphone. The drawback is that it is less efficient, particularly in low power situations, and require more complex equipment. Though it is less efficient it is not out of bounds for low power. I have received good reports from as far away as Austria using only two watts on sideband from my home on the east coast.

In my opinion the best option for low power communication, especially in a disaster or collapse scenario, is Morse code. I hold this opinion for several reasons.

  1. CW requires much less signal strength than voice. All you need to hear is “dits” and “dahs” not words and sentences.
  2. A Morse code key can be made from just about anything. All you need to do is complete an electrical circuit. In a pinch you could send code by touching two wires together.
  3. Morse code is a code. This reason would be particularly helpful in a collapse scenario. While Morse code is not a “secret” code in the strictest sense the vast majority of people in the world don’t know it. This means that your communication automatically has slightly higher security to it. If someone is tuning around with a receiver and hears some dits and dahs and doesn’t know Morse code they are going to have no idea what you are saying. Speed also become a factor here. I am only proficient up to about fifteen words per minute right now. When I hear guys running twenty-five words per minute or faster then I’m lost.

Getting Started in Amateur Radio

For those of us who are preparation minded there is no reason I can think of to not become involved in ham radio now. The FCC has eliminated the requirement of knowing Morse code to get a license. There are three levels of license that offer greater privileges across the spectrum. The most basic license class, technician, offers complete privileges on VHF and UHF frequencies and some limited use of HF bands. The general and extra class licenses grant privileges on all HF bands which means some serious long distance communication. I will say, if I can get a general class license then anyone can. It does take some effort and study but it is very doable. There are many great books, web sites and courses available to anyone interested in becoming licensed. There is a test to pass in order to receive your license and most local ham clubs offer testing on a regular basis for a small fee.

One recommendation that I would make is to learn Morse code as soon as possible. It has taken me a little over a year to get to where I am at fifteen words per minute and the sooner you learn the better. Again, there are web sites and CDs galore to help in this process. One of the side benefits of learning code is it’s just plain cool. When you learn it you know something that fewer and fewer people know and friends will be amazed.

Once you become licensed the next thing is to get some gear and let me tell you…hams love their toys. If you so desire you can spend tens of thousands of dollars on your radio equipment, and no one will think less of you if you do. However, I have less than $500 wrapped up in all of my equipment and only $200 or so in my portable gear. If you look at swap meets, hamfests and on ebay there is plenty of good gear for reasonable prices. The best way to save some cash on radio gear is to make as much of it as possible yourself. I have never bought and antenna for HF operations. Simple, wire antennas perform at a world class level and can be constructed for a few dollars. I have also built a radio, two antenna tuners and a power/SWR meter. Through that process I’ve gained knowledge and confidence in handling electronic equipment.


I’ve made my argument for amateur radio communications for disaster or collapse scenarios and tried to offer some advice for those who want to get started. In my mind the low power ham radio station is perfectly suited to the preparation mindset. If and when the grid goes down the ability to communicate with others, gather news from near and far, and link up with other communities will be vital. Now is the time to be prepared for communications needs. You could easily get together with like-minded friends and get your licenses at the same time and start regular, on-the-air nets to practice for the unwelcomed event of a disaster. The truth is, there are already hundreds of nets going on each week to keep amateurs ready for natural or man-made disasters.

Finally, the argument could be made that when/if we find ourselves in a situation without the rule of law then you could just start operating on amateur frequencies without a license. That is certainly an option but one that I am not in favor of at all. First of all, just because there may not be an FCC to regulate radio communications sometime in the future doesn’t mean we can’t follow the law anyway. I would hope that no one would want society to remain in a state of lawlessness and one of the great things about ham radio is that we try our best to be self-regulatory.  Should the worst happen, I will continue to operate my radio station in a manner that is consistent with the rules that govern me now. I will continue to use my callsign and I will do it within the boundaries set for me. The absence of law does not mean I have to be lawless and if operating my radio station in a legal manner helps in some small way to restore order that is what I will do.

For  those of you planning on bugging out with a knife and a backpack when the SHTF, read no further because nothing in this article will be of value to you. For those of us who, for one reason or another, have to plan on bugging in, this might serve as a reminder to stock some cheap but necessary items that you may not have considered. Judging by the number of survival threads and articles that I have read, a number of us plan on maintaining, if possible, some sort of energy source should EMP, flood, hurricane, terrorist act or other event disrupt our electric service. At times like this, we can expect blackouts, rolling blackouts, brownouts, surges, peaks or other electrical gremlins to occur. All of these things place stress on electrical and electronic devices and the components designed to protect them; fuses. In addition to blowing out, fuses wear out. This is most common in devices that draw large amounts of power and are switched on and off frequently such as home HVAC units.  Heavy current flow through a fuse generates heat and the fuse link expands and contracts with the temperature change until metal fatigue finally takes its toll. Take inventory of all of the electronic and electrical devices around your bug in location and you will be surprised at the variety of fuses necessary to keep things running. Yes, I know, you can often bypass fuses to keep something running in an emergency but you also bypass the item designed to keep the device from burning out or malfunctioning, possibly when you need it most. Fuses are low cost items that are readily available during normal  times but that is not what we are talking about, is it?

Start by examining the service entry box at your house. If it is an older house, it may still be wired with screw-in plug type fuses. Modern electrical devices cumulatively draw more current then these systems were designed to handle and you are probably already accustomed to occasionally replacing some of these fuses. It might be wise to accumulate a large supply of those fuses in advance in the event a trip to the local hardware store is not wise in the future. If your house has a panel of circuit breakers, examine it closely to see if all of these breakers are rated at 25 amps or below and, if they are, the panel will also contain a pair of large cartridge type fuses, often concealed behind a large Bakelite handle which also serves as a disconnect device. A spare pair of these fuses is a cheap investment. Remember, brownouts and surges can stress components to a level above normal.

Start closely examining the instruction books and manuals for the various types of electrical and electronic equipment that you own. If you are so talented, open up the devices and examine them carefully for fuses which are often placed somewhere in the device close to the power input source. These fuse devices are not generally meant to be user serviced but, in an emergency, might allow you to retain the use of a critical device. Some of these may not appear to be the normal type of fuse that you are accustomed to seeing but may quickly disable the device in the event of a power surge. Enlist the help of a knowledgeable friend if you are not comfortable doing this. The circuit boards will often be marked with numbers identifying the parts and fuses are often designated with numbers such as "F101" etc. I recently opened up a 2000 watt power inverter to find that it contained eight 250 watt inverter modules, each with its own 40 amp fuse! If this inverter were to be overloaded or subjected to an extreme power surge, it would be possible that these fuses could all blow out in sequence as the remaining modules each attempted to assume the load vacated by the first module to blow out. Don't forget charge controllers and  the inline fuses in the connecting wires of 12 volt radios, scanners and CB sets. Also, closely examine the cigarette lighter plug  which allows you to run some devices off your vehicle's electrical system for a cartridge type fuse behind the tip of the plug. The very popular Maha MHC9000 charger often used with Eneloop batteries has such a fuse in its 12 volt cord as does the charger for my 2 meter ham radio and the vehicle charger for my Craftsman power tool batteries. I have also seen cigarette lighter plugs which use miniature blade type fuses inserted into the side of the plug.

By the way, if one of your power tool batteries suddenly goes "dead", particularly after you have stalled or overloaded the tool, open the battery up. Inside, you may find a small strip of metal that is used to interconnect the individual cells in the battery and see that there is a melted gap in one part of the metal. That is a fuse! You can make an emergency repair and continue to reuse the battery by carefully soldering a small piece of copper wire across the gap. Try to avoid using too much heat while doing this and use a good grade of rosin core solder. Scraping the metal for a clean surface in advance often helps the solder to adhere to the metal.

Last and certainly not least, check your owner's manuals for a complete listing of the fuses used in your vehicles. Many modern vehicles contain more circuits than your house and use a wide variety of fuses. A large kit or selection of those fuses would be a good investment. Harbor Freight sells assortments of the common sizes of blade type fuses at reasonable prices. If you have a RV equipped for bugging out, don't rely on the owner's manual to tell you about every fuse hidden in the vehicle. Trace the wiring for everything that connects to either the incoming AC power, the onboard generator if so equipped, or the "house" batteries for inline fuses as well as any fuses installed in fuse panels or blocks. Some RV refrigerators have fuses hidden inside them. Again, a knowledgeable friend may be very helpful. The Ford chassis used as the basis for my class B motor home has a master fuse block located under the hood and a second fuse block beneath the dash and they each use different sized fuses. The coach itself has fuses in the inverter/charger unit and large fuse links in the battery bay. Again, trace the wiring.

Fuses may seem like small, unimportant items but remember, "for want of a nail, the shoe was lost………..". You can't have too many fuses as some problems may be reoccurring until the fault is located. Be safe, be prepared.  - G.L.D.   

Tuesday, August 13, 2013

I have some of the larger military surplus ammo cans and would like to build my own Faraday cages to store my spare electronics [to protect them from EMP or a severe solar storm]. Do you have any sources to guide me?

OBTW, I just finished reading your novel "Patriots". That was a great read and I could not put it down. Regards,- J.L. (Former NYPD Officer)

JWR Replies: What you plan to do is is pretty simple, since the can and lid are already great Faraday shields. The only issue is the gap where they join. That joint needs to be conductive, in order to create a fully protective cage. I recommend that you:

1.) Remove the can's rubber gasket. (Save it, in case you decide to restore the can to water-tightness, at a later date.)

2.) Wearing eye protection, use some coarse sandpaper or a rotary wire brush to remove the paint on at least a 3-inch section of both the top lip of the can and underneath the lid where the gasket was attached. This bare metal will provide a good electrical contact between the lid and body of the can.

3.) Replace the gasket with a continuous thick "fuzz" of stainless steel wool that will just barely allow the lid to to be clamped shut. (Selecting the correct thickness to use takes a bit of experimentation.) The steel wool can be glued in place so long as you do not insulate the short section(s) where you sanded off the paint.

Store items inside wrapped in plastic bags or in heavy duty cling wrap, to insulate them from the can. Use additional padding (bubble pack or gray foam) inside if the cans will be transported loaded with fragile gear.

Do not add an external grounding strap.

Monday, August 5, 2013

Hollywood movies often show secret agents tossing cell phones out of car windows, and grabbing new ones to activate. In today's world of almost universal surveillance and tracking, that is actually fairly good tradecraft. When operating in guerrilla warfare mode, a cell phone that is used more than a few times is a liability. So is a cell phone that is "turned off", but that still has its battery installed. (They can still be tracked.)

In summary, here is some cellular phone tradecraft for times of genuinely deep drama:

1.) Don't create a paper trail when buying clandestine phones. Pay cash for cell phones and don't give your name. Preferably buy them in small stores without video surveillance.

2.) Activate phones only as needed.

3.) Never "recharge" the minutes on disposable cell phones. (This leaves a paper trail--at least leading to the place where you bought a recharge "minutes" card. And buying minutes via a phone call and credit card transaction leaves a huge paper trail.)

4.) Set a "phone talk time limit" for your group, depending on the then-current severity of the threat. Once you've reached the limit for each phone discard it. (But save the batteries, if they interchange.)

5.) Never program any cell phone numbers into your phone.

6.) Also carry a retained "cover" phone, on which only totally mundane (non-operational) calls are made. If you can make your operational phone disappear, then your cover phone will give you some plausible denial. (But you won't be Teflon Coated, since the geographical movements of your cover phone can be correlated to operational events or calls from any of your clandestine phones.

7.) Discard phones discreetly, with the batteries removed. Alternatively, you can leave the battery in if you want to lay a trail to confuse those pursuing and you suspect that phone location is being tracked.. (You can mail the phone to a random address that is a thousand miles away. (Use a padded envelope and just drop it in a mail box.) Or you can leave it in a donation box for regional charity. (These charities usually send donated items to a sorting center.)

8.) Keep in mind that cell phone Subscriber Identity Module (SIM) chips are quite compact and can be moved from phone to phone.

Take a look at the history of how Ryan Fogle was bounced out of Russia. He used some very bad tradecraft. Learn from the mistakes of others.

One final tip: Reader Jeff H. mentioned that Tracfone now sell LG800G with 1,200 minutes loaded. The nice thing about these is that their minutes never expire. So this sort of phone would be a great phone to buy and just "tuck away for a rainy day."

Thursday, June 27, 2013

I'm writing to recommend a web site. This guy's main focus is vintage guitar amplifiers, but he has good repair advice for anyone keeping their vintage vacuum tube radio equipment running, as well.

Regards, - Florida Guy

Wednesday, June 12, 2013

Let me first say thank you to all who have contributed to this blog for your columns and all your wisdom.  Without this site, my experience during the recent tornado would have been much different!

For some background info, I have only been prepping for about a year. I have been an Emergency Medicine physician for over 10 years.  I treated patients of the May 3, 1999 Moore, Oklahoma tornado during my training years and I was involved in door to door search and rescue for the recent May 20, 2013 tornado. While my house was not hit, it did strike about half a mile from us and we did lose power for about 20 hours. 

My goal for this article is to inspire those who have not prepared, to begin to do so.  To help take what we learn on this site and apply it to tornado disasters.  Lastly, to recognize the problems or holes this disaster caused in my plan and how to correct them thereby help others avoid the same pitfalls. 

Many previous articles have talked about reluctant spouses or family members who do not think preparation is important.  While we can debate the likelihood of certain disasters and calamities ahead, having a disaster plan for your family is the first step.  Part of the plan should be getting the family involved. This is where leadership comes in. It might be hard to convince my wife an EMP attack is eminent and we need a large Faraday cage, but it is not hard to convince her a tornado in Oklahoma will happen.  Basic prepping is a good idea regardless of the situation it will be used in.  

If you are new to this site, water, food, shelter, and protection are the basics. Almost immediately after the tornado went through, there was some concern about the local water supply. One issue was contamination, and the other was pump failure at the treatment plant. Having several cases on hand was such a comfort.  Same goes with food.  I was ready. Shelter may be destroyed, have alternate plans.  Maybe having a stash at another location would be wise with friends, family or a storage locker.  A lot has been said on protection.  We will not directly address that.  

During tornado season, we determined primary and secondary meeting points should our house be hit.  The first one was about a mile away and the second was about two.  This was to insure that if the house was hit and cars were damaged, walking would be a very easy option.  I would also recommend to consider problems with the rally point.  For a flood  it is obvious to choose higher ground, but what about a tornado?  One consideration for me was to choose a point north and west of my house.  Tornados in this part of the country tend to come west to east or SW to NE. This is to avoid both your house and rally point both being taken out.  RP #1 is northwest, and RP #2 is almost directly north.  Learn your region and apply it to your situation. 

My wife and I also carry walkie-talkies and cell phones during storms when we are apart.  As expected, cell phone use was not available for many hours after the disaster.  Text messaging seemed to works some, but it did not at ground zero.  Our wifi worked at the house so out of town family and friends could still text/email/social network us. The secondary plan was not carried out due to us all being ok, however it would have been nice to have while away. 

Because we had days notice that storms would pop up, I went and took the kids out of school early as soon as the radar began to light up.  Not as early as my wife wanted me to, but I will listen to her next time!  This delay meant I was away from the storm shelter when the storm hit.  Trying to avoid a tornado in a car is extremely dangerous!!  Trying to figure out exactly where the tornado will go is impossible.  Many in Oklahoma do this now, and I do not blame them one bit when the television tells us to get underground for this storm.  If you do not have a shelter, what other options do you have? This can and has worked for many, but being in a car when the tornado hits is almost certain death.  The cars we saw had every window broken, and one car had a 2x4 impaled directly into the passenger seat.  If you do decide to leave, do it early!

What worked for me was the kids monitored the texts from mother while I drove.  We also listened to local radio stations broadcast the wall to wall television feed to help pinpoint the danger areas.  The fact that I had a full tank of gas, and on an interstate, I just drove east.  If I had to go all the way to Arkansas, I could have done so to avoid the storm.  This worked well until the traffic stopped (This was a major problem in the May 31st storms!).  Bumper to bumper.  I was not going to be a sheep and just sit in line and risk injury to myself and kids.  I remembered a previous SurvivalBlog post about how to escape a mall shooting by looking official and going through the back hallways.  I pulled off on the shoulder and took the next exit heading more north and west.  Having a 4x4 truck, I considered going off road, but with several days of recent heavy rains, I did not want risk it if I did not have too.  I finally headed more west and found out the storm was past our house.  Now the challenge was getting home.  In a large long track tornado like this one, crossing the path is impossible even on interstates.  This was true for both north south highways in the Oklahoma City area.  Because I was familiar with many back roads, I was able to get home very easy and avoided all the sheep on the main highways.   

In the hours/days after, the interstates were reopened, but sometimes backed up 6 miles or more.  

After a few hours of door to door searches, I was back home and glad to have the generator going,  but now my house was a beacon of light among the dark houses.  I was able to turn off most of the lights, draw the blinds, and try to be just a regular house.  The one thing I could not cover was the noise of the generator. I was fortunate to have about three or four other neighbors close with the same hum or growl, and I hoped since my lights were off, I would blend in.  Be sure to check other things outside to turn off that are not needed.  I did walk around the house and remembered the fountain was running and shut that off.  

I could go on and on about the heroic efforts of Fire, EMS, Police, and medical responders.  They all did an excellent job!  Command posts were set up, ambulances were abundant, destroyed hospitals still set up triage areas, heavy equipment brought in, crowd control, all functioned well.  

Also excellent response was also done by churches, and even local retail stores.  One local big store even opened its doors and gave away whatever people needed that night! By the next AM, supplies were brought in by numerous individuals.  Some brought cash, some drove from other states just to donate a case or two of water! Others brought commercial grills and provided hamburgers free to anyone at a  local church!  Another local community brought two school buses packed full of supplies from water, to diapers, to work gloves to canned foods.  I was also impressed that local grocery stores had palate after palate of water, batteries and food moved up to the front of the store ready to go.  Did you notice all the references to God and prayer in the television interviews?  Not just words, but faith with action!

We did have a few looters in the days after, but I was glad to see a large police presence.  I did see one military person during my door to door searches who was openly carrying on his property.  I was also glad to see the police not even question him about it.  I asked one cop if he would have said anything if he had an AR slung over his back.  He said, "No.  His property, he can do whatever he wants."  When rumors swirled about forcing people out of slightly damaged portions of the neighborhoods, the police were knowledgeable and said they could not force people out unless martial law was enforced.  Most police said they would not force them out.  Many tornado survivors decided to put up tents and stay the night on their property to protect it.  Not sure what I would have done, but the smell of natural gas was significant and I am not sure how safe it was.  


As Rahm Emanuel once said, "Never let a crisis go to waste. " I know Mr. Emanuel meant this to push for more government, but I see this as a chance to learn and fine tune my plans. I was very thankful for the supplies I had, but discovered some problems.  

My water was adequate, but my backup plan of using the pool water was somewhat viable if I had to boil the water, but due to the large amount of debris thrown by the tornado into the pool, this would require a large scale filter of the water before even boiling.  Next step for me is going to be a water filter.  Grade of B- for water.  Food was not an issue. Grade A

Travel was A-.  I did well with getting the kids out early, not coming home, adjusting the plan on the fly, and having secondary routes planned out by local knowledge but this could have easily become a C or worse if I had waited longer, or been stuck in traffic.  I can not emphasize enough how travel is disrupted during these long track tornados. As stated in the previous article, both north/south interstates were blocked for hours.  Consider driving 10-20 miles parallel to the track and than consider crossing.  The length of this tornado caused 12 miles of blocked N/S roads!

Communication is a C.  Primary route of cell phone/text failed (somewhat expected) and the backup plan was not initiated.  My wife knew where I was, but wondered when I would be back.  CB radios may be added and carried.

House is a B+.  Generator worked flawlessly, but hiding the noise is a problem I do not know how to solve.

Community response. A+. This plan worked well for this disaster, but not sure how generous everyone will be when no one has water or food.  I do see the church as a great asset should Schumer happen, but I realize this is not likely to last long term either. 

Just a few other points.  I do know FEMA was there the next day, but they were already dwarfed by the community and other volunteers who can immediately step up and help.  The last thing is related to storm shelters.  If you live in tornado alley, you should have one or know someone who will let you in theirs.  Also each town has shelter registries, but I never saw one and it was not utilized.  When going door to door, we relied on neighbors knowing about shelters, where they were and if the homeowners were home or had fled.  I will add a hammer to my shelter so I can make some noise for the boots on the ground folks to hear me.  One of my LEO friends had a good idea to paint a tornado symbol or write "storm shelter" on the curb by the house number to help us look for folks. 

Lessons learned, don't rely on the government (obviously), talk to your neighbors so the know where shelters are, and begin with basic prepping NOW!

I welcome your comments! Thank you and God Bless! - TornadoDoc

P.S.  After the May 31st storms, many Okies did try to flee and this created massive traffic congestion.  This makes the recommendation to leave early all the more important.  I was on the road during this storm also (on the way to work).  Family wanted me to stay at home, but I left as the El Reno storm was touching down.  I choose the most eastern route north, and avoided the sheep. Had I waited later, I may have never made it to work.  This storm produced lots of flooding. Six inches at my house! Park in a safe place and wait a few hours. 

Saturday, May 25, 2013

Dear Mr. Rawles,
A young friend recommended "Patriots" to me a month ago and, since that time, I've consumed it's two sequels and "How to Survive..."  I was pleased to see that I have followed most if not all of your recommendations without having known them - my endless frustration in life has been to never had an original thought.  In re-reading "Surviving...", the lighting, alarm and camera chapters, I note that you reference motion detector operated lighting, Dakota Alert MURS systems and webcams but not an alarm system as such.

Back in 2008, as moving day to The American Redoubt was close at hand, I suddenly panicked thinking, "What about security for my U-Haul full of "stuff"?" (By "stuff", I mean valuable items that the movers wouldn't handle or those which I did not want them to handle.) Since my move was to include at least 3 nights in low-end motels, the kind that allow dogs, my concerns increased exponentially.  In a sweat, I started web-searching like mad for some sort of portable alarm system that would signal me in my room without alerting or annoying others should the trailer be tampered with.  What I found was a remarkable system, the Tattletale.

The system is designed primarily for contractors who must leave storage units, materials and equipment scattered about remote locations.  The alarm signal is conveyed to a "central station" via the national cell phone network but does not use any single service provider or cell phone number, etc; the central station then alerts you and/or any others you may designate by whatever means you designate.  The alarm signal itself is sent via some sort of cell phone system "side band" that you, with your knowledge of arcane radio mumbo-jumbo, will understand.

The transmitter unit is portable, includes an integral motion detection unit and has battery backup which is good for extended periods.  Furthermore, numerous other devices can be added to this unit, wirelessly, such as additional motion detectors, smoke/fire detectors and locking devices which can be used to secure equipment or outbuildings, etc.

This system will be rendered unusable post-TEOTWAWKI, of course, but is an excellent system till then.  I used my system for more than two years and never had a false alarm.

Thank you for expanding my horizons and especially for scaring the pants off a lot of complacent but otherwise sentient beings and getting them off the dime - a 90% silver dime, that is.

All the best, - Sam

P.S.: The funny part of the story, though I'm loathe to tell it, is that my system arrived on the day of the move so I was not able to figure it out until I arrived in Montana and could finally sit down, focus and follow through.  To use one of your favorite phrases, "needless to say", I spent several very nervous nights on the road.  Three years ago, I built my retreat: a dugout ("earth sheltered home" to liberal greenies), 3/4th of a mile off the county road, out of sight behind a butte, at the end of a road closely monitored by friends. Therefore, I put my Tattletale contract on hold and have yet to re-install it.  S. 

Thursday, May 16, 2013

Until recently I thought of ham radio much like a boat or swimming pool.  Having known amateur radio operators most of my life, I saw it as something that was better to have a friend with one than expend the time and expense myself.  One of the first things I did after purchasing my retreat land was obtain the addresses of licensees in my area from the FCC database and plot them on a map just in case I need to seek their assistance later.  Having acreage in a secluded community deep in the wooded mountains of Appalachia means cell phone service is not available.  In the interest of OPSEC, I personally dragged all the materials over the mountain and through the woods to single-handedly build our retreat.  When I was assembling and setting the rafters for the cathedral ceiling and installing the plywood sheeting and metal roof, my wife became concerned I might fall and become injured (despite a safety rope and harness).  Unable to self-rescue by hiking or crawling out, if I were seriously injured on Friday, my wife not expecting me back to civilization until Sunday evening would not know to send the neighbors looking for me.  It finally occurred to me that even without a license, a 2 meter handhold radio would allow me to call for help because of the emergency operation provision. 

I remembered reading in a discussion group that I could purchase a dual-band Baofeng UV5RA Ham Two Way Radio for a paltry $39.98 including shipping.  Despite what I read in discussion groups, it took about two minutes per channel to manually program the radio using the instructions I found here.  A quick search of an online repeater directory netted a number of nearby repeaters with backup power and/or auto-patch.  Like a fire extinguisher one hopes to never need, what I had previously considered a potentially expensive hobby became an inexpensive and practical solution to a real and existing threat.

If I wanted to use the repeater for anything other than a true emergency (specifically thinking about the autopatch), I would need to be licensed.  A few more Internet searches netted a local exam and a free pdf study guide.  I had a couple speaking engagements that week so penciled in the two weeks immediately proceeding the exam to prepare.  I get up earlier than my family and my wife likes me to be there when she watches television in the evenings so I have a laptop on a side table to surf the web during those times.  Those were my best (and only) opportunities to study.

Early on day one I pulled up the study guide and started reading.  One thing six years of college taught me was that when preparing for a specific goal (in this case passing a test) one is well advised to get the best mental picture of that goal.  I did this by taking a practice exam.  I soon discovered that what I learned in the study guide did not always match any test answer.  The study guide, for example, taught me to repeat "EMERGENCY, EMERGENCY, EMEGENCY"  three times followed by my call sign if I needed to break into a conversation in the event of an emergency.  Unfortunately, that was not one of the multiple-choice answers.  I was pleasantly surprised how well I had done on the practice test with very little study.  I previously worked in public safety, had a great high school science teacher, and am no stranger to a soldering iron so maybe that helped, but by the end of day one I was consistently passing the Technician practice tests.  What was I to do with the remaining thirteen days of study time?  I thought perhaps the site I chose did not contain questions similar to all those on the test so before heading off to bed I did some additional Internet research.  I was surprised to find the FCC publishes the question pool in advance and that virtually every test site has the entire test pool.  While I currently have no interest in doing anything other than using the handheld from my retreat, not knowing what the future holds or even if there could be an event that might make it difficult to advance to a higher license later, I decided to use the remaining thirteen days of study time to start preparing for the General license exam. 

I clicked on the link to generate a General license practice test to find both bad news and good.  As I expected, there was a lot less crossover knowledge on the General license practice test than at the Technician level.  The good news was that several of the questions (or at least concepts) appeared on both exams meaning I did not have to learn as much new information as I expected.  Having made a study plan, executed that plan, and measured the results it was time to make improvements.  My goal during this two week period was to prepare for the exam.  It was not to become proficient in ham radio.  There is more to be learned attending club meetings, Hamfests and through an Elmer (mentor) than by reading a book.  I spent the first half of day two studying online flash cards at  At first I did not try to answer any questions.  I only hit the <Submit> button to bring up the correct answer which I then associated with the question by memorizing the answer, learning the underlying concept, or differentiating it mnemonically from the other answers.  It appears because I was not answering questions they were being reintroduced along with those randomly selected from the test pool.  Once I started recognizing questions I could answer I switched to answering the flash card questions I remembered and focusing on the answers to the questions I got wrong.  That evening I started taking the General license practice tests and continually passing them on the same web site.  Be warned, however, that once you sign up for an account the site reintroduces questions on which you do poorly to improve your knowledge.  This makes test scores drop and no longer an indicator of your expectation of passing.  Take a few free tests at paid sites like  I considered preparing for the Extra exam next and took a look at the question pool, but with only twelve days of constantly interrupted time left, I decided to prepare for the Extra exam after I passed the Technician and General exams.

I left early for the half hour drive on test day, but was still a few minutes late for the exam because the directions I had were very poor.  I arrived apologetically with my driver's license and passport which they didn't want to see and after filling out a license application exchanged $15 for the Technician question booklet and answer sheet.  I read the questions carefully, but only skimmed the answers until I found the one I remembered from the practice exams.  A few minutes later I handed in my exam which was quickly graded by one of the four volunteer examiners.  The grading grid corresponding to my test version was placed over top and with the nod of a head I was assured that I had passed the Technician exam.  There is only one sitting fee for the day so there was no extra charge for the General license exam which was noticeably harder.  Unable to remember the Google Voice telephone number I was using, I had to turn my cell phone back on to retrieve the number for the General exam answer sheet which prompted one examiner to ask why I was on my phone during the exam.  If you go that route (it's free), make sure to write the number on a scrap of paper because you have to provide it several times on various forms.  Another nod of approval along with a comment that I had missed four and I was off to the restroom while they finished my license application form.  They invited me to take the Extra exam next, but I declined.  I think they wanted to see if I could pass all three in one hour.  I had not even looked at that question pool.  When I got home confirmed I would have only gotten about half right.  In all I was in the testing building for forty minutes which is about as long as it took to drive home since I now knew the way.

Although I will be taking the Extra exam at the local club meeting next month to see if I can pass it, I do not know that I will go any further into ham radio.  Some of those radios cost more than my 1989 F250.  For only $55 I have exceeded my goal.  Not only do I have a portable radio that is programmed with transmit, receive, and PL codes for local 2 meter, 70 cm, and emergency responder repeaters, but because I forward the free Google Voice number to my wife's cell phone before I leave for the retreat I can use the repeater auto-patch to make a local call right to her cell phone which would otherwise be long distance.  The radio also acts a a scanner for the frequencies it covers, has a flashlight/flashing beacon, and even picks up commercial FM broadcasts so I can listen to music at night.  It can be programmed for FRS, GMRS, and MURS frequencies, but does not meet the idiot proof requirements for certification under FCC Part 95 for those bands.  Besides, even the low power setting is twice that allowed on FRS.  Nevertheless, I am ordering a N9TAX Slim Jim antenna from  so I can better broadcast to all my bubble pack FRS/GMRS radios in the event the FCC ceases to exist.

In closing I want to say do not be discouraged if you need to study a little longer.  I had eighteen years of public education which was focused on the ability to pass tests.  Learn the correct answers to the questions, get licensed, then join a local club if want to actually learn to do more than make emergency calls. - 73

Friday, April 12, 2013

Dear JWR,
I read the Ham Radio Standardization Article with great interest.  Most preppers are integrating some type of VHF/UHF communications into their plans.  These communications could be MURS, FRS, GMRS, or Amateur (Ham) radio.  In a March 2, 2013 CNET article by Declan McCullagh, I read some rather unsettling information.  In detailing some of DHS's specifications for their version of the Predator Drone, the author states:

"CBP's specifications say that signals interception and direction-finding technology must work from 30MHz to 3GHz in the radio spectrum. That sweeps in the GSM and CDMA frequencies used by mobile phones, which are in the 300MHz to 2.7GHz range, as well as many two-way radios."
The specifications say: "The system shall provide automatic and manual DF of multiple signals simultaneously. Automatic DF should be able to separate out individual communication links." Automated direction-finding for cell phones has become an off-the-shelf technology: one company sells a unit that its literature says is "capable of taking the bearing of every mobile phone active in a channel."

The 30 mHz through 3 GHz range covers ALL VHF and UHF frequencies for ham, FRS, GMRS, MURS, Business, Public Safety, Military, and Marine.  Technician Class ham radio operators only have one phone (voice) band below 30 mHz and that is the 28 MHz 10 meter band.  The 10 meter band is not well suited for close-in communications and while it certainly is capable of providing long distance communications, the propagation is highly unreliable and depends on a pretty high sunspot number to raise the MUF (maximum usable frequency) high enough to enable those communications.

I would recommend that preppers consider obtaining the FCC's General Class license.  With the General Class license, the prepper will have access to ALL ham bands below 30 MHz.  Many of these are well suited to close-in communications as well as long distance communications, day or night. 

One disadvantage to these HF communications is the size of the antenna.  A simple [half-wave] wire dipole antenna on the 10m band (28 MHz) is around 16.5 feet long.  At the bottom of the HF (below 30 mHz) spectrum, the 160m wire dipole would be 246 feet long.  Portability would be an issue, however the antennas are simple, light weight, cheap and easy to make yourself.  There are many battery powered HF radios.  The Yaesu FT-817, Yaesu FT-897, and the MFJ 9410, 9417, 9420, 9475 series are just a few examples of voice-capable portable HF radios.  If you get into Morse code, there are more options for portable HF radios as there are countless kits available that allow you to build a working radio for as little as $40 up to $1,400.

In conclusion I would like to say that I have heard many preppers say they don't need to obtain an amateur (ham) license that when TSHTF, they will just use whatever communication gear they need to.  I say to this, you will need to know how to build an antenna, need to know what frequencies are suitable for certain distances and certain times of day, and operating procedures. The amateur radio license is a license to learn and I highly recommend that you start learning now, before disaster strikes. - K. in OK

Thursday, April 11, 2013

Good Day James,
I'm a long time fan of your books and your blog thanks for all that you do. There is some great information there. I am interested in finding out if your [local] group or another group has established any ham radio frequencies that may serve as a beacon of information in a SHTF situation or are you totally off the grid when that time comes. I do have your IP written down, but was just curious... Regards, J.M., USMC

JWR Replies: The folks at Radio Free Redoubt are already doing a fine job of coordinating communications with their AmRRON Communications Nets. Their fine efforts have even included crypto, via one time pad generating software. To clarify: Radio Free Redoubt is a separate entity that is loosely affiliated with SurvivalBlog and it is the voice of the American Redoubt Movement. Both Radio Free Redoubt and their AmRRON Communications Nets have my support and approval, but I must remind folks to be sure to maintain vigilant OPSEC and COMSEC!

Sunday, March 17, 2013

Solar [coronal] mass ejections occur most frequently at the peak of the 11 year solar cycle.  Statistics show that Earth will get a direct hit from a major solar mass ejection every about every 500 years. This estimate comes from the number of solar mass ejections we see and frequency. Now figure in the size of the Earth versus the size of the solar mass ejection. The calculation is similar to the odds of a pin landing on a particular point on a globe, except Earth is the pin and the globe is the sun. In the end, we can estimate that Earth will get hit every 500 years or so by a flare large enough to affect our electronics.

This doesn't mean that life will end when the next one hits. Solar storms come in different intensities. The impact of a solar mass ejection our civilization will depend on its strength and the technology we think we need to get by.

Satellites in orbit are the most sensitive when it comes to solar radiation. They lack the protection of Earth's atmosphere. Those satellites on the side of the Earth that is facing the Sun during a major solar flare would have component failures. However, not all satellites would be lost. There are different designs of satellites, with some more shielded [or "hardened"] than others. Satellites on the back side of Earth couldn't be affected unless the solar flare and its accompanying radiation showered the Earth for many hours as the satellite's rotation brought it to the day side. And variations in the Earth's magnetic field could offer protection to some satellites. We would see a mix of charred, failing and fully functional satellites. We can’t know when a flare will hit except for the likelihood of it occurring during the peak of the solar cycle, so no nation can protect all of its satellites by keeping them on the night side of the Earth.
Your Best Defense Against This

Don't rely on GPS or Global Positioning Satellite Systems for navigation. Know your route or know how to get there with only paper maps. And never rely on GPS-based geocaching to find hidden supplies in an emergency. If we see a massive release of solar radiation that is the natural equivalent of an Electromagnetic Pulse (EMP) weapon, then your GPS capability will probably be gone.
Long AC Transmission Lines

Safety equipment designed to prevent overloads will protect most of the transformers connected to long Alternating Current or AC power transmission lines. However, some transformers will get overloaded by the field strength of a solar flare or solar storm. The bad news is that this means that utility crews will still have to replace hundreds of transformers in addition to resetting thousands of circuit breakers where the safety equipment prevented the transformer from overloading. This is a slow process, and it is hampered by the fact that we don’t have a huge stockpile of transformers for a disaster of this scale. (Although stockpiling spare transformers has been recommended as a step to minimize the impact of a nuclear weapon or EMP pulse weapon unleashed on the United States.) The task is made more complex by the need to bring thousands of [power plants and] power lines back on line and in [phase] sync to restore the [three] power grids in CONUS]. [JWR Adds: The manufacturing lead times for large transformers are as long as 24 months!]

Power distribution systems would be massively disrupted for anything greater than a mid-scale flare, but the power distribution system would be spotty failures for anything less than mid-scale flares.  These failure rates will be affected by any improvements in the overload protection devices that hopefully have been made since the Northeast Blackout of 1965. If the recommended overload protections were put in place and maintained, the size and scope of outages would be reduced.

Your Best Defense Against This
You should know how to disconnect your home from the local power grid as soon as you have warning of imminent power disruptions, [via your main breaker.] At a minimum, have the means on hand to live a few weeks without electricity. It would be better to have renewable power sources or a generator and fuel stores on your property.

The Internet

The Internet itself will go mostly dark. Why? Imagine what happens if 99% of the servers go off line. They have not all been destroyed. They simply need power to be available. Without the power grids up, the Internet will be crippled. 

Many servers will be without power due to the damage to the power grid. Those servers that are still running will be isolated by power outages to the hubs they use to transmit information. A functional server in a computer room is a hub in the Internet. If it cannot connect to the major nodes to relay information then it might as well be turned off. And in an emergency like this, facilities running off of generator-supplied power will focus on properly shutting down rather than keeping extra servers running once they’ve backed up their data.

Fiber optic lines will be okay. However, with the disruption of power in the AC transmission lines, means that the fiber optics will be "dark" until they get power again. Those relying on Skype or Internet access will be left in the dark, since fiber optic lines won't run without power, and the backup option of Internet via satellite will not be an option.
Your Best Defense Against This
Have other methods of contacting family members, such as [FRS , GMRS, or MURS] walkie-talkies and ham radio. Document everyone’s phone number in a [hard copy] address book, and make multiple copies so that you can find their contact information even if the Internet is essentially dead.
Back up your data locally, regardless of whether or not you perform online backups. Have local sources of any information that you frequently reference. And make sure you have entertainment on hand that does not rely on an Internet connection.


Laptops with batteries are relatively immune to solar flares. They receive power from the battery and so will remain operational until the battery runs out. [If disconnected from outside power or data cables] they will not get fried by a solar flare. However, they could be ruined by an EMP weapon [if in very close proximity].  Desktop computers will be in worse shape. The thousands of miles of power, phone, and Ethernet cables connecting many desktop computers act like long antennas, picking up the voltage generated by the solar mass ejection. The cables connecting the computers thus have the potential to damage desktop computers [or any laptops that are connected.]
Your Best Defense Against This
Use surge protectors and UPS in your home network. Keep laptop batteries charged, and have spare batteries. [Leave computers disconnected from power and data cables when not in use.]


Land line telephone [handsets] will probably be fine. Land line phones receive power through the same copper wire bundle that the phone signal travels through. Each land line home phone is connected to the phone company with up to several miles of telephone line.  These lines are generally far too short to be affected by an event like a solar storm, but they are at much more at risk to EMP  The Central Offices (COs) changed over from tradition relays to computerized switching decades ago. So the phone systems are now at greater risk since the computerized systems are less robust.  In short, the phone lines may work but the computers than handle the call routings may go down.

Cordless phones in homes with land-line phone lines will work as long as there is power to the home or the batteries are charged. Households relying entirely on cell phones are in trouble.
Your Best Defense Against This
Keep at least one tradition land line phone handset in your home. Own additional methods of communication like ham radio rigs, and know how to use them. Some of the hand-cranked Emergency Radios can also charge cell phones, and this is a good 'tie-breaker' when deciding which Emergency Radio to buy.

Ham Radio

Amateur radio or ham radio would be temporarily affected by the solar flare, disrupted until the radiation [in the ionosphere] has peaked and passed. After that point, ham radio equipment will run as long as there is power to run them. Those with hand crank radios will be able to listen. Ham radio operators with backup generators or photovoltaics will be able to transmit. 2 meter transmissions that depend on grid-powered repeaters will be limited to line of sight transmission.

Your Best Defense Against This
Find battery-powered ham radio equipment, so that you can always stay in touch. Own at least one method of recharging the batteries that is not reliant on the power grid, whether it is a hand-crank receiver or a PV panels (for transceivers.)

Personal Electronics

Small personal electronics like cell phones, laptops, tablet computers and televisions will initially be fine after a solar mass ejection.
They have the Earth's atmosphere shielding them. Their electronic components will be fine. However, the device's functionality depends on power, whether this comes from a crippled power grid, local generator or renewable power.

The problem for users will come from the damage to the communication networks these devices rely upon. For example, television stations and cell phone towers will be out. Cell phone towers have good backup batteries; they are designed to last 4 to 8 hours off of the battery. This works well during electrical storms that disrupt power [briefly], permitting local users to still make calls. However, in an extended power outage, the cell phone towers themselves will go offline within 8 hours unless they are powered by PV panels [which is very uncommon]. generators or a working local power source. At this point, even those with a working cell phone [handset] cannot complete calls.
Your Best Defense Against This

For each device you cannot live without, maintain at least two spare batteries for it. Better yet, have a battery charger for those batteries so that they will continue to function no matter how long the grid is down. You may also want to buy an antenna to ensure that your television can still receive local channels [rather than relying on a cable television service provider. ] Local television stations often have generators and transmitters on site and will continue broadcasting news even if a solar storm ruins satellites. [Their ability to do so will be limited by the depth of their fuel supplies for their backup generators.]


[Vehicles will be unaffected by solar storms.] The studies I have read say that about 1 vehicle in 10 will be rendered inoperable [by EMP], not the near 100% that some alarmists have predicted.   Older vehicles [with traditional ignition systems nd fuel management systems] will be completely unaffected as long as the owner has gasoline to run them. [JWR Adds: If the field strength of EMP is high enough to destroy a vehicle's electronic ignition system or fuel management system microprocessors, then you would be so close to a nuclear weapon that you would inside of its blast radius. So you would probably be dead before you'd ever have the chance to see if one of the affected vehicles started.]

The greater problems will come from the power outages. If satellites are out, the payment systems that rely on satellites to connect to a bank and withdraw payment will not work. If power is out, most gas pumps will not work. Traffic becomes a nightmare when power outages wipe out traffic control.  
Your Best Defense Against This
Stock up on stabilized gasoline. Carry cash so that you can pay for gasoline, if necessary. Carry maps in your car, instead of relying on GPS.

[JWR Adds: For additional perspectives with greater technical detail, see the EMPACT America web site. My recent blog article, titled Islands in the Darkness: Some Local Power Utilities Have Prepared to Go It Alone may also be of interest.]

Saturday, February 16, 2013

Mr. Rawles,
I have to make a comment about information in this article that is just wrong and I have seen others wrongly assume on the internet before.

There is ABSOLUTELY NO REASON to keep metal within the cage from touching the conductor that makes up the Faraday Cage. The reason is that the cage (assuming it has been constructed without gaps or holes, as it should be) forms an "INFINITE" barrier between the electric fields inside and outside of the cage. No electric field can go through the cage because they are dispersed across the surface and do not propagate through. The inside and outside are electrically isolated from each other.

As an experiment, take a radio that is receiving and you can hear the music, wrap it in aluminum foil and make sure the antenna is TOUCHING the metal. As soon as you make a completely enclosed cage, the radio will go to static because the waves CANNOT reach the antenna. The charge is only on the outside.

People falsely believe things cannot touch the side because the cage is a conductor. As I have explained, when constructed correctly, the outside and inside are in isolation.

Just to qualify my responses, I am an electrical engineer who studied electromagnetics in school and I work in the power industry. I did not list the equations to prove the material, but I can send detailed information about why electric fields do not go through conductors, only propagate on the outside. Or, you can pickup any introductory electromagnetics textbook and read about Faraday's experiments and equations and other information for yourself from people who are a lot smarter than us.
Thank you, - Cason R.

Sunday, February 10, 2013

Those of us who frequent this web site, the prepper community, prepare for a host of potential crises that may befall our nation.  Some are more likely than others, but most share a common background when it comes to being prepared for them.  The event of an EMP strike, however, requires some very specific knowledge and safeguards.  This is a serious enough issue that a study was commissioned by congress several years ago, which found that the threat was real and that we were woefully unprepared. This essay will provide a brief description of the event itself with some supporting history, discuss the likelihood of such an event occurring, and finally go over the potential impact of an EMP strike with recommendations for preparations.
What is an EMP?

EMP stands for Electro Magnetic Pulse, a powerful burst of electromagnetic radiation that interacts with the Earth’s atmosphere and creates a wave of electrons that travel outward at the speed of light.  This “pulse” lasts only milliseconds, but the magnetic field that it produces creates a powerful electric current in conductive material through the Faraday principle.  There are actually three components to an EMP, but only the first, called the E1 wave, is considered a threat.  (The E2 mimics disruption by lightning and is comparatively easy to shield against, and the E3 phase is similar to a solar flare but would typically not reach the ground in a high altitude burst.)

This type of energy occurs naturally in the form of solar flares, but can also be man-made in the form of a nuclear burst.  While a solar event is possible, and strong examples have occurred in the past, it is typically much weaker than a weapon-based pulse, which will be the focus of this article.  EMP energy travels in line-of-sight, so ground bursts actually have much more localized effects.  The most damaging type of strike for EMP production occurs at altitudes of 40-400km above the surface of the Earth, where line of sight extends for thousands of square miles.  At altitudes such as these there is no blast damage, fallout, or even dangerous radiation.  Certainly these are the immediate and disastrous effects of a detonation near the ground, along with the now universally known mushroom cloud.  Why, then, with this kind of damage potential, would someone choose to exploit the EMP effects of a nuclear blast rather than the direct destruction?  Read on…

EMP- The early years:

EMP was discovered by accident to be the byproduct of a nuclear explosion.  In early tests, recording instruments located miles from the blast were destroyed by energy that traveled through cables and power lines, and in some significant early tests there was a demonstrable “practical application” component for EMP production and use.  Many people are familiar with the two historical examples of nuclear tests that resulted in measurable damage from an EMP.  The first is the 1962 American hydrogen bomb known as Starfish Prime, detonated 400km above the Pacific Ocean, and estimated at 1.4 megatons in yield.  The effects of the EMP component couldn’t be accurately measured since many of the instruments maxed out their readings, but the effects were felt 900 miles away in Hawaii.  300 streetlights were knocked out along with the phone exchange and many alarm systems.  It also crippled 1/3 of the satellites then in orbit, including some early communications models.  If this doesn’t sound severe, remember several key things about this test:

  • It was intentionally detonated over the ocean far away from any landmass
  • The Earth’s magnetic field at that location actually minimized the effects because it was located far from the poles
  • The electronics of the 1960s were very simple and robust compared to the circuit boards and microprocessors used today.  Cars were not fuel injected, there were virtually no computers, satellite communication was extremely limited, most electronics were vacuum tube based, and cell towers were non-existent.

The second test of note was a Soviet air burst in a series known as test 184.  It was “only” a 300 kiloton burst, but it took place over sparsely populated Kazakhstan.  The EMP from this blast caused a massive voltage surge in an underground power line, started a fire in the power station and burned up several generators that were not even connected to the grid.  (Presumably due to the lengthy copper winding present in generators that would mimic a long power cable as far as current induction.)

Bear in mind that neither of these tests were tailored to generate EMP, and note the difference in the size of the warheads.  As further research revealed, the size of the yield is not proportional to the EMP energy released.  Smaller warheads are in some cases more lethal in this regard than the big ones, and weapons have since been engineered to maximize EMP production.

So, what’s the point?

The intent of the history above is to demonstrate that the EMP generated by a nuclear device is not just theory, and that it acts as a force multiplier.  During the cold war we had thousands of nukes designed to literally destroy an enemy’s ability to wage war.  If they had been employed, we could have leveled nations and left nothing but a smoking ruin.  Now, with the SALT treaties and efforts to limit nuclear proliferation, only a select few nations have nuclear weapons and with few exceptions, none have more than a handful.  Compared to the still-impressive might of the American nuclear arsenal, small players such as North Korea, Iran, or even well funded terrorist cells might only be able build, buy or steal a small number of weapons.  Two or three would probably be the most they could field.  (Make no mistake, there are weapons available; by most accounts there are over 100 missing Soviet weapons, many of them the small “suitcase” variety of tactical nukes.)  With ground bursts they could clearly decimate our largest cities, kill hundreds of thousands and cause trillions of dollars in damage.  But, if they were to employ even small nuclear weapons in a high altitude burst, three bombs could literally cover most of North America with an EMP burst.  With a design intent similar to the neutron bomb, there would be little to no physical damage done by the actual nuclear blast.  In fact, from a high enough altitude there wouldn’t even be a sound, just a bright flash if you happened to be looking in the right direction.  The damage they are capable of makes ground burst weapons and dirty bombs seem like an almost welcome alternative.

Okay, it sounds bad, but it’s not like this would ever happen…

The reality is that during the cold war, no one fired off a weapon because it would have been immediately apparent who was responsible (through missile launch tracking), and the retribution that America and her allies would have delivered was too awful to consider.  We knew who the bad guys were, but more importantly they knew that we knew and it kept everyone honest.  Even if they had destroyed Washington and all of our land based missiles, we would have had enough warning to alert our airborne SAC bombers and the Navy’s ballistic missile subs, which would have delivered more than enough counterstrike to make the whole thing an exercise in futility.  The old policy of mutually assured destruction really did have merit and it kept an uneasy peace, but the world today is completely different.  We now face an enemy who is difficult to put a face on, impossible to identify, and hates us for no other reason that the fact that we are a nation of free infidels.  Muslim terrorists are unlike anyone else we have fought, and our nuclear deterrent is from their point of view no deterrent at all:

  • They have demonstrated the desire and ability to kill Americans and cripple our country whenever and wherever possible.  Two attacks at the World Trade Center, embassy bombings, The USS Cole attack, and countless smaller events prove that they have the will and can execute complex and lengthy planning.
  • Muslim terrorists have no compunction about dying in the process of the attack; in fact that is their ultimate goal.
  • Those that subscribe to Sharia law believe that it is their duty to convert or kill non-believers
  • Terror groups have now linked with other countries to expand their capabilities and global reach, and we have no shortage of detractors around the world.  There is evidence of communication between Islamic terrorists and Mexican cartels, as well as between Iran and North Korea.

It goes without saying that most of the world’s Muslims have no interest in this, but those that do are sometimes well funded through oil-rich state sponsors.  As mentioned above, there are many unaccounted for weapons from the old Soviet Bloc.  Several countries were left with nuclear weapons when the Bloc broke up, including Armenia, Kazakhstan, Belarus and Ukraine.  Many of them are poorly inventoried and protected, meaning that if they were stolen there is some doubt that the theft would even be noticed or reported.  There is also a strong possibility that they could be sold by cash-poor nations or even individuals to unscrupulous customers.  State run nuclear programs are also not above suspicion;  China, Pakistan and North Korea all have weapons that could find their way into the wrong hands.  In the event of a ground burst detonation, it would take some time to analyze the residue and try to determine the origin of the bomb.  In the event of an air burst EMP strike we may never be able to determine who was responsible.  As we will shortly see, this type of attack has far-reaching consequences that would be far more disastrous than even a detonation in one of our largest cities. 

The delivery method of such an attack is not nearly as complicated as you might think.  Ballistic missiles are expensive, complex and highly technical, as is evidenced by the failures of North Korea to build and launch one in the past few years. The delivery system for an EMP strike does not need to be nearly so precise.  In fact, it might be the simplest part of the entire thing; certainly much less so that building or acquiring a nuclear weapon.  As we will see when we begin discussing the effects of the pulse, the EMP is not a surgical strike.  In fact, it could conceivably be hundreds of miles off course when detonated and still cause massive levels of damage.  If multiple weapons were used to provide overlap, accuracy becomes even less important.  Here are some of the potential methods for lofting a weapon to the appropriate altitude for a successful strike.  For maximum results a high altitude of 40-400km is ideal, but even a burst at lower altitude will cause damage for hundreds of square miles.  If an attack were to include the Eastern seaboard of the US, or the Pacific coast, tens of millions of people would be affected.

  • High altitude balloon
  • Jet aircraft; i.e. a chartered business jet
  • Medium range missile launched from a ship
  • Low satellite orbit

If the methods above seem a little odd, remember that we are dealing with a “simple” nuclear device.  It does not require a complex targeting system, a military aircraft, or any type of specialized delivery system.  Iranian Shahab-3 missiles, purchased from North Korea, and others in development might be candidates.  Also, North Korea just last month put their first satellite into space and Iran has similar ambitions.  While these two options are reserved for nations with substantial funding, balloon delivery and chartered jet are within the range of virtually any group.  This may seem farfetched, but the weapons and the delivery systems already exist, and there are plenty of groups who would be happy to employ them.  This is not science fiction, and is well within the realm of possibility.
So what happens when it goes off?
The impact of an EMP strike on modern society is open to a great deal of conjecture.  The last tests, mentioned previously, were in 1962 and the technology of today is vastly different.  Broken down simply, an EMP has the potential to affect the following:

  • Electrical power generation
  • Communication
  • Transportation
  • Microprocessors

There are many subsets of the four categories above, which will be examined below, and it is important to remember that they are all interrelated.  For example:  Your power has gone down due to an EMP strike and you need replacement parts to get it up and running.  The problem is that you need power to manufacture replacement components, a method for conveying what exactly you need, and the transportation to bring the components to your plant.  As a more local example, with no communication you can’t call and report a fire, the water pressure at the hydrant isn’t maintained because the pumping station has no power, and the fire trucks may not be functional anyway.  A blow to any of the four will adversely affect the other two. 

The E1 component of an EMP is a powerful magnetic wave, and it creates a massive voltage spike in metal components.  The energy is measured in volts per foot, so longer the metal, the more power is generated.  This means that long high-tension transmission lines could generate huge amounts of power, which would blow transformers and cause severe damage to power generation plants.  Let’s break down each of the above three broad categories and see how they would impact life in these United States.

Power generation:

Right now when the power goes out it’s annoying, and we sit and fume for the few hours it takes to replace a downed line or transformer knowing that American Idol is coming on.  An EMP has the potential to knock out virtually all of the power plants and transformers within line of sight from the blast.  (Remember, from an altitude of 40-400km, or up to 250 miles, “line of sight” only ends at the curvature of the earth.  An airliner only flied at 6-7 miles high, so imagine the vast area that line of sight covers from that vantage point).  There is evidence to suggest that the E1 pulse, which travels at or near the speed of light, would not be stopped by most surge protectors, meaning that much of the standard lighting protection equipment would offer no shielding.  Imagine the casualties in the immediate aftermath.  Hospital life support systems would shut down; even those with underground generators that might avoid destruction only have a fuel supply sufficient for a few days.  During the colder months people may freeze to death without heat in as little as a few days.  Food rapidly spoils.  Gas stations can’t pump gas even if the vehicles are operational.  All of the automatic monitoring and management of utilities, gas and oil pipelines, infrastructure down to the traffic lights.  Telephone exchanges and standard radios are useless, as is anything that you plug into a wall.  What could be worse than having all the power out in an instant… and not being able to find out what happened.  No internet, no cell service, no phones.  The water treatment plant is shut down and your toilets may back up.  Depending on where you live, you may immediately lose water pressure when the pumps go down.  As mentioned, there is no firefighting capability and fires which would have been easily contained now rage out of control.  Instead of one townhouse with a small fire, the entire row burns to the ground, or the entire apartment building, high-rise, etc. 


Many of us don’t appreciate our modern communication network, which is heavily satellite based.  While an EMP wouldn’t take out satellites beyond the curvature of the Earth, those within line of sight are at risk.  Also knocked down would be cell towers, relay stations, computers and servers, etc.  There is some debate over whether or not small transistor devices such as two way radios would survive, but even they would provide a very limited range for communication.  Some military hardware is hardened against EMP, but only a small percentage of it.  With no comm systems intact you cannot call for help, check on your family, organize relief efforts, or even find out how extensive the damage is.  The pony express may make a sudden resurgence in popularity.  Satellite damage will also preclude the use of GPS systems and national defense, and with the damage to the power grid and transportation systems it will not be easily repaired.

The effect of an EMP on our national transportation system is up for some debate; it could range from severe impact to negligible damage and there is no easy way to test the theories.  Since this is a forum for preparedness and survival, we will examine a worst case scenario.  Aircraft are one of the biggest unknowns in an EMP; they are designed to absorb lightning damage but as mentioned above, the E1 pulse is faster than lightning and may “leap over” the standard safeguards.  If this is the case, then aircraft would literally fall from the sky.  Modern jets do not glide well at all, and most require computers for operation.  The loss of life would be heavy, not just from passengers being killed but from the aircraft on approach and departure crashing in populated areas and the fires that would result.  Remember the comment above about lack of firefighting ability?  Even a single airliner going down could burn massive areas of a city.  Trains would likely cease to function as well, since most of the controls are computerized and in some cases they are powered by electricity from an external source.  Trains carrying hazardous waste that are unable to stop in time or divert to side tracks could be catastrophic. Cars and trucks are the biggest question mark in this equation.  While most cars produced since the late 1980’s are computer controlled, the electronics are fairly robust.  It is possible that they may experience a brief problem or not function as well, but many may keep driving even if in a limited capacity.  Older models and carbureted vehicles would probably fare much better.  Generally the simpler the ignition system, the less likely the vehicle would be incapacitated by an EMP.  Many motorcycles, ATVs, riding mowers, etc would likely continue to function.  The good news is that even in modern cars the computers are simple and may retain some functionality.  Vehicles parked underground in concrete parking structures may be shielded from a pulse and continue to function.  In the final section, we will mention a few steps that might keep your car running.


Virtually everything electronic today has some form of microprocessor control.  Obviously if the power is down then this is a moot point, but what about the large number of battery powered devices that rely on these controls?  The short answer is that no one is sure what will happen.  Think for a moment about the devices that you may be relying on as part of your preparations that could cease to function:

  • LED lights
  • Electronic optics (EO Tech and Aimpoint are most common)
  • Two-way radios
  • Small battery powered radios
  • Portable computers (Meaning that documents saved might not be accessible even on the hard drive.)
  • Home standby generators with automatic controls
  • Some medical devices such a pacemakers

So what are we supposed to do?
With all of the above in mind, how do you prepare for an event that creates an EMP?  There is not much that you can do to preserve the integrity of your local power grid and communications systems, but you can prepare some obvious backups.  The problem then is how do you shield your power supply, communications, transportation and microprocessors from the pulse when it happens?  What are the first steps you should take to stay ahead of the curve and secure your family?  We will break down your areas of concentration into several categories and dig a little deeper into each one.  The good news, if there is any, is that an EMP is an instant event and you don’t have to worry about overreacting or convincing your family that there is a problem.  In fact, you will have several critical hours, (maybe even days), where the rest of the neighborhood/town/city is trying to figure out what the hell just happened.  (That said, there may be a small benefit to waiting for a brief time before repairing things.  Earlier we talked about the potential for several weapons to be employed and an overlap of affected areas; if another weapon is detonated 15 minutes after the first and you have just fixed your car or taken your secured items out, it will require another fix or potentially ruin your sensitive items.)  Remember, there are no phones, no TV, no internet and most of the population in classic fashion will be sitting on the front porch cursing at the government and wondering when someone is going to come out and fix this for them.  In this case more than most, forewarned is forearmed, and reacting just a little quicker than the population at large can make the difference between life and death.  The primary focuses are going to be the same that we talked above previously; power, communication, transportation, and some concern for microprocessors, with the addition of these:

  • Water
  • Food
  • Security
  • Heat

Let’s go through the list and see what we can do to mitigate the effects of an EMP event both before and immediately afterward.


If you have a bike, you have EMP proof transportation.  Unfortunately you won’t have an advantage over everyone else with a bike.  If you have access to a motorcycle, ATV, or older carbureted truck, it will probably keep on running or at the most require a new ignition box.  If you have a new vehicle, try the following before abandoning it:  First, examine the fuse box and replace any that may have been blown.  (It is not a bad idea anyway to carry extra fuses and relays with you.  For EMP protection, wrap them in a paper towel and then in foil.)  Before you replace them, disconnect the power cable from the battery and leave it off while you work with the fuses.  Most automotive computers have a “reset” function where removing the power supply for a few minutes will cause a re-boot when you energize it again.  If the computer or key sensors have been destroyed by the pulse this will not help, but most systems are also designed with the ability to operate to a limited degree without full capability.  This is why bad sensors may cause a dash light to illuminate, gas mileage to decline or the emissions test to fail but won’t actually cause the car to stop running.  Once the fuses and relays have been replaced connect the battery and try to start the vehicle.  If it runs, great!  If not, grab your GHOB and anything useful in the vehicle and start walking home.  As a side note, security will rapidly become a problem so if it is legal for your to carry a weapon in your car, this is a compelling reason to do so.  It may be a long walk home.


This is the time to fill all of the bathtubs and every other container that you own with water.  The generators at the pumping stations and treatment plant may or may not work; you may only get whatever water is currently in the pipes and can be drained by gravity.  Don’t trust the quality of it either, treat and filter like you would water from any suspect source.  For filtration, a gravity-fed unit like a Berkey is preferable to something requiring a lot of manual labor or electricity.  Make sure you have this prior to the event, since you won’t be placing any online orders for the time being.  Take your water very seriously; simple infections can be deadly with no medical care, and many people will drink from the faucet out of habit not realizing that the treatment plant many not be functioning.


We all know that grocery stores only have a few days supply of food on the shelves, so with the power out and transportation crippled it won’t last long.  If you are prepared, you can capitalize on the slow reaction of the rest of the population to fill in any gaps in your supplies.  Take whatever transportation you have and get to the grocery store, now.  I’m talking about minutes after it happens.  Bring your credit cards and cash, and if possible go to a smaller store rather than a big chain.  Even though the power is out, smaller stores often still have manual credit card devices that create an imprint of the card.  I am not suggesting that you defraud anyone, and when the power comes back on (eventually) you will absolutely be responsible for any charges.  It certainly beats the hell out of starving to death though, so stock up on canned goods, bottled water, first aid supplies and non-perishables.  If the store doesn’t have a manual credit card machine use whatever cash you have on hand, but you probably won’t be bartering with gold and silver at this point.  No one will be all that worried at first and assume it is just a large power outage, so when you try to pay in old dimes don’t expect them to go for it.  Go to as many stores as possible and stock up; with manual machines in use you won’t hit any credit limit.  Crank up your old Jeep, find a trailer, and go shopping before the barbarian hordes arrive.  When you get home, use up all of your refrigerated items quickly.  Cook your refrigerated meat over charcoal to save your propane for heating and boiling water later.  Thaw your frozen meat and salt and dry it, and plant your garden now.  Don’t wait; your supplies won’t last forever.  If you live in an area with game and fish, start shooting deer and spend time fishing, preserving the meat by drying and salting.  Once reality sets in, there won’t be a deer to be found.


Virtually everything now is controlled by some sort of circuit board or microprocessor, which may be at some risk from EMP damage.  Protecting them is easy; it just requires some forethought on your part.  The best way is to place them in a Faraday cage, which channels the electric current around a metal enclosure and shields whatever is inside as long as it is not touching the metal.  The best example is a microwave oven.  It is designed to contain radio waves, and you can usually see the metal mesh in the door.  A gun safe also works, as long as there is no metal contacting the objects inside.  Any metal enclosure will work, even mesh as long as the holes are small.  You can build them yourself use existing metal cabinets, etc.  Store anything in it that you want to survive an EMP pulse.  Medical monitors, LED flashlights and weapon lights, holographic and laser sights, two way radios, small AM/FM radios, etc.  Remember that GPS will be useless if satellites are down and so will cell phones since the towers will be knocked out.  If you have a laptop with critical documents on it try to keep printed copies on hand since you probably won’t be able to access them later.  (You might even consider printing out articles like this from this web site and keeping them in a binder, along with your food storage details and supply lists.)  A steel storage building may also provide some protection, so if your ATV, old car, generator, etc are inside they may fare well and not require any repair.  Home standby generators are generally located inside a steel enclosure, but are connected through a transfer switch to the home; there is no clear evidence one way or the other to suggest whether or not they would survive a strike.


It is safe to assume that the days following an EMP strike will be filled with examples of society at its worst.  People on life support or even those that use pacemakers will be first wave of the dead, along with those killed in fires and accidents.  A progression of disease, injury, starvation, dehydration and predation will kill many more.  It will begin with simple looting, robbery and rape as criminals realize that no one can call for help and the police are overwhelmed and can’t respond.  As the days pass and they realize that there is no food, expect gangs to form and scour the area for resources.  Expect authorities to attempt to confiscate fuel, weapons, and food; resist if possible and with deadly force if needed.  Prescription medication will be unavailable, painkillers will be stolen almost immediately and refrigerated drugs like insulin will spoil.  Suicides will increase exponentially as will violence as hundreds of thousands on anti-depressants and anti-psychotics run out of their meds.  Prisons will likely be emptied of all but the worst offenders since the guards will leave and food will quickly run out.  Lack of basic necessities makes for desperate people, and desperate people are capable of anything.  It will start in the cities, where there are not enough resources to support even a fraction of the population once the transportation system is crippled.  High rise buildings with no power cannot pump water to the upper floors, creating an immediate crisis.  From the inner cities it will spread, as the inhabitants flee looking for resources.  They will swarm over the suburbs and into the rural areas, mistakenly believing that they can “live off of the land” or that the countries rural areas have food to spare.  Many people have no appreciation for the process by which food gets to the table, and the fact is that without modern irrigation, fertilization and harvesting only a small percentage of the grain and livestock will actually be turned into food.

A bug-out shelter in Wyoming is a great idea, but not if you can’t get there, so the odds are that you will have to secure your home.  This is not the place to discuss the ideal types of weapons to use.  What is more important is that you are armed, stocked with plenty of ammunition and spare parts, and most importantly have the training and will to use what you have.  If you have stockpiled food, have a generator running, and are driving a functional vehicle, you will certainly be a target.  Your best defense is to look innocuous; keep to yourself, don’t flaunt what you have, and if possible try to surround yourself with like-minded people so that you can support each other.  Run your generator only at limited intervals and try to muffle the exhaust as much as possible.  There are plenty of resources on fortifying your home; do your research now.  Even plywood sheets over the windows can provide a degree of protection and on most houses can be cut ahead of time and kept on hand to prevent storm damage anyway.  To survive an EMP you will need to have a one year plan as a minimum, and you really can’t have enough food, fuel and medical supplies.  Remember that you will attract friends and family in the area, and take on additional dependents at your own peril.  The food that will feed your family of four for a year will feed eight for six months and twelve for only four months. 

This is just theory, but no one can deny that the possibility exists for an EMP strike and that it is in fact more likely that many other types of disasters.  They key to surviving will be to plan ahead, rapidly identify it when it happens, and then work the plan.  Remember, there is a North Korean satellite in orbit right now and the Iranians have recently practiced launching ballistic missiles from ships.  It may not be as far-fetched as you think.

Thursday, February 7, 2013

Hi Jim and Readers,
My Dakota Alert works great, as long as I can keep the batteries fresh, I find that they really use the current up fast.
I did paint the outside of my "bird nest" box with paint that looks like bark and green leaf color that I purchased in the paint department at Wal-Mart. It really helps camouflage the box, and when hanging it on a tree, most people never notice it.
As for protecting the antenna, I covered it with 1/2 inch black adhesive-lined shrink tubing available from Mouser Electronics. By shrinking it on the antenna is more resistant to  moisture, and it covers the shiny antenna and gives it better concealment.

I have also adapted and camouflaged another 2 meter band yagi antenna so that when the SHTF I can place the unit much further down the road and yet still hear the signal in my receiver. - Dave in Oregon

Wednesday, February 6, 2013

Dear Mr. Rawles, 

Greetings! I have enjoyed your blog site.  I noticed you have mentioned several times your use of Dakota Alert systems for your ranch.
This is why I am writing. I would like you input and thoughts.
I was viewing some customer comments on Amazon from those who had purchased the units.  Some complained about rust-out due to moisture (rain) after a few months. 
I then followed this up with an e-mail to Dakota Alert manufacturer. 
Bryon Pedersen of Dakota Alert responded by stating that most of the moisture issues have been resolved-except for moisture seepage into the antenna of the MURS system If the antenna is not attached properly.  Bryon stated that they cannot correct the flaw completely, but are happy to replace any item under warrantee.
I am in New England and face downpours and freezing winters.  I really could use this early warning technology-but do not wish to buy stuff that will fail within 12 months.
Also, heck, I can also make the “bird house” used to hide the detector unit-seems simple enough of a design.
I am asking you and other preppers their options as I want to keep my family safe in the face of SHTF or other intrusions.
Can you provide any updates on the use of this system?
Have you had similar problems?
Have you been able to overcome some of these problems?
Have you found alternative systems such as the Chamberlain CWA2000 Wireless Motion Alert a good substitute?
I would appreciate any or all thoughts.
Best wishes, - L.F.R.

JWR Replies: We have used a Dakota Alert for several years here at the Rawles Ranch. We live in a wet climate where we have snow for two to four months each winter and rain can be expected in any other month of the year. We have had not moisture problems with our Dakota Alert, which is mounted in one of their wooden "bird house" discreet hide/shelters. I think that the bird house keeps most of the moisture away from the black plastic case. This can be improved if you used a coat of RTV silicone around the antenna, to form a gasket for the portion of the antenna that passes through the hole in the top of the bird house. That will greatly reduce or eliminate having water drip down the antenna and get to the antenna base.

The only problem that we've had with our Dakota Alert is false alarms. In one instance this was caused by a spider that was repeatedly trying to spin a web directly in front of the IR sensor. If you find false alarms annoying, you can always always substitute an inductive loop to bury in your driveway. That way, not even deer will set off the alarm--only vehicles.

One last bit of advice: DO NOT but the junky Dakota Alert clones that are made in Mainland China, such as the Chamberlain. I've had numerous bad reports about their reliability and longevity.

Sunday, February 3, 2013

Just a few notes about RC’s article about ARES/RACES and becoming the EC.   I’ve been an emergency services volunteer since 1986 and a ham since 2003.

Actually, Amateur Radio Emergency Services (ARES) is under the control of the ARRL.   RACES is the ham radio group that is activated by a government emergency person, usually the state’s governor.   In many small areas they are combined, but ARES can operate in an emergency without specific government authority.   RACES only acts in time of war or officially declared emergencies.  Unless a war is declared or martial law declared, you can help others using the radio all you want as a Ham.  Just don’t cause interference with any emergency traffic.

In most counties, the county/parish sheriff is the highest law enforcement official in that county and in my state is responsible for Search and Rescue also.  I suspect that Federal money is what keeps RC’s sheriff in a “Hands-off” position with the FEMA personnel.  I’ve served as AEC for my counties ARES/RACES team and we take the on-line course’s plus the NIMS 18 hour classes held at our local fire departments.

Long before I joined our local ARES/RACES team, it had been pushed into being part of the county SAR teams.    When I asked why asked ARES members who only operated the radios had to take ALL of the SAR classes (many weekends), I was ignored or told, “That’s the way it’s done here.”   I now volunteer with an adjoining counties ARES team and help folks by keeping my radio on at all hours (like the old REACT Channel 9 CB’ers did). - H.B.

Saturday, February 2, 2013

I wanted to comment on my experience with my county LEPC. When I got my ham radio license in 2003 I was invited attend the sectional ARRL ARES/RACES meeting being held at the local court house. I jumped at the opportunity to meet my local ham brothers. For those who don't know ARES/RACES is the emergency response arm of ARRL. The idea is to provide amateur radio help to the local emergency response teams of the Government including FEMA. Sounds all well and good.
The county had a total population of under 25,000 at that point. It is still close to that. At this first meeting it was presented that my county was in need of an ARRL approved county Coordinator. So being the gung-ho kind of guy I am I immediately volunteered. Better to be part of the solution than part of the problem I thought.
The process of being ARRL approved and approved involves taking a slew of FEMA instruction courses. These are done on-line and I must say quite well done and very informative. There are tests and if you pass you a shiny new certificate to put on your wall. When you have passed all required courses  and the sectional Administrator for ARRL agrees you are appointed the Emergency Coordinator for your county. I was thrilled when I was appointed. I got a great name tag and was told to contact the county FEMA person to get started helping protect my fellow residents.
I contacted the County Government to find out who that person was. I was informed that it was a Sheriffs Deputy who's name no one knew. The county sheriff was and still is  is a good guy, I knew him personally and had voted for him several times. I went off to meet him at his cop shop. He made call and a deputy showed up. Introductions were made. We had a nice little chat. After a bit she told me that she was not interested in including me or any other ham radio person on her team because I was not a professional in public safety and she dismissed me. Later the sheriff told me that he really had no influence because she was FEMA funded. I cannot fully express my dismay. I held the EC position for a couple of years and never heard from the FEMA coordinator again. Lessons learned. - R.C.

Monday, January 21, 2013

Brother Rawles,
I read your blog every night and appreciate what you stand for, and the way you live your life. My question is on the Garmin Rino 655t GPS. My family is large, but we all live somewhat close to one another just outside of Cleveland Ohio. Although this isn't optimal, the majority of us work as either firemen or policemen, so relocation would be difficult. We are trying to find the perfect radio communication system that our family could use during a SHTF scenario to communicate during a bug out to the compound. I have tried the MURS radios, as well as Midlands GMRS radios and have found them insufficient. During testing in our area, they only were able to transmit around a mile and a half. That being said, we have been looking for alternatives and I ran across these units. Although expensive, they have peer to peer GPS capabilities, allowing us to at least see where each other are. Even if we are too far to transmit, we would be able to find each other during the carnage. My question is whether or not the GPS capabilities on these Garmin units would still work during a grid down scenario? The units have a lot of other bells and whistles that would be of value including preloaded road maps and topographical maps, but if the GPS was incapacitated during a SHTF event,  there are much more affordable alternatives one can purchase to get maps and weather alerts.

Keep doing what your doing. Your work has put me on the path of clarity, and my eyes are now "open". - Andrew G.

JWR Replies: I've been told that GPS accuracy would be unaffected for at least a year, even if there is a total societal collapse in North America--that is, of course IF that societal collapse were not caused by a Carrington Event Scale solar storm! (That would wipe out most satellites.) But if there is a truly global collapse and there are no corrections from the ground control stations on any continent (very unlikely), then the accuracy of the GPS system would start to gradually degrade, within hours.

Friday, January 4, 2013

J.B. mentioned that it is important before and when bugging out to listen to all radio news reports and gather any information concerning the route.  This, of course, depends on somebody still broadcasting.  We must constantly keep up on what’s going on locally and soak up every scrap of information available.  This data is used to update the maps, note the areas to avoid, and make navigation decisions.  It will be important to constantly gather intelligence, adjust plans accordingly, and to be acutely aware of where you are.

Something I found helpful: I picked up a 1000 channel scanner from Radio Shack and updated it using the Internet. (manually inputted all the channels I consider important state and local police, EMS, fire) - and searching around you can find police/EMS/fire and a lot of other info - by county/town/state - I loaded up 300 channels in to my scanner- in hopes of avoiding trouble from Pennsylvania to Indiana on my trips out there. I have a 10 hour drive out to my goal. The unit I have also allows you to seek and lock radio frequencies on the fly, so I can add them as I move in to an area. (hopefully that will be a valuable asset)  You can gain a lot of insight listening to what is going on--car accidents, armed robberies down town, car accidents when the roads ice up, down power lines or a house fire--anything like this can be in your path, so you might get a little warning before you travel in to it. and a little warning makes a big difference, a few weeks ago- I went to get an oil change, and got to hear about multiple accidents on the highways- black ice- I had no idea it was bad, because it hadn't moved in to my end of the valley yet. it was coming my way-  I went for coffee/breakfast and a few hours later it had warmed up enough that it was a rain event. win/win.

Yes, it is expensive, but just so you know it's info- and info is one of the more important things you need when things are bad. In the land of the blind the one eyed man is king. Your primary goal is to avoid all bottlenecks in your path, and find a safe way home. you need to know what locations are with out power (no traffic lights), where the lines/poles are down (roadblocks), what is going on around you in your area. The local law enforcement officers might be on trunked radio frequencies, but then again due to budget cuts it's just as likely they might be on open channels - good news is this radio has trunking ability. (I know the basics- but like most things I'm a beginner. Check out the documentation that comes with it.) Youtube it to learn more about what it can do for you. 

I'm not a lawyer, you might want to consult one before putting this in your car. I'm sure bureaucrats have a law against it- you know for the criminal types. :p

One thing that sticks out from my Marine captain friend who did some time overseas- watch every over pass if you have to go under, go fast- as undesirable people might drop things like Molotov cocktails on your truck or in his case, grenades. bug out travel is no joke- it seems every turn is a bad situation waiting to happen. 

Good luck - hope you find this a helpful addition to your plans. - Mike in Pennsylvania

Wednesday, January 2, 2013

As your readers pointed out, Internet service in remote places can be a challenge, but also delivering this connectivity to various locations on your property presents other difficulties, too.  

If you have a voice telephone line, you've got most of what you need for dial-up Internet capability, which is painfully slow, but you will be able to pick up and send email and if you turn off all videos, images and javascript, you could do very limited web browsing.  Cable and DSL are out of the question if you live at the end of a long road with minimal neighbors because those services just don't exist out there.   Satellite is an option, but it has a bit of latency, which causes a delay in spoken conversation.  The solution for us was 900 Mhz wireless, an established and mature cellular technology.

After quite a bit of searching for wireless Internet service, I was able to locate a small wireless provider with 900 MHz service 20 miles away via line of site to a high mountain antenna.  A site visit by their tech was required to be sure we could "see" their base antenna location and we tested the signal strength.  The 14 dB yagi antenna they normally provide wasn't cutting it, so after more searching, we located this 22 dB antenna in Australia.  It cost about $150 and arrived via DHL in just a few days with a very reasonable shipping price, too.  Here's the link to the antenna.

In rainy situations, the water that sticks to the pine needles will interfere with the signal, so we had to remove several trees to get clear line of sight to our antenna and run a 200 foot power over ethernet cable from a nearby power outlet to the antenna location.  The installer from the ISP can help you with this, if you are not technical.  Keep in mind, when you are out in the country, you're on your own for many things and this level of tech isn't hard to learn how to install and maintain.  Pay attention to everything the tech is doing.

After unsuccessfully testing ethernet over power line (supposedly capable of up to 1,000 feet, but not through 2 breaker boxes), we decided to pull dedicated direct burial CAT6 wiring through 2 inch PVC pipes from this location 800 feet from the antenna location to our barn.  Since this is greater than the normal ethernet distance limitation of 100m (330 feet), we had to use an ethernet extender kit, which will provide 10/100 mb/sec network capability up to 1km of distance.  Wireless is also an option for this distance, but the cost, reliability and other factors led us to do it.  This also used only 2 of the 8 wires in the cable, so we have other potential uses for this cable.  It worked the first time we plugged it in, right out of the box!  Here's the device we used for future reference.

We are now able to get about 200K uplink and 1.5MB downlink speeds, which is much better than dial up.  Because this isn't geosynchronous satellite, there is less latency and we are able to use VOIP / Skype as well.  Do an Internet search for "wireless Internet" and the names of all the towns near you (one at a time).  Your readers might be surprised at this other option.  In the future, there will be higher speed wireless options in the 2.4 Ghz range, but those probably won't be available for some time in the "hinterboonies".

Monday, December 31, 2012

I just read your article The American Redoubt -- Move to the Mountain States.  I am confused about something.  On one hand you said to not expect high speed Internet then scrolling down further you refer to using the Internet.  There must be some sort of Internet service where you are. 
My income is acquired using my computer and high speed Internet.  So does that leave me out?
Thanks for your time. - Deborah T. in California

JWR Replies: There is dial-up Internet available in most towns in the Redoubt, but high speed (DSL, or better) is available in just a few towns and cities.  The good news, however, is that high speed Internet service is available everywhere if you are willing to pay more for satellite Internet service.  (Such as Direct PC or WildBlue.)

Check with your realtor, and include DSL on your wish list, if that is a priority.

Friday, December 7, 2012

Regarding the recent article by "Will Prep":

The otherwise well written article with lots of good information overlooked mentioning amateur (ham) radio as the very best mode of communications when he asks: "What will I do for Communications?" Any General or higher class ham with a few radios that he/she uses on a regular basis will have no problems with communications!

"Will Prep" must have lots more spare cash than the average person to even mention satellite phones!

Thanks again to JWR for this great site! Keep up the good work. - Ken M.

Tuesday, December 4, 2012

There has been a lot of debate over whether or not to remain in place or to leave your home and retreat to another location within the prepper community. Both have their advantages and disadvantages but that is not the scope of this article. I simply want to address the moment that all of us may come to, both the bug-in crowd, when they realize their initial plan is untenable, or the bug-out crowd, when they have made their decision to move to “higher ground.”
We all remember the game “Red Light, Green Light”, we played as kids and tried to outsmart the signal caller and get to our “destination” without the caller catching us. If we take this same approach and label the “signal caller” the economy/collapse, I feel we can apply the same basic principles to our decision making process in regard to leaving our current location for our safe haven, retreat, bug out location, etc.

Several years ago I was driving home with my family from a wedding we had attended in Chicago. On the morning of our departure, there had been a fairly strong storm the night before that dumped a lot of water on the I-80/I-90 corridor. The weather was clear in the morning and when we left at 0800 in the morning for our return trip to PA, we had no idea what we were in for as the Interstate had become impassable on the east bound lanes. I am not one prone to panic but there was a growing uneasiness in the pit of my stomach as I realized we were in for a very long delay. As it turned out, the highway was closed for a majority of the day as the water had flooded certain sections out. Whether by dumb luck or by the grace of God (I choose the latter), I decided we needed to turn around and get off the highway pronto. I was in the far right lane and saw a cut in the retaining wall several hundred yards up and needed to get over quickly but this was problematic since it was a 4-lane highway which had become a parking lot. The long and short of it was I was able to inch over, very slowly, and get to the turn around and head west bound to re-assess our plan and get off the highway. This episode is one that will likely repeat itself throughout the country in the event of a catastrophe, man-made or natural disaster, and solidified my belief that I don’t want to be anywhere near a scenario like this if it does occur.  We got off the highway, made our way south to Route 30, but that was blocked as well due to the influx of the I-80 traffic doing the same thing we were doing. We finally made it all the way to the Indianapolis bypass before we could head east towards Pennsylvania. We arrived 14 hours later at midnight at our home, completely exhausted, when a normal trip should have taken us 8 hours. With three small children in the car who were thankfully sound asleep, my mind was made up that I would never again consciously put my family in a position like that and have since then thought long and hard about what I need to do to protect my family when we travel long distances; both before a SHTF event and even more so after that. The event shook me to my very core, not because we were close to any dangerous situations, but because it illuminated how quickly a situation can change from a normal family trip into one of potential disaster.

What I did wrong on that return trip was fail to plan. I had no extra food or water in the car, I did not have a full tank of gas when I left Chicago (I was just going to fill up on the highway when I left) and I had no means to protect my family if the situation required it since I didn’t even have a handgun with me. I was traveling to Chicago which has the most restrictive gun laws in the country. With that said, I do not see myself traveling to the Windy City ever again with my family until the gun laws are changed in favor of concealed reciprocity.  Although nothing happened during the trip, it made me realize how fragile the thin veneer of normalcy is in this country and how quickly it can turn into a volatile situation; putting you and your family at risk.
A lot of preppers have an exfiltration plan from their current situation to a safe haven if the SHTF and we are no different but we all need to drill down on our plans and ensure they are workable in a less-than-desirable socioeconomic catastrophe. Our plan is to bug-in but we have an alternate plan to bug-out to western South Dakota where we have extended family and a large self-sufficient ranch. The only problem is getting there in one piece. How do we do this? I have asked myself this very question and have come up with some ideas and wanted to share them with your readers and also look for feedback as I know that no plan survives the first volley of shots fired.

When will I go? This is what gave me the idea for the title of this article. Presently I can see three types of scenarios that involve traveling. The first level of travel is our current social situation, which I will call a “green light” scenario. There is little to no impediment to travel across the US with the exception of high fuel costs but essentially, if you want to, you can load up and drive from coast to coast. This will not last forever. Whether by man-made or artificial catastrophes, a pre-planned False Flag or Black Swan event, at some point in the future, our ability to travel freely within this country may very well be curtailed. This is the gray area of the decision making process. Obviously we would like to be able to pick up and go at our leisure but that is simply not realistic unless you are able to see into the future so I will concentrate on the “yellow light” scenario which is that some event has triggered a less than optimal travel scenario within the US and you will not have complete access to fuel, food, water and the expectation of security so you need to plan for that contingency. The “red light” scenario is one in which travel is essentially prohibited either by law, force or instability and there would be no expectation of being able to make it from point A to point B so I will concentrate on the yellow light scenario and the assumption that you are ready, willing and able to make this monumental move before it is too late.

Where will I go if I have to leave in rapid fashion?
This is based on the premise that you have decided to leave your present location and move to a safer haven. If an apocalyptic event transpires, the looting and mayhem that happened during Hurricane Katrina and the Los Angeles riots will look like child’s play. Have an exfil plan from wherever you live, to a place of safety and make the decision to leave early and DO NOT WAIT UNTIL THE LAST MINUTE. Remember, this is a move to a place where you are going to settle for a long period of time. Family and friends who live in the country, away from large cities,  and who have land are your best bet but you must make arrangements with them well beforehand. Do not show up on their doorstep without talking to them about your plans long before you leave, and make sure they have agreed to this arrangement as well. Also, do not show up empty-handed if at all possible.  This may not be possible but as a prepper, you are doing your family a disservice if you are not ready to make a large scale move with your provisions from your present location to you safe haven. Think about how you will embark all your gear and move to your new location and have your family do at least a dry-run through.  The time to find out that you need an essential piece of equipment is not when you are doing this in prime time. The pre-planning for this move is probably the most crucial aspect of your entire relocation. Going back to my Chicago incident, had we simply looked at the local news or weather channel, we would have saved ourselves several hours even if the trip would have taken longer. We never would have gone near the interstate had we simply planned ahead. Bottom line, have a plan on where you are going to go, what are you going to bring, how are you going to transport it and when are you going to make the decision to leave?                 

What will I do for reliable transportation?
This exodus will most likely be accomplished in caravans like the wagon trains out in the old west except this time it will be SUVs and trailers. You will need to plan for food/fuel & water from your location to where you want to go and you need to be able to do it without the aid of gas stations/rest stops or any other modern day convenience (remember, this is yellow light time).  Although there may be gas available while you travel due to multiple circumstances and the type of SHTF event that you are preceding or escaping from, you should absolutely plan for a self-contained move with no outside assistance. If the assistance is there, fine, but don’t make it a lynchpin of your plan or it will fail. For my own family, I will travel west to South Dakota where we have extended family. It’s about 1,500 miles from our home so I have to answer the question; how do I refuel along the way? You do not want to carry fuel in your car and to travel that kind of distance would require more fuel than there is room in the vehicle. In addition it is highly dangerous to do this, even in the trunk. I would recommend getting a small trailer capable of towing 1,500 to 2,000 lbs and make sure your hitch has the same capacity. Inside or on your trailer, you will need a fuel storage/delivery system that allows you to refuel quickly. 55 gallon drums are relatively cheap so I would probably need two of them to make the trip. Calculate your mileage, divide by the worst gas mileage your vehicle gets and that gives you the number of gallons you need. For me its 1,500 miles divided by 15 mpg = 100 gallons. (2) 55 gallon drums will give you 110 gallons so it should do it. For me, I would add 20-30% for detours and carry 150 gallons minimum to get me where I was going. If you want to go the path of least resistance and buy the red Jerry cans, that’s 30 containers to make 150 gallons. Although simple, it is not optimal in my opinion. I have been practicing refueling with them on a regular basis and they do have some drawbacks. First, they leak, plain and simple. No matter what you do, they will leak a little and sometimes a lot if you get the nozzle twisted around while refueling. Secondly, there is the storage requirement of 30 red 5-gallon fuel cans and most garages don’t have the room for that many and everything else we have stored in there. Can it be done, sure, but I think there are better ways, especially if you have the time to plan. Regardless of what container(s) you will use, I recommend that you buy a simple pump attachment for your fuel container and run a hose from the fuel to your gas tank. This avoids a lot of spillage with the “lift and hold in place for several minutes until the fuel can is empty” routine. I have a local Tractor Supply store which carries simple hand-cranked pumps and electrical ones as well. Using the Rawlesian computation of 2 is 1 and 1 is none, having multiple ways to pump fuel is probably a good plan to have!

I will travel with my 5 x 8 enclosed trailer with a towing capacity of 3k lbs. so I can bring more gear with me. (3) 55 gallon drums will weigh approximately 1300 lbs. so I’d have an extra 1700lbs to play with for supplies. As an alternative, you may have a vehicle in your convoy that does not have a trailer but is still part of the overall plan. I have a 2’ x 6’ platform trailer that hooks into my trailer hitch. The sides of this platform are 5” tall and can carry (12) 5-gallon Jerry Cans totaling 60 gallons. With a full 15 gallon internal capacity, I can travel 1125 miles on just what I carry on the platform combined with internal fuel and would only need 20-30 more gallons to make it to our destination. The additional fuel you carried in your trailer could easily make up this shortcoming.  In the military, we called this war-gaming; thinking of every possible thing that could happen and coming up with a plan to deal with it. Have everyone take turns acting as the “doubting Thomas” and have them try to shoot holes in your plan. If it is apparent that your plans need adjusting, make it so.

Do not travel anywhere near big cities (remember my Chicago episode!). Only use the stretches of highways and Interstates where they do not go near cities like New York, Chicago, etc. My route out west, by the shortest route, takes me right near Chicago but I will bypass to the south and add upwards of 200-300 extra miles just to stay safe. I expect the cities to be congested and potentially dangerous. In addition, always have an alternate plan that gives you the ability to change routes along the way with little backtracking required. This may require some detailed planning and I would even recommend that a few persons in the group travel the route and do a route reconnaissance beforehand. Let’s say you are traveling through Iowa on your way to Wyoming and the American Redoubt and realize that your original route is blocked or less than safe. Turning around and executing a “shift on the fly” route change should not be the first time you execute this. Practice it beforehand so you get the feel for how much time and effort it will take to get a 3 to 4 vehicle convoy going in another direction. Have each vehicle ‘commander’ take turns in executing a route change so everyone is comfortable in that position if the need arises for them to take over the navigation responsibilities.

What will I do for security?
Bottom line, more crowds = more potential danger. Do not travel as a single family if at all possible. In the novel The Raggedy Edge by Michael Turnlund, there is an episode when the husband and his wife are trying to move through a roadblock and he has to make the decision to have his wife drive while he shoots from the passenger window. Don’t let this happen to you and plan for this contingency and how you are going to deal with it. If you have a convoy, you can set up a hasty blocking position and have a designated element envelop the trouble spot from the sides while the rest of the convoy sets up a base of fire.  Some of you may be reading this and saying to yourself, “I can’t handle this type of situation” and while that may well be true, you need to have individuals within your convoy who are capable of dealing with this situation or your bug-out to your safe haven may be cut very short.

If a catastrophic meltdown does happen, there will probably be rogue elements that would prey on families and take their food, fuel and gear. Think: Mad Max Beyond Thunderdome. I would travel in as large an SUV as I could and have a minimum of 2-3 other vehicles that were going to the same place or area. Remember there is safety in numbers. If you already know who you might want to travel with you, start getting together on a regular basis to discuss your evacuation plan, much like someone in a flood zone, hurricane alley, etc. Sit down with them and discuss everything that could go wrong and have a plan to deal with it. The more prepared your group is, the easier it will be to make the decision to evacuate. Discuss emergencies, vehicle breakdowns, health issues, food, water, weapons, ammunition, and fuel. A previous article on Survival Blog discussed convoy security and this should be part of everyone’s plan. Don’t just talk about it, exercise you plan on smaller trips to uncover any potential problems you may have missed during the planning stages. Discuss how you will deal with a catastrophic vehicle breakdown where you might have to leave one behind. Also, now is not the time to discuss the issue of firearms and the right to bear arms. Deal with it, everyone will be packing heat and everyone will know it too. That’s not a bad thing. My guess is that a lot of folks will be scared but at the same time, we are a nation of mostly law abiding citizens, so take comfort in the fact that a lot of people are in the same boat. Always be cautious but do not be afraid to help someone who obviously needs it. This will be the cornerstone of the communities that will rise up from the ashes of this national emergency. 
Since everyone will need more human power to work their land and provide security, most reasonable and logical persons will understand the efficacy of allowing you to join them at their safe haven. This is where you trade your labor for a safe haven, a place to live, and the fruits that the land bears but negotiating on their doorstep when you show up un-announced is not the appropriate time to do this. Make sure they know you are coming so they can prepare as much as you should have!

What will I do for communications?
Make sure that you have a communication plan and the ability to talk to those within your caravan. And do not rely on a single point of failure system either. Have a back-up and a back-up to the back-up. Cell phones will not necessarily be reliable if the power grid goes down but the portable walkie-talkie type radios will be invaluable. Some forward thinking folks may have SatPhones which, unless the Chinese shoot down our satellites, should work during this period. This is not to say that they will always operate. Whatever form of government remains may not have the ability to maintain a system of satellites that we currently have but it’s worth it if you have the money to purchase them now. The government may also be less than accepting of the type of communication that is going on via the grid and try to shut it down as well. If you live in a place where you absolutely know you will not stay in the event of a societal meltdown, send a SatPhone to the place where you will go and have your family and friends on both ends practice with and test the system to make sure it will work for you.  I will use the MURS hand held radios and have a full set of cheap walkie-talkies as a back-up (in addition to cell phones). That’s three modes of digital communications in addition to hand and arms signals. I would also recommend that you buy good quality headsets that have either a push-to-talk (PTT) capability or voice actuated (VOX) for hands free comm. I flew helicopters in the military and the VOX capability is a force multiplier in the cockpit since it is a multi-tasking nightmare at times.

What will you do if your transportation breaks down?
Make sure you have a complete extra wheel/tire combo, not just the tire. If you get a flat, you will not have access to a garage to change your tire. I would have two extra wheels/tires as well as enough Fix-a-flat to re-inflate several tires. Remember to be completely self-sustainable and walk-through all the potential hazards of a long trip that you would normally take but add to this the fact that you cannot count on any water, food, or logistical support outside of what you can carry in/on or behind your vehicles. Several companies make roof racks that are specifically designed for carrying maintenance, camping, and survival gear and can easily be adapted to carrying tires and wheels as well. You may look like the Beverly Hillbillies but you are much less likely to be stranded on the road with an immobile vehicle. In addition, let’s make sure to practice changing a tire on the side of the road prior to having to do it in an in-extremis situation for the first time.

What should I do about carrying weapons?
Some of you may be worried about carrying weapons in your car. If this scenario goes down, this will be out the window as law enforcement officials are just like you, they have families and concerns of their own and will not be worried about what is inside your vehicle if it is obvious you are relocating your family to a safer place. If it makes you feel better, apply for a concealed-carry permit.  The scenario that may be of a gray area will be if you have decided to bug-out well in advance of the collapse and it will be relatively easy travel to your safe haven. In this event, I would not advertise the fact that you are carrying an arsenal in your vehicles but make sure you have the ability to defend yourself and your family should the need arises. This will be a call on your part depending on when you leave.

With the exception of Illinois, New York, New Jersey, Massachusetts, and a few other states, a state concealed carry permit is recognized in many other states. In addition, the US House has passed its version of the nation-wide concealed carry reciprocity bill, H.R. 822, the National Right-to-Carry Reciprocity Act of 2011. If the Senate passes it we will get a clear indication from the current occupant of the White House whether or not he supports the rights of gun owners across this country. I have a Pennsylvania concealed carry permit and an out of state non-resident permit, and I could drive all of the way to South Dakota and still be in accordance with state laws, with the exception of Illinois, with a loaded weapon in my car. Remember, your family’s safety is your primary concern. Do not let anything deter you.

At this point in time we are in a “Green Light” scenario in regard to CONUS travel but it will most likely not last indefinitely.  Start planning your exodus now and do not leave any details unattended or they will come back to bite you in the rumpus! Have a place already picked out, stage as much gear and supplies there as is humanly possible and work towards completing a self-contained move that includes all aspects of the move; vehicles, fuel, food, water, supplies, security, and communications. While this is not an exhaustive list by any stretch, it should give you a starting point. Blessings to all and Semper Prep.

Thursday, November 8, 2012

Many years ago, my two childhood friends and I began to prep for TEOTWAWKI.  At first, we just began buying whatever was recommended by certain web sites, throwing our equipment into a box and then telling the others about what we have.  Doing this allowed us to collect many things, however we were not sure what was really practical since we never used the items.  We decided to change this about five years ago when we got serious about what we are doing and decided to take a camping trip.  The camping trip would include about a one mile hike and the only things we would bring would be the equipment that would be used in a “bug-out” scenario.   My group consists of seven main members who live in four different states, so the gear testing trips take place in two different states twice a year.  The members of my group currently live in four different states: Ohio, Indiana, Tennessee, and California with the majority of the group living on the Ohio/Indiana border.  Obviously, the friend in California is not a viable option for retreat, but the Ohio and Tennessee locations are both large farms and “close enough” for the remaining group members to gather together.  So, we practice bugging out to each location from our respective homes.  The first test trip was quite a learning experience!  The oldest member of our group had equipment that weighed a total of about fifteen pounds.  We younger folk whispered among ourselves that this surely wouldn’t be enough.  While I will not disclose the pack weight of the rest of the group, I will say that we were having trouble going very far without having to take a break; and imagine our surprise when we found ourselves asking to borrow some of the older man’s equipment!  Needless to say, we decided to take a few tips from the older man and have changed the way we pack for these trips!

We travel to each location twice a year, Tennessee in early April and late July, and Ohio in early October and late December.  The reason for this is so we can camp in different temperature extremes.  The difference of Tennessee in July and Ohio in December are huge and require different gear, so this allows us to practice using everything.  Prior to our first travel, we sat down together with topographical maps of Indiana, Kentucky, Ohio and Tennessee.  We mapped the best routes for foot and vehicle travel.  We had to know if we could get to southwest Ohio from east Tennessee without hitting a major city while avoiding the interstate…and vice versa.  The members from Ohio and Indiana and their families meet en route to Tennessee and take a different route each year.  Throughout the trip, they stop to photograph certain areas they believe would be a good resting spot and mark the coordinates on the map.  When my family and I make the trip north (I am the good southerner in this group) I retrace their steps north with photos and coordinates in hand seeing if I agree or disagree with their selected stops.  I also take photos and coordinates of my own if I see something I think is better.  Once we get together, we discuss the trip and compare notes.  As of this writing, we have two preferred routes with several stops marked.   If I am headed north or they are headed south I will know which direction to expect them if we cannot contact each other.   Also, if we know a member is en route and never shows, we have a good idea where to look.


As a group, we agreed with the guns and calibers we would collect.  We went with a Glock 22 in 40 S&W, 12 gauge shotguns, Ruger 10/22 rifle, Savage .308 bolt action rifle, Walther P22 pistol, and an AR-15 in 5.56.  The oldest member of our group (and smartest) carries a Kel-Tec PLR-16 on a pivot harness and carries the Ruger Charger in a holster attached to his pack.  After a long day of hiking uphill, the PLR-16 looked a whole lot better than my AR.  Once again, if you buy it- practice with it.  If you are carrying a gun, don’t just shoot it- carry it! Practice with in every way.  If an AR is your bug-out gun, find out how far you can travel with it comfortably. These are the reasons we decided to start our excursions.  Also, carrying four guns is not practical for long distances.  My group may have 5 or 6 guns, but I do not carry all of them.  On our hikes they are spread between my three sons and wife.  Each one is given a gun and taught not just how to shoot it, but how to carry it and how much ammo they can carry without losing to much comfort or speed.  We also have stored .50 caliber muzzleloaders, bows, crossbows and various hunting, fishing, and camping supplies while they were on clearance during the off-seasons.   

We also coordinated our bug-out bags to be similar, so we know where everyone keeps supplies in their bag.  We follow the first in last out method of organizing our gear. (I would not recommend sharing this information with a group unless these are close friends.  I feel comfortable doing this with my group since we have been close for thirty plus years. ) We use the typical 3 day bag for our trips.  When going out with my sons, I have switched the Eberlestock X1A1 pack, giving my oldest boy my three day pack.  I find this pack is great for carrying my rifle long distances, but you lose the tactical advantage of having the rifle readily available.  Once again, this becomes an issue of practice.  I have decided in a TEOTWAWKI scenario I would probably have two rifles- one in the pack and one slung for carry.   Also, during our trips we all discovered the joy of sleeping in a hammock. Previously, we had carried sleeping bags and slept on the ground. The hammock was much lighter to carry and far more comfortable than sleeping on the ground.  While we all carry a small two or one-man tent, the hammock is the preferred sleeping choice; especially as we are getting older!


Keep in mind while reading this that while we are prepping together, we are also prepping separately.  We each have large families and friends that we expect to arrive at our house if a worst case scenario happens even though we attempt to treat our prepping habit like the first two rules of Fight Club.  Unfortunately, the rules we keep don’t always apply to our wives who will mention our guns and food storage during a conversation with those they are friendly with but not friends.  With that in mind I will briefly describe each bug-out location.

- In Ohio, my friend lives on a 40 acre farm surrounded by other farms to the north, west, and east. There is a large wooded area to the south of his property.  He has a large cache of food stored there and at home he owns in the nearby village.  On his farm, he is currently raising meat rabbits, chickens, goats and horses.  He has a large area set-up for a “survival” garden and two barns.  One barn is arranged with a tack room and can be set-up for temporary housing if necessary.  The rear barn is where the livestock is kept along with their supplies.  His house is large enough to house four families comfortably.  The Ohio farm is also close enough for my cohort in Indiana to travel to without touching an Interstate or city.  If the situation would dictate they need to leave Ohio and head to Tennessee, they would use the farm as a staging area to prepare for the possible dangerous trip to Tennessee.

–In Tennessee the farm is on 200 acres that is mostly wooded.  The area is set-up with several small shooting houses (each equipped with a propane heater, but no air) that are made for hunting, but could be used for a lookout post or temporary housing for a few people.  We have a small garden and recently started orchard, which is in the process of growing to a large orchard with many different types of fruit and nuts.  We have very few farm animals, but are surrounded by a few like-minded neighbors with horses, cows, chickens, and goats.  Our house is also large enough to house four families comfortably.  We also have two barns that could be easily converted to living areas; one barn is currently holding the supplies to complete that task.  My wife has a large extended family in east Tennessee and I would not be surprised if most landed on my door step.  I have discussed this event with a few of her uncles, all of which have a trade skill in farming or mechanical.  My immediate family is storing food for 50 people for one year.  We have split this up between several households that are all within thirty minutes of each other, the plan being that they load up and head to the farm.  I truly believe that the majority of my wife’s family would not make the trip to Ohio if we needed to evacuate our farm.  They are proud people who often discuss fighting to the last man.  While that is great in theory, I plan on protecting my wife and children to the best of my ability.  If that means retreat, I retreat; I plan on living to fight another day.  If they stay and fight, they will cover our exit as we head north.  

If both locations fall or fail we do have a handful of other locations to fall back to.  Only one or two have potential to become long term, but they would give us time to regroup, assess and plan.

In most TEOTWAWKI scenarios communication is impossible.  I am hoping for difficult and improbable, but not impossible.  Best case is we use cell phones to communicate and coordinate our efforts.  We would also discuss on whether to hunker down or travel.  It may be in everyone best interest that they stay north and I stay south.  If cell phones are down we have a ham radio at each farm.  If those go down the back-up plan is signals.  We have made a list of signs we would leave at the farm if we had to abandon them, so the others would know where we are headed.  We also have a small cache of food and ammo for them to resupply with.  Also, we place a few signs on the mapped routes to the farms, in case we both bugged out and did not cross paths.  We each carry a laminated copy of address (coordinates attached) in Tennessee and Ohio that are our fall-back positions.  This list was one of the last things I put together, but will have a great use if we ever have to use it.

End Result

I know prepping with a group will lead to the best possible outcome and I chose to do that with my three closest friends and their families.  When we began prepping and discussing logistics this is the best course of action we could come up with, but the bottom line is if we did not train we would not know.  I can imagine us trying to take I-75 N and having to pass through Knoxville, Richmond, Lexington, and Cincinnati to make it to the Ohio retreat or my friends and the small convoy they have passing through those cities in a worst case scenario and I know it would be madness.  I can imagine the results if we had never discussed ammo or weapons and all showed up with different calibers and little ammo.   How would we fare if we never stored food for a large group and just for our immediate family?  What would we do? How would we handle it if we showed up to one of the farms and it was empty? How well does each member shoot? Does one of us exceed at different roles such as planning, chef, and sharp shooter (growing up together we pretty much already knew where we would fall, but not our wives and children.  My middle child will most likely end up as our sharp shooter)? We would not be as far along in our prepping if we did not start using our gear and training.  Training requires planning, planning requires a vision, and with no vision the people perish.

Monday, November 5, 2012

I'd like to tell the readers about an amazingly affordable electronics workbench tool that turns you laptop into an oscilloscope, and a lot more: Analog Discovery. This one card can
replace $10,000 worth of other gear. The student version is just $99. See a quick summary of the specifications.

I think that this is the Pico scope taken to the next level. This puts AM radio, FM radio, radar, sonar, ultrasound, spread-spectrum radio for secure communications, encryption tools for running secure comms over otherwise insecure channels, high-bandwidth servocontrol of machinery and countless other modern technologies in hands of the garage inventors, small businesses and university research groups. At my company we've been using much more expensive versions of this technology for a while.

The Digilent Analog Discovery design kit, developed in conjunction with Analog Devices Inc., is the first in a new line of all-in-one analog design kits that will enable engineering students to quickly and easily experiment with advanced technologies and build and test real-world, functional analog design circuits anytime, anywhere - right on their PCs. For the price of a textbook, students can purchase a low-cost analog hardware development platform and components, with access to downloadable teaching materials, reference designs and lab projects to design and implement analog circuits as a supplement to their core engineering curriculum.

The specs:

Dual 14-bit 105 MSPS ADC
Dual 14-bit 125 MSPS DAC
16 digital I/Os at 100 MSPS
Programmable power supply

It is designed to be an oscilloscope/AWG/logic analyser/digital pattern generator, so the usual caveats (5 MHz analogue input bandwidth) apply for such a device, but the screenshots
of the software look quite nice and Mac OS X and Linux versions are promised.

Like many here, I'm not too interested in this class of oscilloscope, but assuming it's hackable it could be the basis for a cheap software defined radio transceiver. It doesn't look like a schematic diagram is available, but Digilent often provides them. We'll have to wait and see after it's released.

Here is a write-up in EE Times: Disruption in the engineering classroom

And, one in EDN: The joys of tinkering, by Robert J. Bowman, Professor of Electrical Engineering, Rochester Institute of Technology.

Regards, - Chris M.

Saturday, November 3, 2012

Egyptologists tell us that the last hieroglyphic inscription was carved in 394 A.D., and within a few decades all memory of the ancient Egyptian language was lost. For the next fifteen hundred years the world's greatest scholars tried to translate hieroglyphics, but it was only when Jean-Francois Champollion had access to the Rosetta Stone in the 1820s that the dead language spoke once more. The Rosetta Stone, which had an identical inscription in three languages, was the key which allowed Champollion to begin translating the forgotten language.

You may be wondering what this has to do with preparedness. I believe it has a great deal, as indicated in the 9/11/12 article about using codes in emergency and survival situations. The ability to communicate privately is critical to our security as well as being a basic human right, and its importance is too often forgotten as we pursue beans, bullets, and Band-Aids.

When considering communication in the modern world, there are two unpleasant realities we must face: first, every transmission—text, email, phone call—can be intercepted. The second is that, as JWR pointed out, it's unlikely any code we make can withstand military and government decryption methods. This means that those of us who wish to communicate privately must adopt another strategy: instead of codes, we must use constructed languages for written and spoken communication.

A constructed language (CL) is simply a language which is not, and never has been, used by a natural population. The idea of constructing or making up a language may seem strange, but in fact several well-known CLs are already in existence. The oldest is Esperanto, which was created with the intention of providing the planet with a universal language. The next significant CL came from Star Trek. In one of the movies the creators decided to add spoken Klingon, which was created by a linguist and deliberately made to sound as alien as possible while still being pronounceable by human actors. A few phrases were repeated in the movie often enough to be learned by devoted Trekkers, and soon the Klingon language had its own alphabet, vocabulary, and grammar. Today there are online courses and Youtube videos about the language, and a few fans can actually use it to communicate. The movie Avatar followed this pattern, using a constructed language called Na'vi. And yes, there are some fans who speak it; information on the language and a Na'vi dictionary can be found online.

If you want privacy, you can't use Klingon or Na'vi; you must have a new language which has no connections to past or existing CL languages. This new language, if properly devised, will be as incomprehensible to anyone who sees or hears it as ancient Egyptian was to the scholar of 1700.

To create an effective CL, you must make several decisions. First, how many words are needed to communicate effectively? English has an overly abundant supply of synonyms (words with similar meaning), such as large, big, spacious. This duplication is unnecessary in a CL. You can probably function well with 300 words or less; you must decide what words are essential for your group.

Second, you must decide what methods of communication you wish to use with your CL. Will you signal it with Morse code? Use it in emails? Speak it aloud? Spell it with the manual alphabet? Signal with flags? If you intend to use your language only through such methods, all of which have a sign for each English letter, the CL should be based on the traditional Roman letters on your keyboard.

If you want a language which can be spoken aloud, it's wise to use sounds normally found in English; these will be easiest for your group to pronounce and remember (if you don't believe me, listen to Klingon). While it's possible to create a CL which uses such strategies as the tonal structure found in Chinese, this is a new concept for most Americans and would hinder the rapid acquisition of the CL as well as being impossible to indicate in Morse and all other letter-based communication systems.

The next decision is whether to create a grammatical syntax where meaning is determined by word position, as in English, or by inflectional endings such as those found in Latin and Greek.

A word position structure means that words must be arranged in a particular order for correct comprehension. “The horse sees the woman” doesn't mean the same as “The woman sees the horse”. Both sentences follow the common subject-verb-object pattern; the meaning is determined by which noun comes first and which comes second. In modern English, the position of words determines the meaning of the sentence.

In Latin, however, meaning depends not on position but on inflectional endings which distinguish subject from object. Here's a simple example using Latin words with familiar English cognates.

Equus means “horse”; (equine)

feminam means “woman”; (feminine)

videt means “sees” (video)

“The horse sees the woman” can be written in Latin without regard to word order:

Equus feminam videt.

Equus videt feminam.

Feminam equus videt.

“Equus” is in the nominative singular, indicating it is the subject of the sentence. “Feminam” is in the accusative singular, which means it's the object of the verb “videt”. The position of the words is irrelevant because their grammatical function is conveyed by their endings. Although the first sentence pattern was most commonly used by Romans, all three sentences would be equally comprehensible to Caesar and Cicero.

Using inflectional endings in your CL will make it more complicated to learn because, with few exceptions, English no longer uses such endings and most Americans are unfamiliar with them. Therefore, a positional CL is probably most practical.

Here's a simple example to show how a positional CL can function. Imagine a group which wishes to communicate by Morse code, email, texting, flag signals, or the manual alphabet. Here are some example words:

aok = watch out for (verb) cg=stranger (noun)

igy=shoot (verb) f=vehicle (noun)

wzn=come (verb) bx=gun (noun)

tf= in, into (preposition) urr=house (noun)

fh= with (preposition) puq= man (noun)

You now have the capacity to signal or text information:

puq tf urr (There's a man in the house.)

cg wzn (A stranger is coming.)

igy cg tf urr (Shoot the stranger in the house.)

aok cg tf f (Watch out for a stranger in a vehicle.)

puq fh bx tf urr (A man with a gun is in the house.)

The enemy can intercept these CL words, multiple them, count them, and turn them inside out, but they will not be able to understand the communication without the key, which ideally should exist only in the heads of those using the CL.

When creating a CL, you also make decisions about structure and grammar. You probably noticed the sample CL has no articles (a, an, the); these words are superfluous and can be eliminated. The present tense is also absent because it's not necessary for comprehension and, for this particular CL, I chose to omit it entirely. Decisions such as these can be made by the creators of a CL according to their own preferences.

For the first example I deliberately used regular keyboard letters. However, if you wish you can make words such as these:

&Knv )Yy

m% a!*

While this may look more complex, it isn't; it only gives you symbols for which there is no Morse or oral equivalent. Some may believe that the more symbols which are utilized, the less likely a communication can be decoded. This is incorrect; a CL cannot be decoded or deciphered because it is neither a code nor a cipher. It's a language, and therein lies its impenetrable strength. Remember ancient Egyptian; there were thousands of papyri and carved inscriptions to study, but without a key none could be translated.

Another secret to making your language incomprehensible to outsiders is to

frequently realign the words and meanings. This is done by randomly changing the meaning of the words, which is simple if you're communicating via computer. Aok becomes “gun”; cg becomes “under”, etc. Realignment is important because you don't want those intercepting your communications to associate your CL words with group activities. The ultimate security precaution would be to realign meanings after each communication.

Obviously, the ideal CL is one which can be used on a computer, texted, sent by Morse code, spelled with the manual alphabet, and spoken aloud. If you have this, you can communicate with absolute security under the eyes and ears of the enemy.

Below is a short, very simplified CL I prepared for SurvivalBlog readers who would like to try this method of ensuring their privacy. This CL differs from the example above because these words are in syllables found in English, which makes it easy to pronounce (tf would challenge even Henry Higgins). The CL words have been divided into syllables for easier pronunciation. Vowel sounds (short or long) can be determined by the group preference. No meaning has been assigned to any linguistic unit, which means even I, who created this CL, wouldn't be able to understand what you say, write, or signal.

Sample CL for SurvivalBlog Readers


  1. sil'rah'me 14. tim'ba

  2. ru'hi 15. se'kot

  3. oh'bash'in 16. row'un

  4. ed'rek 17. ve'dok'ah

  5. pah'sas'din 18. tah'yis'vee

  6. in'tah'ba 19. yo'ee

  7. me'tick'suh 20. nu'me

  8. ir 21. it'ak'see

  9. ad'wit 22. dan'sis

  10. ha'kal'too 23. ma'ut'zo

  11. ak'tem 24. pes'hara

  12. yah'dah'sa 25. haf'den

  13. ka'ah 26. oh'ye'see


Grammatical Structure

  1. Plurals are formed by adding ne at the front of nouns; i.e., if you assign ma'ut'zo a noun meaning, the plural will be ne'ma'ut'zo.

  2. The present tense is indicated by the root form of the verb; if you assign ed'rek the verb meaning of “run”, no further initial or final letters/sounds are needed to use the verb in the present.

  3. The past tense is formed by adding a initial al to the verb; i.e., if oh'ye'see becomes the verb “listen”, al'oh'ye'see will mean “listened”.

  4. The future tense is created by adding an initial er; i.e., if row'un is given the meaning “come”, er'row'un means “will come”.

  5. Negatives are formed by adding pa before the verb. This prefix can also be used as a general negation, thus including the concepts of “no”, “none”, “nothing”, “not”, “don't”, etc. If dan'sis means “come”, “pa'dan'sis” means “don't come”.

  6. Questions are formed by adding kas to the beginning of the sentence.


To put these last two grammatical structures together, if you wish to communicate “Are you coming?” it would be kas'row'un. If the other person wishes to say “No”, the answer would be pa or pa'row'un.

IMPORTANT: Be very aware that speakers of a CL will almost certainly tend to use normal English vocal intonations when speaking. Our voices rise and fall in distinctive patterns as we ask questions, make statements, express surprise, fear, anger, urgency, etc. These vocal patterns are a clue to anyone listening. The solution to this security weakness is to learn to speak all words in a monotone voice, rather as if you were reading a list of unrelated words. You should also be careful that your voice doesn't indicate the end of a sentence.

I hope many of you will try using the CL I've provided. But before you begin communicating important information, you must pass a test. Here it is:

    You can't use this sample CL as written. Why not?

Answer: Because of the grammar section.

No one can know the meaning you assign to the CL words in the sample; however, if you follow the grammar, anyone aware of this CL will be able to say, “Ah-ha there's the prefix ne. That means the word following is a noun.” For this reason, ALL THE GRAMMATICAL RULES MUST BE ALTERED BEFORE YOU CAN SECURELY UTILIZE THIS CL.

To do this, just use your imagination: form plurals by adding om to the end of nouns—or to the middle, if the word has more than one syllable. Or don't form plurals at all; if you want to say, “I need eight bullets,” the word “eight” indicates plural; the noun “bullet” doesn't need to be changed at all. Form the future tense by adding the word wom at the end of the verb. Make questions by adding ra'hi at the end of the sentence. Remember: no one, including me, will know what meaning you assign to each linguistic unit; ak'tem can mean “wife”, “nuclear weapon”, or “move slowly”.

Learning a new language, especially one you've never heard, may seem daunting, but it's essential to group security and survival. We all know the government is listening to phone conversations, reading emails, and recording communications. If a national emergency ever arises, this spying will intensify and your group will be unable to communicate privately. The powers that be are determined to take every shred of privacy in America; let's use constructed languages to reclaim an inalienable human right.

JWR Adds: I can vouch that even an informally constructed language can baffle outsiders. Some members of my family still speak Boontling--the folk lingo of Boonville, California. (My ancestors settled there in the 1850s, after crossing the Plains by covered wagon.) We still pike to Boont or Uke by kimoshe for boshin', bahl tedricks, shattaquaws, gormin' matches, hobneelches and visits to the Rawles Dusties, but try to avoid nonch-harpin, Haines-Crispins, spilldukes and sharkin' matches.

Friday, November 2, 2012

A friend of mine who is in the know with the FCC told me that in a few years all AM/FM commercial radio stations will be changing from analog to digital broadcast. Most or all AM/FM radios will not work after this is implemented is what he said. Have you heard anything about this and he also told me even the OTA car radios would not work and have to be replaced. I asked him if someone was going to come up with a converter like they did for televisions and he said probably not.  This person is not one to tell something that is not true and he is a retired electrical engineer that used to work for one of the local television stations. Have you heard anything about this? Thanks, - Randy H.

JWR Replies: The digital transition is not mandatory and most stations are presently not planning to change. And if they do, they will likely broadcast in parallel (analog and digital) for many years. Furthermore, the FCC hasn't even set a uniform standard (since there are several competing digital systems.)

The "installed base" of analog AM and FM radios is huge. (If you count car radios, there are roughly 11 working radios for each television in America.) Thus, for at least the next couple of decades a full transition is impractical. And, unlike the converter boxes for analog televisions connected to Cable TV, a digital "converter" for a radio would be a completely new receiver. This would mean that the only functionality you would salvage from the old analog radio would be the antenna, amplifier and loudspeaker.

As a long term hedge against the digital trend, I recommend that the only analog radios that SurvivalBlog readers henceforth buy are very sensitive analog radios that are multiband--including shortwave bands--and that have a BFO. That way, even if analog AM and FM commercial broadcasts are phased out, then those radios will still have considerable usefulness for international shortwave listening. My favorite EMP-resistant multiband tube radio is the Hallicrafters S-38E or S-38EM. (The latter has identical guts, but in a faux mahogany cabinet.) They can be operated on both 120 Volt AC and DC. These can often be found on eBay for less than $80, or at garage sales for less than $40. (I bought one of mine for $10!) Either replace the electrolytic capacitors yourself, or if that is beyond your level of hobby electronics expertise, then buy one that has already been "re-capped."

Since the analog to digital transition will be protracted, I suspect that the makers of sophisticated multiband ("general coverage") receivers (such as Drake, Kenwood, and ICOM) will produce several new generations of receivers that are multi-mode. (Analog and digital.) Essentially these will be configured like the venerable Kenwood R-2000, but with capability of demodulating the latest digital modes. But you might want to wait a few years to see how the new AM and FM digital radio standards shake out, because they have yet to go through their equivalent of the Betamax Versus VHS War.

For some details on the digital transition, see the Wikipedia page on HD Radio.

Thursday, November 1, 2012

It’s 2:36PM; you and your spouse are at work.  Your son is at day care and your daughter is at school.  The Schumer hits the fan. What is your Family Continuity Plan?
The scenario above is very real and indeed plausible.  Many families have and will one day experience something very similar to this.  To prepare you and your family from natural or man-made disasters it is recommended to design, develop, and incorporate a Family Continuity Plan (FCP); it may one day save all of your lives.

As any prepper, for a natural disaster or a TEOTWAWKI event (or both), we all have the supplies and skills that we require.  Some of your skills may include hunting, trapping, gardening, cooking, or water purifying.  Your supplies most likely encompass food, water, shelter, fire-making material, light-sources, defensive gear, and tactical gear. But most importantly, you will need a Continuity of Operations Plan (COOP) or what can be considered a Family Continuity Plan (FCP).  Hopefully you and your family have already communicated and implemented a FCP.  If you haven’t developed a FCP then I can guarantee that your plan to bug-out or even bug-in, will fail.  It will fail because the most likely scenario will have you out of town, on a business trip, when the SHTF and your wife and kids are not brushed up on your survival plan back home; they will be oblivious on what to do.  Or, you will be in the middle of a business day and your daughter will be at school.  The SHTF and all the teachers will be scrambling out the door to rescue their family and she will be alone; oblivious on what to do.  Your oldest child left home to be a resident student at New York University, SHTF. What is his plan to bug-out when another 9/11 happens?  You and your wife are at work, the SHTF and your two toddlers are at daycare and all forms of communications are down.  Which of you two will pick them up?  What happens when you get to the daycare and the building is vacant?  What happens when you arrive at your residence and no one is there? 3-hours pass and still no one arrives?  In this scenario you realize you either need to bug-out alone or get trapped in your city.  Your wife and two kids have not returned home, do you come up with a plan to find them?  You better have thought of all likely scenarios and communicated this well to your family members or your bug-out hideaway, fully stocked west of the Mississippi, becomes a null option at this point.  The most important thing you can do for yourself and your family will be to have a very well planned-out, well disseminated FCP with maps, driving/walking directions, rally points, and multiple Course of Actions (COAs) with a plan A, plan B, plan C, etc, for every possible scenario you can think of.

A COOP (Continuity of Operations Plan) is a government term for a detailed plan on how essential functions of an agency or business will be maintained when an emergency situation has disrupted normal operations.  You may have heard of a Business Continuity Plan (BCP) which is pretty much the same thing as a COOP, but more business lingo vice government.  Basically, these plans are written, fully thought-out and communicated procedures for a range of scenarios to keep an entity alive during serious catastrophes. These procedures will vary in scope.  For example, having a backup site in case headquarters becomes a smoking hole or who will be next in command if leadership is put out of action.  These procedures are thoroughly tested and disseminated down to every worker, soldier, cleaner, and cook.  After 9/11, how did corporations such as Bank of America, Verizon, Sun Microsystems, the N.Y. Stock Exchange, and other organizations survived?  These companies would not have survived without some type of COOP/BCP.
When I was researching Family Continuity Plans, I was shocked to learn there was not much information readily available on the topic.  Majority of the information were mere hand-out cards for your name, SSN, family member names, and most importantly an outside POC name and number of a relative or friend that could act as the communication point.  This information is good to have, but what happens if phone services and cell phone services are not operable during a disastrous event? 

In August of 2011, the East Coast experienced a 5.8 magnitude earthquake that hit outside of D.C. near Mineral, Virginia.  It was strong enough that the government facility I worked at was immediately evacuated.  The earthquake occurred around 2:00 PM while my wife and I were at work and our two children were in daycare.  I was able to get to my cell phone and LAN line within 15 minutes of the evacuation, but I was not able to reach my wife or daycare.  The main reason was that the entire East Coast populace was also trying to make calls on their cell phones and my local phone service was inoperable.  We didn’t lose phone service, it was completely tied up.  I immediately enacted our FCP; get to my children’s daycare ASAP.  During that time, I was trying to make contact with my wife with no success.  My wife and I are fortunate that we work approx. 7 miles from each other and the daycare is right smack in the middle.  As soon as I pulled into the driveway to our daycare another vehicle pulled in behind me; it was my wife.  Luckily there was no emergency at our daycare, everyone was unharmed and in fact both my kids were napping.  Words cannot express how ecstatic I was that our FCP actually worked without the need of a phone call.  Our FCP worked exactly how we documented, planned, and tested.  We were fortunate nothing major happened, but was given the chance to exercise our FCP in this real-world event. This helped us determine what worked, what didn’t and what needed to be improved.  We realized how important it would have been to have a couple of powerful CB radios to provide that gap in communication.  We now have one Cobra HH38 with external antennas in each vehicle and in the process of acquiring secondary CB radios.

You will find very little documentation online in regards to examples or a decent outline for your Family Continuity Plan.  A good starting point would be the COOP I stumbled across for the county of Walla Walla, in Washington State.  I actually used this as the outline to start my own FCP and just took out the business and government lingo. Their COOP included a checklist and inventory list.  I recommend using their COOP as your starting point.                   

When developing my family FCP, the following are six basic elements I considered:
1) Critical functions vs. non-critical functions
2) Threats
3) Scenarios
4) Planning
5) Testing
6) Maintenance

Critical functions vs. non-critical functions:

Non-critical functions are those items that you want, not what you need to sustain a family during a time of crisis.  Critical functions are needs that are required within your family to survive before, during and after a catastrophe.  Most family’s critical function lists will include water, food, and shelter while some lists will contain specific requirements such as mobility for those with paralysis, contacts/eyeglasses, diabetic equipment, heart medicine, or protection for those within your family that may have xeroderma pigmentosum. 


Once critical functions to survive have been identified, the next step is to analyze all potential threats that can slightly, moderately, or greatly impact the sustainability of your critical functions.  Threats can be hurricanes, tornadoes, earth quakes, floods, fires, terrorist attacks, an epidemic, civil war, World War III, you name it.  It is important to list all man-made and natural disasters that can potentially put your family at risk. 


Once threats have been listed, the next step is to run through impact scenarios.  For example, how will a major flood affect your community, affect your family’s ability to drive out of the area or affect your critical functions to survive?  In the event you and your family have enough warning prior to a large-scale flood, will you bug-in and fortify or will you bug-out to higher ground, perhaps to a different state?  When will your family bug-out in the event of a CAT 3 hurricane, during a hurricane watch or hurricane warning?  What happens when there is a major earthquake, loss of all communication, power, water, etc. and you and your family are at work, sporadically located throughout Los Angeles?  In the event of a mass fire and there is an exodus outside a major city, what roads are you evacuating through?  While evacuating through these roads your vehicle becomes disabled and you forgot to charge your GPS, do you have a physical map or printed out Google Maps to travel by foot?  What will you bring and what vehicle will be used?  Are your supplies already prepped at a bug-out site or in your garage for a quick and easy load?  How will you load each piece of equipment in your vehicle in 10 minutes before bugging-out?  What equipment will you take with you on foot when you run out of gas or blow two tires while evacuating with a fully loaded SUV and you are halfway to your FCP site?  Also, when will you activate your FCP? Unfortunately most individuals never contemplate the most critical time; right at the point of when the SHTF.  Understand that you may not have any warning at all; this is one of many things that a Family Continuity Plan identifies and solves for you.


Once you and your family proposed as many impact scenarios, no doubt generating multiple questions, it is time to bring a plan to the table.  In this portion of the FCP, you will be answering the questions generated from the “Scenarios” section.   This portion of the FCP will be the bulk of your plan; it will contain not only your plans but also any checklists, diagrams, step-by-step guides, and any critical pieces of information.  


After your plan and solutions have been put together, it will be critical to test your plan.  Testing your FCP will be the most important section.  Testing determines what portions of your FCP actually works and hopefully determines what doesn’t work.  Without simulating or putting parts of your plan into action you cannot be sure it is completely foolproof.  Fortunately, or unfortunately, you may get the chance to experience a real-world event that puts your plan, or portions of it, into action such as I did during the AUG 2011 earthquake.  During and after simulating your plan you will make corrections, modifications, subtract, and add to your plans.    


Lastly, there must be periodic maintenance of your plan.  10-years-ago your children were in high school, now they are married and have children of their own; you want your FCP to incorporate them as well. 
Your Family Continuity Plan should be thoroughly written down and well communicated to your entire family.  My fear is that a lot of folks have a general idea of where they would go, what specific gear they would bring but have not thoroughly formalized an actual plan during a time of crisis.  Therefore, I am sharing with you how my wife and I started our FCP as an example and offer a modified version of one of our Course of Actions (COAs) in hopes it will help you develop your FCP. 

First, we referred to the six elements of a Family Continuity Plan.  We wrote down all of the critical elements in our family that are required to sustain us through any environmental threat.  In this process, you will create a checklist for your family’s needs. This checklist will be part of your FCP as a guide when your memory fails to function during a crisis.  Remember the difference between a need and a want.  Your needs are the most critical supplies to sustain your family’s life and will be with you when the decision is made to drop excess supplies.  We split all of our gear into three categories; high, medium, and low.  High inventory identified our critical supplies while medium was placed on supplies we could last for some time.  Low was given to everything else; we plan and equip for all three types of supplies but now we know what the priorities are.  We listed typical supplies such as food, water, shelter, clothing, specific-medicine, emergency rucksack, contacts and eyeglasses, radios, and self-defense equipment, (to name a few items).  We wrote down necessary skills that we either have or will need during and after a crisis.  Skills such as cooking, applying medical treatment, self-defense, gun operations, safety, security, gardening, engine repair, wilderness survival, map reading, direction finding, cleaning, building, repairing, and so forth.  Remember that skills will be more important than the actual supplies.  It would be pointless after the SHTF trying to throw down your 5-year collection of assorted seeds on the ground if you have never gardened in your life.  Once your critical functions have been identified and written down, you then have an idea of what items that are missing or lacking in your survival plan.  If you have no idea how to cook but your wife does, I would recommend you learn that skill.  Your FCP should have a plan if you or your significant other passes away during a catastrophic event.  Imagine you are the only one in your family that knows how to shoot and reload your handgun, shotgun, and long-rifle; what happens when you kick-the-bucket during a crisis?  Imagine your wife is the only person in your family that knows how to operate, maintain, and drive your Class A RV, and 3-weeks after a nuclear attack, she passes away from radiation sickness.  Remember, don’t think just because you know how to do something is enough, what if you’ve been removed from the picture and your wife needs to turn off the main water line before there is a septic backflow into your house?  A critical piece to a Business Continuity Plan or COOP is the succession of leadership and skills between top-level management down to the worker-bees.  It’s the business idea that if leadership is unable to perform their duties within a COOP scenario, the next in line has been educated and trained to pick up where they left off.  It’s the business idea of not having only one technical expert at their main center.  They will have additional trained experts and some strategically placed at their COOP site when the “smoking hole” scenario occurs.  Same analogy applies to your family COOP; don’t put all your 9mm ammo in one basket. 

Once your essential family items and skills are identified, come up with a laundry list of threats that could greatly impact the fabrics of your family’s life.  Think of them all, even that zombie apocalypse stirring in the back of your mind if you wish.  First, focus your attention on the threats that are more realistic or more likely to occur in your environment and then expand out. For my family here in Virginia Beach, our primary threats are hurricanes, flooding, and the occasional severe winter storm.  We may have threats such as tornadoes, fires, tropical storms, wind storms, terrorist attacks, nuclear incident/attacks, and tsunamis that could one day affect us.  It would be wise to imagine as many threats as possible – even the ones that may seem remotely impossible.  Would there be any reason why South Dakota would ever need to be prepared for a volcanic disaster?  If Yellowstone ever took off, the great folks of SD would be in some serious trouble.  The likelihood of this ever happening is less likely to happen but the chance is still there – better to be prepared for it vice having the SHTF and you are standing there SYP (Schumering Your Pants).  As you develop your threats you will see that your Family Continuity Plan may support multiple threats.  Portions of your FCP during a sever flood may mirror your family plan for a hurricane.  Realize that some threats will affect your ability to bug-in or bug-out even if your sole plan is to head out to your fully-stocked cabin in the Appalachian Mountains. 

Now that you have identified your critical infrastructure and your threats, the long and sometimes complicated part of meshing your critical elements and threats into scenarios begins.  You run every scenario and every possibility that could happen within an event and document solutions; this will ultimately be your plan.  For example, you and your family have decided to bug-out when the SHTF in Arkansas.  Unfortunately your city is experiencing an unexpected large-scale flooding, all roads are under 5-feet of water, and your vehicles are floating down the street.  In this scenario, your ability to access your bug-out hideout is null; this is the reason why you plan for everything.  If you did it right, you would not only have a good bug-out strategy but a very solid bug-in plan with the works.   

My wife and I identified multiple scenarios and have varied plans for numerous crises.  I have them all ranked out from Plan A, Plan B, Plan C, etc.  Plan A basically states that in the event that I am at work, my wife is at work, my son is at day care, and my daughter is at school (a typical work week for us) and the SHTF, my wife and I immediately bee-line it to our son’s daycare.  At the daycare we gather our son, transfer her bug-out bag, CB radio, and other equipment from her vehicle to my truck and we proceed to our daughter’s school.  Once we have picked up our daughter we continue to our house. Depending on the threat, we begin our bug-in or bug-out plan.  Example: let’s say the threat is a CAT 4 hurricane warning similar to the devastating Hurricane Ike in 2008.  Our FCP dictates we would enact our bug-out plan to the Appalachian Mountain region.  (In reality my family would not have been at work or daycare, in fact we would have already hit the road heading west, but for this scenario let’s say we waited until the last minute.)  Once we enter the house, my wife immediately starts packing our clothes, toiletries, snacks, and drinks with the help of our children to keep them occupied.  I immediately back my truck into my garage where we have all of our emergency supplies stored.  This is all of our tactical gear, light, fire-starting equipment, cooking equipment, water purification supplies, shelter, etc., secured in multiple 35 gallon Rubbermaid Cargo boxes.  We have multiple 24-gallon Rubbermaid Cargo boxes that contain over 5-months’ worth of food and water along with our rucksack containing all of our medial gear/supplies, stored in one of our guest rooms for proper heating/cooling.  Each container has an updated inventory list secured underneath each lid.  Part of my Family Continuity Plan has a diagram of my truck bed and roof rack with specific locations for every piece of our equipment.  I spent weeks on our truck bed/roof rack diagram determining the best location for each piece of equipment with the most critical and most useful supplies quickly accessible. These supplies consist of bug-out tools while on the road such as chainsaws, gas tanks, shovel, rope/chain, and a couple of bug-out backpacks to quickly grab in case we would need to evacuate the truck in a hurry.  It is guaranteed if you wait for the last minute to throw all of your gear into your vehicle you will forget something important such as your fire-safe chest containing all of your families’ passports, SSN cards, birth certificates, home and vehicle paperwork, and insurance information.  Or, worst case scenario, you will be wasting-away precious time trying to squeeze your gear into your vehicle while the entire city already bugged out, blocking your escape routes.  Come up with a load plan now, document it, study it, and then test it while there is ample time. 
Based on the level of the threat, a hurricane CAT 4 in this scenario, I would initiate turning off the power, gas, and water; after filling all three bathtubs in our home.  Once the threat subsided, we would attempt a return back to our residence.  If our main water line to the house was down, I would use the water in the bathtub for sanitation purposes.  Continuing with the scenario, my wife and I finalize the loading plan and head off to our destination, Roanoke, Virginia.  We have multiple plans as to which roads we will take to reach our destination.  One plan has us using a mix of major highways and state highways such as Highway 64 for a few hours and then cut over on Highway 60.  Another plan has us using mostly state highways and county highways such as Highway 58 and then up Highway 220.  It is important to plan multiple routes to any destination.  We have a large map for the State of Virginia, a topography map, maps of neighboring states and a couple of Rand McNally Atlases.  We have quite a few Google Maps with step-by-step directions (even on foot) to get us to our destination.  Once we get to our destination we are still not done. We have documented plans on where we will be staying, what our chores will be, and how we would rotate security if need be.  After 48 hours of reaching Roanoke our plan dictates that my three brother-in-laws and I (my family plan actually consists of more than just one family) will pack enough equipment and supplies to head back to Va. Beach and bunker down until it is safe enough for the rest of the party to return.

However, if the city of Roanoke began to collapse for whatever reason our FCP continues on with further plans and instructions to start our trek to Arizona.  Arizona was selected due to one, being west of the Mississippi (less population than the east coast) and two, because a large part of my family resides there. 

Our FCP provides step by step directions on which highways or roads we would use to get to the state of Arizona in a timely and secured fashion.  I have specific locations of towns and gasoline stops marked along the way that I would attempt to get to.  My wife and I fully realize, depending on what type of threat we are experiencing, that we would most likely run out of gas before reaching either Arkansas or Oklahoma.  We have documentation that tells us what supplies we would bring, which roads that lead or follow bodies of water, maps of railroads, and information on towns along the way.  Again, depending on the threat-level we may need to stay away from large cities and we may not be welcomed in very small towns so we plan for it.    

You can quickly begin to see how, in some cases, this can be a complicated and frustrating process.  With so many events that can happen, how can you, we, possibly respond to all of them?  The truth of the matter is, you can’t – it would be impossible.  Take things simple at first, start with the most plausible event and start your plan there.  We started all of our plans at the very moment when the SHTF.  Meaning, during a regular week I would be at work and so would my wife and our children would be at school and daycare.  From that specific moment, we branched out and brain stormed as many possibilities and jotted down solutions for each.  Once you have a plan, you can then build your supply-chain, gear, paperwork and the entire infrastructure.  I started off by providing only one, modified, scenario in my FCP above but we actually have quite a few.  Some of our plans are procedures during the weekend when my family is mostly together. On the few occasions I have gone on a business trip, or my wife, we have a plan for that as well.  Of course, factors depend on where our trip takes us and how we got there (plane vs. rental vehicle).  The important thing is you are communicating your FCP to your partner/family and documenting your plan.  Use your experience to determine some possible scenarios, use the advice from friends and families as a source of information.  Research online and review the news to see how people react during a time of crisis.  Take the tragic events you read online and incorporate those scenarios into your Family Continuity Plan.  As you become more aware, your plan starts to mature, you will add more information, add more plans, and you will alter situations due to your family getting larger or kids growing up.  Once your plan is on paper, test it, and periodically maintain it. 

If you are not sure if your plan works, give it a shot.  Turn off the power and water to your house (we have in the past but we kept the gas on so we wouldn’t have to call a tech from VA Natural Gas) during a weekend and see how your family reacts.  On a weekend, take a slow trip to your bug-out hideout stopping along the way to admire the sites between your home and bug-out site.  You never know – you may be camping at those sites when the SHTF and your bugging out to your FCP site on foot.  Take your family out to as many camping trips as you can. Learn and teach them how to build basic shelter, learn basic fire-making processes, learn to cook with basic tools, and teach the proper handling and safety of your defensive gear.  Build a garden box in your backyard and learn how to grow fruits and vegetables – let your kids be part of this.  Take simple trips out of town and learn what types of equipment, entertainment, and clothing your family needs for the haul and incorporate/adjust your plan as needed.  Your prep plan may rely heavily on a generator when the power goes out, kill the power to your house and run off of it for three days straight and see how the generator really operates.  Remember, testing your Family Continuity Plan is equally important as the plan itself and maintaining your FCP will be just as important. Before the dust collects on your plan take it out every few months and clean it up.  Periodic maintenance on your FCP will ensure it is up to date with your most current supplies, new tools, new vehicles, new members, loss of a member, or even new skills that your family has acquired.  As your children get older, their ability to share the load becomes greater, don’t forget to incorporate those changes. 

In conclusion, ultimately it’s not a matter of “if” a SHTF event will happen but a matter of “when”. Develop a Family Continuity Plan. Teamwork, attention to details, and having a strong psychology to survive are everyday components which should be carried over during a time of crisis.  Teamwork - your chances to live are greatly increased when you add multiple families and at a larger scale.  A community unites when there is a common interest to take care of their families and yours.  If you are a loner and plan to be a loner in the wilderness, your chances of survival are greatly reduced.  Realize that most small bands of families or even communities will hesitate in trusting you or taking you in.  Attention to details – paying attention to detail involves trusting your eyes, ears, taste, and that nagging feeling in the back of your head.  It is the skill of combining all of your senses with common sense in making a decision.  Psychology to survive - I once read a great manual (U.S. Army Field Manual, FM 3-05.70) that states that no matter how much water, food, shelter, or security you have – if you lack the psychology to survive, you will die.  This bleeds into having a positive outlook in everything no matter the cost.  There will be times you will feel sadness, anger, and remorse, but your core needs to be imbued with positive thinking.

I hope sharing my Family Continuity Plan ignites your interest to think, develop and enact a plan for yours. Preparing and planning for the future is always wise.  However, don’t get too caught up with the future and with events we have no control over.  I know people who spend so much of their time and energy storing ammo and beef jerky but forget to live for the day.  We can make ourselves better by being prepared, but don’t let it take you away from reality.  The important thing is that you spend time with your family and friends. A great husband, wife, mom, dad, brother, sister, kids, friends do not come written in a book or COOP plan, they come from living life and doing the right thing.

The article you linked to on "Nine ways to make your cell phone last the whole storm even if the power goes out" was interesting but missed a couple of key points:

If you're going to charge the phone from your laptop, only leave your laptop on as long as needed to charge the phone to about 80%, then shut it down again. Cell phone charging slows down as the battery gets closer to full, and it's very inefficient to run the laptop while the phone is only gaining a small amount of charge.

Test to see if you can charge your phone while your laptop is "asleep". Some laptops allow this, a side effect of a feature that allows USB devices to wake up the laptop.

Turn off all data services, which is pretty easy on advanced phones. If data services are off, there's no need to worry about turning off push notifications.

Also turn off 2.5G (sometimes shown as GPRS), 2.75G (EDGE), 3G (UMTS, HSPA, etc.). None of these features are needed for basic phone calls and text messaging. Regards, - P.N.G.

Tuesday, October 30, 2012

Speaking of offline Wikipedia tools, there are a number of offline readers available for your laptop computer. I have found these:

None of these are great, but they are all free. - Regards, - Patrick W.

JWR Replies: Thanks for sending those links. The 3.5 Gigabytes required to store LeftistAgendaPedia Wikipedia complete with graphics is a good reason to remember to buy a laptop with a larger hard disk drive, the next time that you need to replace yours.

Monday, October 29, 2012

Hi James,
I am a big fan of yours way over from Czech Republic. I want to thank you for all the so valuable information you share. You really changed my view, in fact you opened my eyes.

Lately I was thinking about the offline Wikipedia and its importance in a prolonged grid-down scenario with no access to the internet. The text Wikipedia dumps are great and I started to think about how to get them in a Kindle-like reader. It seems someone did it already (WikiReader Pocket Wikipedia) and since I haven't found it mentioned anywhere on your blog, here is a link. And Amazon sells them for around $15. It runs on two AAA batteries. It also has some limitations, the most of which I am concerned about is the lack of tabular data in the articles, which might convey potentially useful information. Details on limitations can be seen here.

Be safe and I look forward to reading more great posts on your blog and hear you more on Coast to Coast AM podcasts. Best Regards, - Petr T.

Monday, September 3, 2012

Mr. Rawles,
My wife and I don't have a lot of money and we didn't want to pay to have a smart phone so we chose to have basic phones.  A friend recently upgraded to a new carrier and gave me his Android X with a 16GB SD card in it for $25.  I was happy cause we could use to entertain the kids on road trips or what have you.  But I recently found out that I can download Offline maps onto the SD card.  I'm sure you've seen an SD card for these phones.  Its about the size of your fingernail.  The phones battery wouldn't keep a charge that well, but I bought a brand new battery online off amazon for $5 shipped to my door.   I've downloaded a map for every state that I would travel, or walk through if TEOTWAWKI happens.  But even more impressed I am finding out that I can get Topographic maps downloaded offline onto my SD card as well.  This could become very helpful in case of a long hike, to be able to navigate terrain. 
Even if I had to pay $100 for this, it would be a good investment.  With a portable solar charger the battery would only need to charge for a few hours and the battery unless used continuously will last for several days.  I'm going to get an extra phone and keep it in an ammo can to protect it and get the biggest card 32gb that will fit in it and prep it for WTSHTF.  I don't get a lot of time to read your blog anymore due to the bad economy and the necessary increase of hours in order to make up the loss of income.  But I hope that you and your readers find this information helpful.  I have informed my family and will help as many people as I can to get this squared away as an aid. 
We can also put medical information and color schematics on the phone.  Almost anything and everything that books can provide can be produced to a format for smart phones.  This is really exciting for me. Thank you, - Justin C.

Sunday, August 19, 2012

Let me premise this by saying I am no expert in the material I will provide. I, like most everyone on this site, is an avid hobbyist in these matters. For some background on me though, I am a Mathematics and Computer Science Major in my fourth year of college, a phone and computer enthusiast, I enjoy white hat hacking and build computers for fun. Maybe not the average prepper, but I get by.
I am writing this article as I have found almost nothing on modern technology in the several blogs that I visit on a daily basis, even this one, as esteemed as it is. Frankly, this troubled me quite a bit. First off, as many of you know, our great country is delving deeper and deeper into the lives of you and me, citizens in this country, and even people all over the world.  The amount of data they receive from seemingly harmless web searches or Facebook posts by you would curdle your blood. I recently read an article that the NSA (National Security Agency) has been gathering data electronically on US citizens for over 10 years now. I’m not trying to scare you, this is a fact. So what I will do in this article is try to educate you on how to better protect yourself from further implicating yourself on any more FBI and NSA lists than you already are, and to guide you on a technologically sound path that will help you post TEOTWAWKI.

First things first: GET OFF OF SOCIAL MEDIA. That may seem drastic, especially in today’s society where it seems that if you aren’t on Facebook or Twitter, you don’t exist. But this is the number one place that the government and other malicious agencies are getting their information on you. And if your OpSec is that terrible that you post about your prepping online, then this may be too late for you. But that’s number one. Live with it. If you feel that this is just impossible, then take as much info about you off. The agencies that run these sites already have this information, but it will limit others from accessing it, especially black hat hackers, who may try to gain access to your accounts to steal your identity. Another point to make, which I hope many of you already know: DO NOT post anything about vacation or your time away from home on the internet. This includes posting pictures of your vacation after you get back. This is an invitation to criminals to see that your home is empty and ripe for the picking.

Number Two: Protect yourself online. This is a very complex issue, as there is a plethora of ways that malicious hackers can get to you, but that’s not what I'm referring to; I’m telling you to try to become as incognito while online as possible. The first thing you can do, if your up to the task of learning a little programming, is to get the Internet browser Tor. If you aren’t into that, then get Iron as a browser. ABSOLUTLEY DO NOT browse the Internet with anything else. Maybe Firefox, but that’s a stretch too. If you are using chrome, IE, Opera, or anything else, STOP NOW. There are so many trackers and hidden packets that track every web site you go to, every keystroke you make, and every opinion you post. In other words, everything you do online is stored somewhere where someone can hack it, or the government can just swoop in under any pretense and take it, for “the betterment of the country”. Fun stuff, right?

After that, I would suggest using Proxy Servers to connect to any web site you may think is incriminating, like this one. No offense JWR, I love your site, but I’m probably on a watch list or two because of my ignorance, so I hope to help all of you. For those of you who do not know what a Proxy Server, or Proxy, is, then here is a great explanation. ( In short, it hides all internet traffic on your IP address (your computer’s personal traceable address online), and routs all the data you access through an offsite server, making it seem like you aren’t going to any of the sites, the other server is! You can go to any site you want, and no one will know it is your computer. Obviously there are ways around this, but it’s better than nothing. It will prevent your internet provider from getting a large majority of your internet traffic, which it does at all times, as regulated by the government. This is the number one way that school kids and other people get around firewalls on public computers in schools and libraries, so I would not recommend doing this on a computer you don’t own, as your access may be revoked.

Next up, an Antivirus! I would suggest AVG. Its free, and the free version is GREAT! As always though, if you enjoy the software, support those who make it, and pay the one time fee. Its nominal, but helps programmers like me a lot.
Next up the most important item in your EDC: your SMARTPHONE. Many people think that post TEOTWAWKI, this great culmination of modern technology will be dead and useless. Those who think that, and think that we will go back to hand cranked HAMs are fairly wrong. Yes, the grid may be down, and you won’t have internet or communications on it, but these phones are some of the smallest, most powerful computers in the history of the world. It matters what’s on this device BEFORE the collapse. As many people are preparing, you all most likely have a backup way to generate small amounts of power. Well, good think these phones do not require a lot of power! A hand cranked generator could power these phones easily. So like I said, the important thing is what you have on these phones. This is a pretty laborious topic, so I'm going to split it up.

1)  Brand. Get an ANDROID! I cannot stress this enough. There are several reasons why this is imperative.
First, they have an external microSD card. For anyone who does not what this is, it’s a tiny tiny flash/jump/thumb/usb drive. Whatever you want to call it. They are getting very inexpensive, and can hold the same amount of info as a flash drive. I currently have a 32gb microSD in my phone, and can only fill half of it. This aspect of the phone is so important as even though you may store all your important files on a usb flash, this means that you will need a power-hungry laptop or desktop to read those files. Why? Get a micro dedicated to your BOB and then you can load it into your small, portable phone, and show anyone on the screen you documents. There are even water/shock proof micro sd cards now. I have an 8gb elements proof dedicated just for my BOB files. Fills less than a 20th of it. The rest is my favorite music and a couple good movies, for the entertainment side of survival.
Secondly, most of these phones have a removable battery. This is especially important, as extra batteries are cheap now, and bleed power pretty slowly. So I keep three extra around so that I not only have extra power now for a long trip or if I forget to plug the phone in, but also as a great BOB item. Remember, these phones can be a force multiplier, so the longer you can go without a crank or solar, the better off you will probably be in the crucial days post collapse.

Lastly for hardware, get an OtterBox. These are fairly expensive cases, but they protect your phone from almost anything! I would splurge on this, and drop around $60-$100 on a good case. They are shock proof, waterproof, everything proof. I assume you all can figure out why this is so crucial.
One more point, as with anything recommended on this site, READ THE MANUAL! Especially with these devices. They are complex pieces of machinery that are fickle beasts at best, and must be dealt with properly. Also, there are ways to turn off the tracking devices if you are worried about that. Read the manual, or go online and read blogs on how to do some easy hacking to prevent anyone from using your phone against you.
Now, enough of hardware, onto the software!
When it comes to these phones, they literally have no software limit. You can game, live video chat across the world, have it sing you to sleep, wake you up, etc. But the important thing of course, is how it helps you in TEOTWAWKI.

There are several apps that deal with survival: the full army survival manual FM-21 76, Coast Guard survival, urban survival, camo tips, gun tips, sniper windage directions, incendiary devices, gardening practices, scuba practices…
If you didn’t get where I was going with that, you can get literally EVERY book on your shelf on that phone. Now I know many people advocate a Kindle, or are completely against this in the case of it breaking, power, EMP, etc, and I'm not advocating replacing your library with this. But this is ideal in a GOOD situation. You cant bring that library on your back, but you may be able to come back to it. This phone could save you in that time. Also, Amazon has made Kindle for Android, so you can access all of your Kindle books on your phone, and the resolution is great. I read books on my phone all the time, as I feel that a Kindle is a wasteful expense.
Not only can it store your survival library, but these devices have a flashlight app that can help if your other flashlights are gone/out, it has video/audio recording which may come in handy if you need to prove self defense to a later start-up government, and maybe more importantly, they have the capacity for sanity items. Like games, cards games, novels for fun, and most importantly, music. I know I will fall into depression pretty quickly if I feel that most of my favorite music, especially brilliant classics like Bach, Mozart, Rachmaninoff, etc are lost to the destruction. That would be a blow I could not bear. So instead, you can help preserve these masterpieces, and a few others for your own entertainment!
Some especially useful apps I would recommend are:

Engineering Unit Converter:
this will change every known unit to almost every other known unit. This is essential if your book tells you to take one oz of meds, but you only have a dropper labeled in ml.

: this is pretty straightforward. We use calculators more than we know, and these can be especially useful, giving you a competitive edge over the pen and paper competition.

: Notes are great for about everything, but combined with a camera, you can take pictures of the land and note defensive positions, fields of fire, water sources, food sources, the list is endless. So you can send a few men on recon with these, and have better and more accurate knowledge to get a leg up over the enemy/nature.

First Aid
: I cant believe I forgot about this one until now, but you may not always have an experienced medic around. And even if you are fairly comfortable with the basics, you have to remember Murphy’s Law: what can go wrong, will. So for those especially strange wounds/infections/symptoms, these apps are a huge wealth of knowledge.

Cargo Decoder:
This app has you type in the number on a truck and it tell you what it is hauling and gives you the MSDS info on it. This is a great app if you want to know if you should salvage an abandoned truck or not, how to prepare for the extraction of the material, what to do first aid, etc.

Emergency Alerts:
 This app makes your phone up no matter what state it is in (unless off) and beeps loudly if there is an emergency or warning in your area. Great app to give you a leg up on those not ready for an incoming disaster.

And some others I like: United States Constitution, The Federalist Papers, The Weather Channel, Knots Tying Guide, SurvivalGuide, Screen filter.

*All of the apps I listed are free, so this won’t hurt the wallet. The list of what these phone can do is endless, but alas, your patience is not. So for a final point, if I haven’t convinced you to do all this now, at least get the phone for fun pre-TEOTWAWKI! Live the good life while we can! And these phones definitely help.

Monday, July 30, 2012

The World Radio TV Handbook ("WRTH") is a large annual handbook that contains a comprehensive directory of radio and television broadcasting stations worldwide. It also includes articles, technical reviews and commentaries about many aspects of shortwave listening, DX (long distance) chasing, and selection of suitable radio receivers.

Revised and published annually, the reader is assured that the information contained therein is fresh and accurate. (I did my review based on the 2011 edition.) Anyone who has listened to a shortwave radio will know that it is often difficult to determine the identity of the station as it is being heard. Moreover, many stations operate concurrently on the same frequency. The vagaries of HF propagation normally insure that the targeted audience receives the signal beamed toward them, but many times the signal from a station may be heard where not normally expected. Enter the World Radio TV Handbook (WRTH), which will give the identity of all stations operating on a specific frequency, the times of the transmission, the language being spoken, and an indication of the scheduled content. Not only does this allow the listener to more accurately determine what he is hearing, but the times and audience targeting will enable the listener to schedule and record it unattended.

The information in this book is gathered year-round by the publisher, as well as being directly provided by the broadcasters themselves. Shortwave listeners (SWLs) also contribute station reports, which are of particular value in listing and monitoring clandestine and very small local stations. The listings include virtually all commercial broadcasters, their frequencies ranging from long wave (below 535 KHz), medium wave (535 to 1705 KHz), shortwave (1.8 - 30 MHz), FM (76 to 108 MHz) and terrestrial television.

WRTH has five sections; Editorial, Contributors, Reviews, Features, and Information. The Editorial section consists of a general overview of commercial broadcasting, anticipated changes and so on; a review of the state of the broadcasting industry in general. The Contributors section names those individuals who have been instrumental in providing fresh reception information, especially the rare and hard to find stations. It is notable that the contributors are global, indicating a healthy interest in broadcast listening worldwide. The Review section has reviews of current shortwave-capable receivers in all price ranges, from a few dollars to many thousands. These reviews are concise and very useful for the targeted audience, the hobbyist shortwave listener, but are less technical than reviews in more focused publications, like the amateur radio publication QST. However, the lack of detailed technical measurements seldom make any real difference to the typical shortwave or medium wave listener. A wide selection of articles populate the Features section, ranging from classic radio receivers to digital reception to a preview of anticipated propagation for the coming year.

The majority of the content of WRTH is in the Information section, which contains all the frequency listings. This section is further broken down into several categories, each designed to be helpful as the listener scans the bands. The listings serve both types of listener; schedulers and cruisers. A scheduler will locate the country and language of choice, pick the most appropriate frequency for the current level of propagation, then tune to that frequency at the appointed time and hopefully hear or record the selected broadcast. A cruiser typically finds a band where propagation and reception is good, then tunes about until finding a station of interest. By determining the language and content of the program, the listener can then use the listings to find the most likely candidate(s) for the station being heard. This can be confirmed by hearing the station ID on the hour.

The listings themselves are broken down several ways, each given its own place in the book. National radio listings consists of stations whose broadcasts are targeted within the station's home country boundaries. These are your typical local MW broadcast stations, but also include FM and ground-based TV stations. International radio listings contain stations that specifically target and beam toward other regions of the world. Typically these are very high powered shortwave transmitters, operating on multiple frequencies, many times with identical broadcast content. These stations generally provide cultural content, music, and a healthy dose of propaganda. Most of these high-power stations are government owned and operated, which will define the program content. Frequency listings contain frequencies and the stations to be found on them, in increasing order of frequency. This list is most useful when hearing a station that you want to ID quickly. By looking at the entry you can get the station power, country of origin and call sign with location. If you are a cruiser you will find this to be the place most useful to you.

Terrestrial television is covered thoroughly in the USA as well as abroad. Due to the nature of UHF propagation, foreign TV stations will seldom, if ever, be detected outside of the station's immediate locale. The movement toward digital television has also limited the usefulness of these listings as digital transmissions are ineffective beyond line of sight. The TV listings are interesting but will be of very limited usefulness to the prepper.

The final part of the book is the Reference section, which gives miscellaneous related information for using the guide. Examples are Main Country Index,Geographical Area Codes, Abbreviations and Symbols, and so forth. These entries are helpful in understanding and getting the full information from the foregoing frequency and station sections of the book. Of particular interest is the Standard Time and Frequency listings, which give the frequencies, times and locations of these stations. Time and frequency stations are handy for calibrating your receiver tuning, and getting an accurate time setting when other methods are unavailable, and checking propagation from a specific area of the world.

WRTH covers all licensed and many clandestine radio and TV frequencies worldwide. For its intended purpose and audience it fulfills expectations very well. It is complex on first viewing but with a modest effort anyone can learn to use this handbook quickly. The listings will never be 100 percent accurate because of continual changes in transmitter frequencies, locations, power levels and the inevitable political issues prevalent in some countries. Some readers may have trouble initially understanding the acronyms and technical abbreviations. There is a bit of a learning curve to a beginning user. However, the Features and Reviews section includes a page on how to use the listings as well as a detailed set of world maps which help orient the reader to the locations of the listed stations. The Reference section also covers abbreviations used throughout the book.

This handbook is of great usefulness to shortwave listeners, radio hobbyists, preppers and anyone interested in the variety and geographical locations of transmitters throughout the world. I have used this book as an aid in my radio monitoring for over thirty years. The accuracy of the publication is such that I usually keep my copy for two years before getting a new one. However, if you want to have the absolute latest printed compendium of frequencies, then purchasing a copy annually is your best choice.

Sean Gilbert, George Jacobs, Bengt Ericson. Dave Kenny, Mauno Ritola, Bernd Trutenau, and Torgeir Woxen

Copyright Date 2010

Published by Nicholas Hardyman - WRTH Publications Ltd.

ISBN 978-0-9555481-3-0 is now selling the 2012 edition of the World Radio TV Handbook


Monday, July 2, 2012

Good Morning Mr. Rawles,

You probably already know about this, but there are several good quotes in this article about the massive scope of the damage from nothing more than a few lines of strong thunderstorms over two days rumbling through my neck of the woods.

Folks were stranded in trains, stuck in traffic, crushed in their homes, and millions will be without grid power this coming week during a heat wave.

Even central valleys in interior states can suffer damage similar to a large tropical cyclone, so folks shouldn't get cocky and fail to prepare.  As an aside, I finally purchased and just yesterday put into service my new NOAA alert radio (a Midland WR-300), programmed in the local SAME code(s), and got to hear that warning siren several times last night!  Even though the storms were fairly severe, luckily for us the tornado activity stayed northwest of our location by about 30 miles. - Mike in S.E. Virginia

Tuesday, June 26, 2012

Yes, we all know that an end of world event could happen at any time.  However I look at things statistically and realistically.  I think I have a greater chance of getting into a car accident than getting hit with an asteroid or meteor.  So I first focus on my little corner of the world.  Even if there is a catastrophic event you still need to get to your "go" bag and/or vehicle with your G.O.O.D. bag and perhaps onward to your home or retreat depending on each situation.  So what do you need for day to day survival?  Because the world can come crashing around you and you alone.  It may just be your end of the world event like an accident or illness.  It may not be you but a close family member or dear friend.  It may be a local isolated event like a flood or power outage or a fire – who knows?  As a former boy scout, “always be prepared”.  

While surfing the net, I have come across some sites talk about a list of 20 or 25 things you should always have with you – some ideas were good and some not so good and some not even considered.   So I decided to come up with my own list.  I generally have most of this with me at any given time – it drives my wife nuts.  She always asks why I have so much schumer in my pants pockets and on my keys.  As a city resident it this may be slightly urban oriented.  So here is my version of 25 or so things that you should always try to have with you and my thoughts comments and explanations on each with some additional helpful hints I have adopted over my years:

  • $100+ in cash plus small bills, $3 in quarters & a few new dollar coins.

$100 is the bare minimum, I try to keep $250 to $500 with me at all times.  This is obvious – we are still in America where cash is king.  You can buy your way out of a lot of situations.  Even a fender bender, “Hey here’s two hundred bucks, let’s forget about the insurance paperwork!”  No cops, no insurance and no wasted time.  Remember, when the lights go out so do the credit card machines.  You can spread it around so if you get robbed they don’t get it all.  If you are really worried about a sudden economic collapse you can even keep a 1/10th-ounce or 1/4th-ounce gold coin or more in your wallet.   And even though nobody likes or wants those new dollar coins, a lot of vending machines now take them and you can reduce the quarters you are carrying.  Prices are going up for everything including water, soda, snacks and parking, all available via coin operated equipment.  Hey, did someone say inflation?

  • Credit/debit card with at least $1,000 available on it and a telephone calling card.

You can only carry so much cash safely, so have a credit/debit card with at least a thousand bucks available to buy your way out of stickier situations.  Here in New York City on 9/11 cell phones went out of service so you may need to use one of the few remaining pay phones, so have a $5, $10 or $25 calling card in your wallet and make sure it is up to date.

  • Pocketknife / multi-tool.

This goes without saying – the Leatherman I carry has a bunch of tools – I can fix nearly anything with it.  I will not get into a debate on which is the correct model.  I prefer the Leatherman Flair because it has a corkscrew.  That has saved me on many an occasion

  • Cell phone with camera – keep it charged!

For many of us now our phone is multi-functional tool.  For others it is their entire world.  It is our contact list with phone numbers and addresses, appointment calendar, memo pad, our watch, camera, video recorder, voice recorder, GPS, Internet/e-mail access, MP3 player, radio, alarm and even a phone.  If we lose it or the batteries die, it may really seem like TEOTWAWKI.  Charge your cell phone each night!  Again, you don’t know when it will be your emergency.  As I have said TEOTWAWKI may just be your world and the rest of us will be continuing normally.  When you need it most to communicate your cell phone should be charged!  Keep a charger in each car, and use it!  And when you’re bored at the dentist’s or doctor’s office or wherever just killing time, the same magazines you’ve read before are still there, so you surf or play a game on your phone.  When the battery gets down to 50%, stop and put it away.  It is just like keeping your car’s gas tank filled.  You don’t know when you may really need it.

  • Laminated list of phone numbers of people you can count on in a real emergency.  Don’t use an ink jet printer – when it gets wet your numbers may be unreadable when you need them most.  List both cellular and hard line numbers on the card! – Cell phones might not work in a crisis, or your phone is lost or dead.  For some strange reason some federal agents I know, are required to have a hard copper phone line in their home, I do the same.  And back to 9/11 when cell phones didn’t work.  My point about having a calling card – these two go hand in hand.  Have an out of town contact for you and your immediate circle to communicate on.  You can also use an answering machine at your retreat to leave and retrieve messages in a crisis via a touchtone phone.  Keep the answering machine commands and access number hint on the phone list. 
  • Small flashlight - long life LED type also an LED key fob.

Again my wife tells me I have too many keys and key fob gadgets.  You always have your keys – right?  So keeping some critical essentials on it is a good idea.  One of these is the little LED keychain lights – they are cheap and disposable. As often stated “one is none” so the key fob light is a backup to a quality flashlight.  My personal favorite primary light is the SureFire E2D LED Defender. It is expensive but well worth it.  I have had this light for three years now without fail.   Its small size fits well in your pocket with all that other stuff.  The Surefire has two power settings, to save battery life.  The high setting can temporarily blind someone at night.  There are times when this could be your only means of defense and it has the ability to shed light onto another sticky situation and additionally impale the skull of an attacker.  The downsides are the initial cost and that it needs CR-123A batteries.

  • Lighter and matches

I don’t think I have to go into detail on the many reasons to have these.  And I additionally keep a flint & steel on my key ring.  (“two is one and one is none”)

  • Tactical Pen, pencil and paper

I love my tactical pen.  I have never had issue on any flight or security check with this pen.  Again it could be a last line of defense in addition to a quality writing instrument.  Again “one is none” and a pencil never fails.  A few pieces of paper for quick notes, thoughts etc…
There is something to be said for low-tech.  The US government spent a ton of money on designing and inventing the “space pen” so they could write in outer-space, and the Russians used a pencil.  Let us be reminded to learn, keep and pass on old world common sense, simplicity and skills.  Low tech is sometimes the best.

  • Band-Aids and a few butterflies bandages (keep in wallet) these are always handy for minor cuts, scrapes and scratches.  I even keep a few character Band-Aids for the kids.  It is amazing how quickly a tragedy can be turned around with the distraction of a picture on the Band-Aid.  
  • Aspirin and Necessary medications - Aspirin is good to chew and swallow if you think you are having a heart attack.  I always have a few packets in my pocket for that pounding headache, sore muscles or heart attack.
  • Firearm and ammo, where legal - Know and Follow Federal, State and Local Laws!

This again is obvious – this is a topic unto itself.  I will say take a good class and practice, practice, practice!  Learn the color code of awareness, and learn to avoid confrontations so you don’t end up like George Zimmerman.  

  • Wet Wipes and/or antiseptic wipes – I always tuck a few in my pocket from restaurant leftovers when I order ribs.  They are great for cleaning hands and wounds - but the alcohol stings. Freshening up your hands, neck and face in a tough situation can bring a minor sense of comfort that can help you collect your thoughts and find the strength to carry on.  Sometimes it is the little things in life.  A tiny bottle of hand sanitizer is also not a bad idea. [And most hand sanitizer gels also double as fire starters.]
  • Sunglasses and reading glasses (if needed)

Again this is self-explanatory.

  • Whistle / compass combo keychain fob (small)

Again my love of key fobs. We all know the importance of signaling for help and knowing where we are going.

  • USB drive (encrypted, [such as Ironkey]) again it can be on your key fob.

Tons of information can be kept here securely, depending on the encryption you use.
Additionally I keep an unencrypted text file on it with contact info for the honest individual to return it to me should I lose it.

  • Spare house key kept in wallet – this is what you need as a backup when you lose your keys and all the goodies you now have on your key ring.  So it is a good idea to keep at least one of those grocery or pharmacy customer appreciation barcode tags on your key ring in the hopes of getting them back from another honest individual.  
  • Rubber bands – keep a few on your wrist.  This is another thing that drives my wife nuts.  But how often I use them to fix, bind or secure things for her.  A Para-cord bracelet is not a bad idea for the other wrist since we don’t need watches anymore because most people have cell phones.
  • Safety pins - again it can be on your key fob. There are tons of emergency uses for these. Including quickly fixing your clothes and perhaps preventing a wardrobe malfunction ;-) 
  • ID (Passport if outside country) again in your wallet.  This is self-explanatory.  (The only thing in this country you don't need ID for is to vote - go figure.)
  • Floss (Glide in a tiny, flat dispenser). Did you ever have something between your teeth driving you nuts?  It can also be used as string to fix, repair, and secure things.  A tiny sewing kit from the hotel is also not a bad idea. 
  • Food (candy and/or energy bar) a few mints, hard candies, chocolate, or a granola bar. This can help take the edge off a physically and mentally challenging situation. 
  • Bandana – a hundred and one uses.  Trauma bandage, tourniquet, A wind/dust mask, Soaked in water to use as a neckband to keep cool, Pre-filter water, Headband, For magic tricks, Blow a nose, Clean glasses, As a sling (with the safety pins), Wrap a sprained ankle or wrist, To secure a splint on a broken arm or leg, Wrap around snow or ice for an ice pack or to wipe a tear.  And the list goes on.  You can use it in a restroom as a washcloth and towel to freshen up – perhaps making you feel better in a difficult situation.  Again, sometimes all it takes is a few moments of simple comfort to feel human again and provide the strength to go on and forge ahead.
  • Medical info (allergies, med history, med list, doctor's name and number, etc…)

This again is self-explanatory.

  • A bottle of water – water is life!  Don’t discard the bottle – you can always refill it from a faucet, water fountain or water cooler.  I prefer this over the concept of a condom in your sock as a water carrier.  Although there is nothing wrong about having a few condoms along – just make sure it is not expired, dry rotted of damaged from being in your wallet forever, regardless of what you are using it for. 
  • Recent family photos for ID purposes.  God forbid your family member is lost, separated from you or just missing.  A recent picture in your wallet could speak volumes.  Whenever my family and I go on a trip, before we leave the house, I take a picture of the wife and kids with my phone.  So when you are panicking because they are missing, you may not remember what color shirt, pants and jacket they were wearing.  Additionally with the technology today you can text that picture to law enforcement in an instant. 

This list can go on and on.  Some may say I have missed items, they may feel the list should be 30, 40, or even 50.  Please make your own list with the adjustments you feel are appropriate.  And it will most likely be adjusted each day, sometimes more than once a day.  I am not getting a man-bag, or an everyday carry bag, I’d end up losing it – so I keep the stuff in my pockets.  I guess it’s a guy thing.  This may be the beginning of a justification for an everyday carry bag . But, like I say that can be left and/or lost especially in a panic, or stressful situation.  What about clothes?  Unless you’re living in your swim trunks you got pants with pockets, cargos have even more pockets, and most ladies have a purse with this and more.  Weather appropriate clothes is obvious including hat and rain gear.  The better we are prepared in the short term the better we can get ahead on the long term.  Being prepared should bring about a certain sense of calm and comfort.  If we prepare for life’s little hiccups,  daily problems, major events and total catastrophes we will know in our hearts that we did what we could, and try not to agonize over the should of, could of, would of, and leave the rest in the Good Lord’s Hands. 

For some, this may be the start of more serious prepping.  But it is a mindset that comes over years, it is a part of situational awareness and flexibility.  Be resourceful with what you have at your disposal to fix a situation.  When you fix a kid's toy with a rubber band or help you wife’s wardrobe issue with the safety pin, or comfort someone’s grief by offering your clean bandana it will help you build your confidence for perhaps more troubling times ahead.  I hope this is found to be informative and helpful, and perhaps inspires and starts some on the road to preparedness.  The more people that are prepared the better it will be for all!

Sunday, June 24, 2012


I'm in the process of gearing up my ham radio capabilities, as well as trying to coordinate with my neighbors.  I was listening to today's podcast from and they mentioned a web site called as a method of identifying what radio frequencies your local government entities operate on.  While I was on that site, I was excited to find an amateur radio search link where you can do a search of ham licensees, by ZIP code.

I looked up my zip code and was amazed at the number of ham operators listed there.  By registering on the site, you can pull up the address of each licensee and look them up.  You can note their geographic proximity to you so that you know where your extra eyes and ears are located.  You can also use your nearby ham operators as a basis for organizing your neighbors, as the ham operators might likely have a prepper mindset.

Regards, - Curtis in Texas

Friday, June 22, 2012

Why Ham Radio?
The first question is why ham radio? What is the allure for the survivalist? When you pick up your home phone, there is a lot of equipment between your home and the person you are talking to: miles of wires, computers, power from the grid, etc. You have no control over this equipment. Cell phones are also very dependent upon expensive, complex equipment. The internet is even more vulnerable and interdependent on numerous systems.
Will these be around in a worst case scenario? How will you communicate or receive information over  long distances? Will traveling to gather information be safe? Will contact with other people be healthy and safe? Will you rely on information you might get from AM, FM, or other organized news broadcasts? These sources will probably not have power for very long, will rely on employees actually showing up for work, their locations are well known and therefore may have questionable security, and such sources are prone for takeover for propaganda and misinformation purposes during trying times.

I was living in Southern California in 2003, and almost lost my home to the Paradise Fire. Most of the local firefighters had gone north to help with other fires before our local fire started, so we were almost completely on our own. Both cell phones and land lines went down very early in the game. Not long after this experience, I got my technician license, to be able to communicate locally on Ham Radio. I became involved with a local group of hams, and helped organized a communications net.

Ham radio is one person with a radio and an antenna, talking to another person across the street or on the other side of the world, who has a radio and an antenna, with no other equipment between them - just air!
You may also find that many (if not most) hams will have political, social, and moral views quite similar to your own. Ham radio may very well be an avenue to put you in contact with a vast network of intelligent, helpful, service oriented, resourceful people that might be of great help to you in a TEOTWAWKI situation, or even in other less drastic scenarios.

How Will You Power Your Radio When TSHTF?

Many hams already have their equipment off the grid, using power sources as simple as a car battery and a small solar panel. If TEOTWAWKI happens, there will be a plentiful supply of good batteries available, as cars will quickly run out of fuel, but their batteries will be useful for much longer.

s and boats won’t be of much value to most, but will have very useful deep cycle batteries. If you don’t have access to a photovoltaic panel, with a little ingenuity, an alternator and an old bike, (or even a lawnmower engine and a small supply of gas) you can make a charger for your battery and get some exercise at the same time. There are many YouTube videos on the topic. If you are charging a battery that is not completely drained, you will not need a permanent magnetic alternator. Many car alternators will work, preferably one with an internal voltage regulator.

How Technically Complicated is it?

How complicated is ham radio? Well, the answer is that it can be very technical, and even if you are a genius, you could spend a life-time delving into it, and still not know everything there is to know about sending and receiving radio signals, designing and building  antennas, radios, amplifiers, etc. However, Ham radio can be greatly simplified. Metal resonates (vibrates), and different lengths of metal resonate at different frequencies. This is the essence of ham radio: it is about hooking up a piece of metal to a receiver or transceiver that resonates at the frequency you want to listen to or communicate on.

A good question is how much do you need to know? Your home is quite complicated. There is a lot of math that went into designing the shear panels in your walls so that they don’t fall over in a strong wind. A structural engineer designed your trusses so they can hold up your roof. An electrical engineer designed your power panel, the amperage of the breakers, sized the wire to each of your appliances, etc. Do you need to know this math in order to live in your home? Most people don’t, they just walk into their homes and turn on their appliances and appreciate that they work, and that their house doesn’t fall down.
You all have seen the 150’ towers with alien spaceship looking antennas on top of them. Those hams have taken a lot of time and spent a lot of money making their antennas and transmission systems as efficient as possible, and are talking around the world, often with just 5 watts or even less. Will that ability be important in a survival situation? Probably  not. In fact, I’ll bet  the last thing you will want is a tall tower with a beam antenna being turned around with a rotor. Not the best OPSEC.

Antennas can be Simple, Quick, and Cheap

I was on vacation at Lake Powell, Utah several weeks ago. I took a beam antenna that I had built the week before for about $100. It was designed to resonate at 14.250 MHz (the “20 meter” band is 14.000 MHz to 14.350 MHz, and is capable of world-wide communications). I used a 24’ mast made up of 4’ army surplus fiberglass poles ($1.00 each on eBay + shipping!). I had numerous conversations the first evening across the US. Unfortunately, the wind blew very strong the next day, and one of the plastic connectors between two of the poles snapped, and my antenna went down. It needed several hours of repairs before I could use it again, but I wanted to get “on the air” again that same evening.

I went into the hold of our houseboat, to see what I could use to make an alternate antenna. There are about 20 owners on the boat, so you never know what there might be down there. I found a piece of ½” x 10’ electrical conduit, an aluminum plate 1/8” x 6” x 20”, and 3 sets of jumper cables. I had a 4th set in my ski boat. Here is how I made my “free,” 15 minute antenna:

  1. I screwed a 6’ 5” wire to the bottom of the electrical conduit (I cut this from #12 wire I had brought with me to ground my radio)
  2. I then lashed the conduit to 2 sections of my fiberglass pipe, so the top was 16’, 5” off the ground.
  3. I used 3 lengths of ¼” nylon rope tied off to 3 metal stakes to hold the antenna vertical.
  4. I connected the wire from the conduit to a coax connector (an so-239 from radio shack – about $4) I robbed from my broken antenna.
  5. I grounded the coax connector to the aluminum plate with a small 3” piece of #12 wire and a self-tapping screw.
  6. I clamped the jumper cables to the plate, and ran them straight out from the plate on the ground, like an x with the plate at the center.
  7. I connected the other end of the coax cable to my transceiver.

I was able to make three contacts, one in California, one in Oregon, and one in Texas that evening using 100 watts, about the same amount of energy it takes to power one bulb in a light fixture. I was able to listen all over north and south America. This was a crude, inefficient, (but yet effective enough) vertical antenna. I knew I wasn’t going to talk to Russia or China, but I was able to communicate for hundreds of miles. For what survivalists may want, close enough will often be good enough.
You can make a simple antenna with almost anything. The wire in an extension cord would work. A piece of pipe (steel, copper, aluminum, it doesn’t matter), bailing wire, an old tape measure, etc. You could probably make dozens of simple antennas with just the exposed wire in your attic after the grid goes down. What else will you use it for?

Do You Have Space for an Antenna?

Can’t have an antenna in your HOA-ruled community? There are numerous antennas you can make with a wire suspended inside your attic. Live in an apartment and don’t have an attic or a yard? You would probably be surprised by what you can listen to by running a wire around the walls of your bedroom near the ceiling, and attaching it to your transceiver.  

Don’t have an aluminum plate to connect your ground radials? Use a metal trashcan lid, smash a beer can, use the wheel from your broken wheelbarrow. Or just use a wire nut to connect the ground radials to your coax. You don’t need a ground  plate, it just made it easy for me to clamp the jumper cables together.

Want stealth? Run the vertical wire up a tree. Several months ago I was at a Mountain Man Rendezvous. My buddy and I slung a 43’ wire up into a pine tree with a rock and a nylon string, used 2 - 100’ rolls of 3’ welded wire fencing laid on the ground in a big x (same function as the jumper cables), connected the vertical wire to the center post of a SO-239 connector, and the fencing to the ground portion of the connector with a short wire, and with my antenna tuner, were able to communicate with many hams on numerous bands.

Don’t Like Math?

The formula for the length of a ¼ wave vertical antenna (what we have been discussing here) is:
Length = 234/ Frequency in MHz
Don’t want to do the math? Thousands of geeks have already done it for you! Just google “wire antenna lengths for ham radio,” and you will find many links. For a 20 meter antenna, cut your wires 16’ 5” for your vertical and for your ground radials - at least 5, more is better (4 sets of jumper cables is actually 8 radials). The length for 40 meters is about 32’ 8”. Etc.
To get your antenna as efficient as possible, you would need an antenna analyzer, make your antenna a little longer than suggested, and tune it by cutting off smalls lengths until it resonates at precisely the frequency you are targeting. You could lay out 100 or more radials. The proximity of your house, other metal objects, the type of soil you have, the topography of your location, etc, will all affect your antenna. Is this important for a survivalist? Probably not, as perfection is not the goal. You will most likely be more interested in what is happening 1000 miles or 500 miles or 100 miles away. A simple, un-tuned wire antenna will more than easily allow you to communicate those distances. Such an antenna is very easy to hide, and is very easy to construct.

Getting Started

So where do you start? If you don’t want to transmit, you don’t need a license. Buy a radio, and build a few antennas. There are thousands of plans for simple wire antennas online. There may be reasons that you would not want to transmit. For example, transmissions can be triangulated quite easily. In ham radio, that is called a fox hunt, and 5 year olds do it with regularity. If you are just listening, no one will know it. Also, you can transmit without a license if someone with a license is with you, as long as they identify themselves with their call sign. This means that maybe only a few in your group will need a license. Also, in a TEOTWAWKI scenario, I doubt many people will be overly concerned with licenses.

I am using a Kenwood TS 590. It is a bit expensive, but I like some of the bells and whistles. It cost about $1,600, and will transmit from 6 meters to 160 meters. The Yaesu 957 is about half as big, cost half as much, uses less energy, and will transmit down to 2 meters. A hamfest is like a ham radio swap meet, and you can get some very good deals on high quality equipment. Contact a local radio club or just google hamfest.
If you want a license, it really is quite easy. You can contact your local ham club (simple to google – they make themselves easy to find), and attend a class. You probably will go to 4 or more classes at a local fire station, school, church, etc.

For some, an easier way is to go online and just start taking practice tests. All the questions and answers are online. is a great site. The questions are multiple choice, and you only have to get about 75% correct. You will get 25% correct just by guessing! Many will say that this method will not teach you much, and they are probably correct. However, I am not one to go to a lot of classes to get a ton of information I may or may not need. I prefer to search out specific information that helps me with a project of my choosing.

I spent four evenings in a row (a Sunday to Wednesday) taking tests online for my general license, and passed it with over 90% the next Saturday. As I recall, it cost $10 for a 10 year license. I had seen all of the questions and answers multiple times when I took the exam. I knew I would learn on my own by doing, on an as-needed basis, after getting my license. I am not an electrical engineer, and I have never had an electronics class or even an electronics kit.

So ham radio can be as simple or as complicated as you want it to be. You can spend a ton of money building a system that will talk to Australia using about as much power as an LED flashlight, or you can build “good enough” antennas quickly out of junk laying around your back yard, and you can do it in a way that no one will even know that you are doing it.
By my way of thinking, information can be invaluable in stressful times, and you need to be able to trust the source of the intelligence you are receiving. Not only do I find the hobby fun and interesting, and filled with fascinating people that think a lot the way I do, I believe that ham radio will be one of the safest means of gathering intelligence, and one of the most reliable forms of long distance communications and information gathering should TSHTF.

Monday, June 11, 2012

In early January 2012, I began thoroughly testing the Pocket Panel: 6 Watt Portable Solar USB Phone Charger and the Cinch Power: CP505S Power Pack (USB Battery). These two products team up to make a compact, lightweight, portable power solution for USB powered devices such as cell phones, GPSes, digital cameras, bluetooth headsets, games, PDAs, MP3/MP4 players or small LED lamps. After a review of the individual components, I'll summarize some quick system tests.

Pocket Panel: 6 Watt Portable Solar USB Phone Charger

The PocketPanel photovoltaic solar charger is rated at 6 Watts and 1.2 Amps. Reviews on the company's web site suggest a typical full sun current around 0.9 Amps which suffices for many typical cell phones. In peak sunlight, the array produces enough power to charge a typical load device while actively using it. Modern smart phones require significant charging current, particularly at first, when significantly discharged. In use, the four 3" x 5.5" PV panels fold out to about 21.5" x 7"; four corner grommets with 1/4" holes provide flexible attachment or tie-down possibilities to maximize solar exposure. A velcro closure simplifies transport, and the unit folds to 7" x 4.5" x 1.25" approximately. The high-efficiency mono-crystalline (17% efficient) require about half the size of earlier poly-crystalline designs and also deliver a higher percentage of rated power over a longer lifetime. (Wikipedia has an in-depth article on photovoltaic technologies, efficiencies, the history of solar cells, etc. They are laminated to a rugged fiberglass substrate, which mitigates some of the weight and fragility of glass. The weather-resistant unit weighs 0.83 pounds. The output is a standard (female) USB port making interconnection easy and versatile. Combined with the adapters in the Cinch Power CP505S, a wide variety of devices can be charged.

Cinch Power: CP505S Power Pack (USB Battery)

The Cinch Power CP505S Power Pack is high capacity, USB-connected battery system with multiple connection adaptors. The power capacity is rated at 5000 mAh (milliAmpHours at 3.7Volts). Output voltage and current are rated at 5.4VDC and 950mA, respectively, with a 500 charging cycle rated lifetime. This unit easily fits in a shirt or pants pocket, at 3.9" x 2.8" x 0.7" It's lightweight Lithium-polymer cell design brings it's heft to a mere 5.1 ounces. Simple operation consists of bringing power in (e.g. via a USB-fitted solar charger) using the supplied USB to DC cable. The cable has a convenient self-retracting cord, collapsing to under 5" and expanding to about 30". The 3-level power indicator system (Low <20%, Med 20-80%, High >80%) indicates amount of stored charge via 3 LEDs. The On/Off toggle switches output power to the USB connector. A "Use" LED is lit when power is being supplied from the battery. When charged, the charging cable becomes the output cable by using the USB output connector, which then interfaces with a variety of supplied adaptors. Adaptors include: Sony Ericsson-K750, Mini USB/Motorola V3, iPod/iPhone, Micro USB, and Nokia-DC 2.0; this should allow a generous variety of Apple, Blackberry, Nokia, Samsung, Sony, MP3, MP4, etc. devices access to the battery power. The device features over-current and over-charge/discharge protection. It shuts off automatically when the connected device completes charging. An optional AC power supply is available as a backup for extended cloudy weather.

Testing of Paired Products

For pocket transport, the panel array will probably fit best in a coat pocket, whereas the battery (smaller) can easily fit in a typical shirt or pants pocket. The rugged PV array works nicely in a south-facing window, with the attached battery charging next to it on a windowsill. I initially started charging the battery with the PV array around noon on a Friday in January at about 6600' elevation. After an overcast and snowy Saturday, the full charge completed mid-morning on Sunday. The combo of panel, battery and adapter works well. The blue "Use" LED on the battery blinks to indicate power delivery. The charged battery powered my iPhone (normal sporadic usage for me) on this single charge for about a week. I then fully recharged the battery using the PV system which took about another day. A Vococal 3-LED adjustable clip-on reading lamp with a USB connector made a good constant load test in addition to my iPhone. Running constantly, this bright (more-than-adequate) 3-LED reading lamp ran for about 32 hours continuously.

A full five months later (after a full re-charge), the battery pack had 2 LEDs (somewhere between 20-80% charge) remaining, so the standby leakage current is fairly low. All in all, about the only minor drawback might be the suitability of this system for more extreme weather environments. Other portable PV systems (such as the Joos Orange Solar Charger) offer a bit more ruggedness for severe environments, but this combination is likely to be a good solar solution for many remote, backup and portable applications.

More information about the three referenced products is on their respective web sites: Pocket Panel, Cinch Power, and Vococal.

- L.K.O. (SurvivalBlog's Central Rockies Regional Editor)

Wednesday, June 6, 2012

On May 26, 2012 the server was attacked and knocked offline.  The method of attack used is commonly referred to as a Denial of Service or DoS attack. I won’t delve into who might have sprung the attack nor how it was done. Both topics have been covered.(1)  What will be discussed are the 10 lessons learned from the attack as it pertains to preparedness and survival.

Lesson #1: We don’t know what we don’t know.

We can’t all be experts in everything. Regardless of where you are in the preparedness journey, we’ve all realized at some point that we have a lot to learn in the realm of getting prepared for: TEOTWAWKI, hyperinflation, grid down scenarios, tactical strikes, supply chain disruption, natural disasters, government hostiles, and the list goes on and on.

We knew that SurvivalBlog could go down but we certainly didn’t know when or why it might happen.  Any web site can go down for any number of reasons: web site/server gets hacked, electrical failure at the site of the server, government censorship, domain name hijacked, database failure, programmer uploads some mistyped code, etc, etc. But when SurvivalBlog went silent, it was like the Encyclopedia Britannica of Survivalism went away.

What to remember from this lesson: learn what you can while you can but always try to secure a hard (paper) copy of the topic you are studying in case your source disappears (hard drive, thumb drive, SD cards, printed copy, CD, etc). You won’t regret it and you can always pass your library down to your children.

Lesson #2: Know thy enemy (Sun Tzu - The Art of War).

Prior to the attack on SurvivalBlog, an anonymous and threatening e-mail was sent to JWR.  Among other things, this person used the term “we hack good” indicating a potential to hack the web site.  I would be more than ignorant if I attempted to armchair quarterback JWR on what he could’ve or should’ve done to prepare. But I digress.

FWIW, I have been using SolutionsGrove since October, 2010 for instant notification of my server crashing. With a free account, they will search for a specific page (that you designate) every 15 minutes.  If they do not receive a response, you will be instantly notified.  They will continue to check your site and notify you when it is back online. For a donation, they will check your site every 2 or 5 minutes. I’ve had terrific success with this. I am not affiliated or compensated by this company in any way.

The point is to gather information on your opponent.  Read between the lines. Google their name, phone number, email address, avatar, tag line, meme, even quoted lines from text they’ve written. The more you deduce, the more advantage you have in preparations. To quote a translation of Sun Tzu’s The Art of War: “It is said that if you know your enemies and know yourself, you will not be imperiled in a hundred battles; if you do not know your enemies but do know yourself, you will win one and lose one; if you do not know your enemies nor yourself, you will be imperiled in every single battle.”(2)

What to remember from this lesson: regarding any topic your are studying, investigate what you see...and don’t see. Not just the physical nature, but the source, where it came from, how did it get there, it’s history.  The more you know, the more prepared you will become.

Lesson #3: Redundancy is your friend.

As I’ve said numerous times on my blog, redundancy is the key to serenity. “Three is two, two is one, one is none”.(3)  If you only have one gun and it gets stolen, then you have none. If you have two guns and one is stolen, you have one left...but what if neighbors show up to help fight off the Golden Horde but have no weapons? My point is, the more you have, the better off you will be in an emergency situation.

In JWR’s case, he has a server in Sweden and the U.S. Both were attacked leaving him dead in the water but even before that he was actively seeking additional off-shore mirror sites.  The more mirrors that he eventually has of SurvivalBlog, then the harder it will be to take it down simultaneously.  He has also added the redundancy protection of an additional URL: “”. Should iCANN or any other entity take control of his URL, fans of SurvivalBlog can still reach the site by typing “” [or one of the two the dotted quad addresses.]

You can be redundant with everything. Here’s is a list of a few things on my redundancy list to give you some basic ideas:

Income- (1) My main job (Sonography, Radiography). (2) My part time job (See #1, different hospital). (3) My wife is nationally certified in Radiology and can work if necessary.

Income skills- (1) Trained in Sonography. (2) Trained in Computed Tomography. (3) Trained in Radiography.

Transportation- (1) The family Suburban. (2) The family Jeep. (3) My auto insurance includes rental car coverage should one of my cars becomes disabled.

Food- (1) Our bi-weekly grocery run. (2) Our garden and short term food storage. (3) Our long term (25+ years) food storage.

Water- (1) House/city water. (2) 55 gallon drums x 12 in backyard. (3) Bottled water in garage.

Shelter- (1) Our house. (2) Our family retreat 2+ hours north of town (3) a retreat property with no shelter but we have tents, sleeping bags, etc for now.

Entertainment- (1) Electronic/card/board games. (2) A ton of music/books/movies/cartoons stored on a hard drive. (3)MacBook with solar panel recharger.

Water filtration- (1) Berkey water filter with 2 black berkey ceramic filters + pf2 x 2 filters. Filters 3 gallons per hour. (2) Sand filter. (3) Boiling water or plastic bottle in the sun sterilizing.

Cooking- (1) Indoor stove & microwave. (2) Outdoor propane barbeque grill x 2. (3) Dutch ovens to cook on charcoal/wood fires.

What to remember from this lesson: think about what could happen and prepare for it. Then have at least three backups in case something fails. If your electricity fails (and you have an electric stove) , cook outdoor on your barbeque grill. If you run out of propane, cook over coals or embers with your dutch ovens.

Lesson #4: Communication is king.

While SurvivalBlog was only able to communicate the attack with a few sentences on a blank white html page, word was still traveling at the speed of type across the globe.  As soon as I noticed the attack, I posted a quick blog post to let folks in my circle know what was going on and how to help. JWR had asked folks not to keep refreshing the homepage as it adds to the chaos during a DoS attack. I explained the request and was picked up by Google within the hour. As the internet lit up with Google searches such as “survival blog attack” and “survival blog down”, folks were pointed to my post and quickly learned of the attack in progress.

Aside from spreading the word via blogs, RSS feeds, news sites and other static/dynamic portals, JWR still had the option of using email, cell, land line, MURS, and ham radio. I wouldn’t be surprised if he even had some carrier pigeons stashed away. More likely a hawk ;-)

What to remember from this lesson: secure several lines of communications because “If you don’t have Com, you don’t have jaaack.”(4) -Jeff Trasel, from "Patriots: A Novel of Survival in the Coming Collapse"

Lesson #5: Consider your trigger points.

Consider establishing trigger points that put you into action.  This thought came to me as I traced back where visitors were coming from to view my SurvivalBlog attack post.  Using a free stat counter, I traced a visitor to a survival forum where a long conversation was underway regarding the possible causes of the disappearance of SurvivalBlog.

As I read through the posts, I came to one that stated (I’m paraphrasing from memory) “I always figured when SurvivalBlog was taken down by the government, it was time to Bug Out.”  Now, this may be rational, to a certain degree, but nobody had established that SurvivalBlog was taken out by the government.  Perhaps this person was simply saying IF the government took down SB, THEN it would be a good time to consider moving to the Redoubt. Regardless, it made me start to consider my trigger points.

Would it take a mushroom cloud to motivate me to bug out or are there more sublime triggers? Joel M. Skousen, author of Strategic Relocation--North American Guide to Safe Places , said in a recent youtube interview that he believes the next major trigger points will be if 1) North Korea nukes South Korea, and/or 2) Russia begins pulling troops home to protect the motherland and he believes these triggers could lead to America getting nuked.(5)  Once you set trigger points, consider how quickly you can leave your home.  Are your BOB’s ready? Do you have food cached outside of town? Do you have multiple escape routes mapped out in case of a traffic jam? Do you have enough gas? Or are you completely ready to Bug In?

What to remember from this lesson: Don’t wait until it is too late to establish your trigger points. Pray to our Heavenly Father about them, discuss them with those important to you, and be prepared to act upon them. Heck, I’d even recommend a few practice runs!

Lesson #6: Be active in your community.

Since JWR gives so much to the survival community, I didn’t hesitate to write my post attempting to help him slow down the page reloads on the day of the DoS attack.  Patrice Lewis over at Rural Revolution wrote something as well and the survival community was clued in to the attack within hours. Service to others isn’t just Biblically mandated, it insures that we as a community survive together.

Reach out to your local community and participate in whatever way you can.  I recently went to a grand opening of our brand new local fire department.  Two of my daughters, along with other Young Women from our church, raised and donated 200 teddy bears for the firefighters to give to children when they lose their belongings in a fire. Go to the local parades, or better yet be in the local parades. Go to Town Hall meetings and get to know your local business owners and politicians.

What to remember from this lesson: no man is an island.  To quote JWR: “The underlying theme to my writings is to be part of an integrated team.  That team might be just a few families living on a cul-de-sac, or it might be a small town. By being competent and confident with firearms, your group will avoid confrontations.  Very few bad guys will mess with someone with a capability to immediately drop them at up to 400 yards.  And if you don't have the willingness to do so yourself, then team up with someone that does.  You can provide other forms of useful and valued support to a group or small community effort. (Agriculture, advanced first aid, mechanics, et cetera.)  Not everyone has to be a warrior.”(6)

Lesson #7: Build your library.

Survivalblog offers an incredible wealth of knowledge for free.  It is easily accessible and therefore easy to get in a habit of visiting daily to absorb knowledge and then walk away. With the DoS attack, now we know SurvivalBlog may not always be so convenient to access.  However, with the purchase of an Archive CD, everyone can have an archive of the entire web site (up to 2011) to view at any time on their personal device.

Contained within this archive will be all the posts where folks have recommended other survival or preparedness minded texts such as the terrific SurvivalBlog post by Greg Ellifritz titled: The Best Free Medical References for Preppers which lists nine online texts and 12 hard copy books.  Use the Search feature on SurvivalBlog to find many other recommended archives, texts, guides and manuals.

What to remember from this lesson: whether you store your library in digital format or print it out, don’t wait until the information starts to disappear before you start to grab it all.  With one-terabyte hard drives now at the $99 mark, you can easily store volumes of information.

Lesson #8: Don’t forget there IS evil in the world.

It is easy to get caught up in the daily routines: going to work, taking kids to school, doing chores, helping with homework, church, sports, and hobbies.  You have to remember not to let your guard down because evil does not rest. Keep your skills and gear up-to-date. Teach those you love the same.  Sure, not everything is avoidable but...we can fight it.  As Ted Nugent said in January 2011, “Be prepared for evil. Rather than trying to fathom it, just be ready to stop it.”(7)

What to remember from this lesson: Don’t let your guard down...there is too much at stake.

Lesson #9: There will always be doubters.

As simple and straightforward as our posts on the DoS attack were, there were still doubters on survival forums questioning whether or not SurvivalBlog was down simply to increase the sales of archive cds.  Seriously?!?  There will always be doubters, or “scoffers” as the Bible calls them.  "Knowing this first: that scoffers will come in the last days, walking according to their own lusts, and saying, "Where is the promise of His coming? For since the fathers fell asleep, all things continue as they were from the beginning of creation." For this they willfully forget: that by the word of God the heavens were of old, and the earth standing out of water and in the water, by which the world that then existed perished, being flooded with water" (2 Peter 3:3-6).

Doubters will tell you it is pointless to prepare.  They will distract you from your mission and perhaps even impede you.  How do you deal with a doubter in your life?  "Cast out the scoffer, and contention will leave; yes, strife and reproach will cease" (Proverbs 22:10). Show them the door and perhaps even let it tap their behind on the way out.  Might make you feel better. It would me.  I’m just sayin’...

What to remember from this lesson: doubters do not care about solving a problem or learning, they feed on promoting doubt.  Walk away and leave them hungry.

Lesson #10: Do what you can, leave the rest to Him.

It was around 2130 (MST) when I received a reply from Avalanche Lily regarding the ongoing DoS attack. She casually mentioned that she was reading my e-mail to JWR as he was heading off to bed. He wasn’t staying up, around the clock, fretting what to do about his very popular web site.  No doubt the e-mails were beginning to pour into his in box.  His expertise told him to get some rest.  He knew the problem would still be waiting for him in the morning.

What to remember from this lesson: Do what you can, when you can but always know that through Him all things are possible.

In summation, these are some of the lessons I gleaned from the cause and effect of SurvivalBlog being down.  I didn’t intend on it to end so “churchy” but I won’t apologize for it either.   If this post helps one person out there then I will consider my contribution to SurvivalBlog a success.  Thank you to the Rawles family and all that you do for this community.  And thank you to the advertisers as well.

Works Cited:

1. Update on the Recent Distributed Denial of Service (DDoS) Attack on SurvivalBlog, May 29, 2012.

2. Sun Tzu - The Art of War translated by Lionel Giles, available for free download here (60 kb text only version).

3. Two is One, One is None...Be Redundant; The Orange Jeep Dad blog, Feb. 22, 2011.

4. "Patriots: A Novel of Survival in the Coming Collapse" by James W. Rawles; Ulysses Press, 2009.

5. Joel Skousen: The Origins of May Day and the Commies, YouTube Video, May 1, 2012

6. Letter Re: A Non-Warrior Surviving Traumatic Times;

7. Nugent: Be prepared for evil. The Washington Times, Jan 11, 2011.

Thursday, May 31, 2012

Obviously it’s fun talking about boom sticks and charging in to save the day. But here are some other items for your consideration for the other 23 hours in the day when the castle is not under siege:

FOOD & WATER - Your body can last 30 days without food, and only 3 days without water. What are you doing to secure a minimum of a gallon/day for each member of your family. Remember, in a grid down scenario, it will NOT take long for industrious groups to recognize that water will be more valuable than gold. Plan on making a hike to a nearby stream each day with your bucket? How long do you think it would take a gang to recognize the power of strategically placing sniper or blockades to/from accessible watering holes? You're going to need a Plan B - plastic water cans (5 gal) that can be carried, 55 gallon drums, 250 gallon rain capture systems. These will be life savers. One final word on water – consider a well hand pump like this one from Flojak. JUST BECAUSE YOU HAVE A WELL DOESN’T MEAN YOU HAVE WATER! Without electricity, how do you plan to get that water up to you?

Figuring out food is easy. What did you eat today? Now buy 30 of that, with your goal to build up to 6-12 months of food for your family. Eggs/milk? Yeah, they have the powdered stuff. Remember that you will want to maintain as much of a normalized, familiar diet as possible so you don’t shock your body.  Don’t forget to throw in some sweets (Hershey Kisses, candy bars, etc.)  When everything seems like it’s off its hinge, you’ll appreciate having something sweet.

CLOTHING - What are you lacking right now that is either missing or in need of repair/stitching? Comfortable, water proof hiking boots should be priority. Poncho. Waterproof cold weather gear. Hats, gloves, sunglasses. Do you have extra batteries for your watch?  Also - 2 categories to prep: Everyday "civvies" /work uniform (khakis and polos, etc), and then your "playtime/hunting" gear. there is a time and place for both. Simple is best. And remember that “two is one, and one is none”.

SHELTER - This is more than do you have a roof. Consider what happens when the power goes down. Do you have light/candles/flashlights/phone service? What about backup heat? Here's food for thought: In a grid down scenario, how long do you think you can "hold up" without operational sewage? Do you have an emergency 5 gallon bucket with lid and extra baggies? Hint: some extra kitty litter? Not a bad idea. Also - inventory any possible weak spots: Ground floor doors and windows. You may also consider pre-cutting plywood to act as reinforcement in the case of a hurricane (or other man-made threats).  Now is also a good time to begin contingency plans.  Where will you go in the event of some emergency and your house is no longer safe, or has been destroyed or damaged?  Have you considered forming alliances with people in your neighborhood or church where if you are homeless you can stay with them (for a pre-determined period of time), and vice versa.

TRANSPORTATION - Lets step back for a second. Before you go shopping for a diesel Bug-out vehicle, do you have the basics? Jumper cables? Gas can? Spare tire? Reliable jack? Extra quarts of oil and coolant? These cost $50 and can be the difference between a 10 minute ride home, or being stuck in the woods overnight. Also - were you aware that you can purchase a 14 gallon gas tank with wheels to store at the house? Think about it...if the pumps go dry, you have an extra 300-400 miles of mobility that can be bartered or utilized to get to your safe house.

Going Beyond The Four Pillars

Beyond the "4-Pillars" of Food, Clothing, Shelter, and Transportation, there are other vital tactics that you will need to sustain you and your family over the next 6-12+ months: They are Communications, Defense, Medical, and Community.

COMMUNICATIONS: - As the Ghostbusters would ask, "Who ya gonna call?" Do you have a local list of 5 to 10 reliable people that you would trust if you come home to a burning house, or you find yourself surrounded by a roving band of ne'er-do-wells trying to beat down your front door and windows? After the phone tree, given the phone dead zone in New York City on 9/11, you should probably consider getting your ham radio license. When disaster hits, this is the Internet, phone system, and postal service all wrapped up in one little box. In the field of battle, when you control communication, you also control movement of the enemy, and can cut off any vital supplies and shipments.

DEFENSE: This seems to be where us guys like to go first. There's a reason this is further down the list. If you don't have these other items squared away first, then what are you going to do? Well, you become one of "them", the looter crowd that just thinks they are going to take whatever they need by force. The habit of planning the use of non-lethal force will avoid major unnecessary engagements that cost valuable resources, and cost lives. Still, you need to be able to defend yourself, your family, your home, and be prepared to come to the aid of your friends and community. It’s your duty as a man, in my humble opinion.

You don't need to spend $1,500 on the fanciest AR and a drawer full of Glocks in every caliber. It means you need the basics - 1) Knowledge/Awareness, 2) Hand to Hand/Self Defense training, 3) Concealed carry, 4) Something to defend your home against multiple aggressors for 20 to 30 minutes until help can arrive (see Communications, above). At its core you can equip yourself with a highly-concealable Taurus TCP .380 for only $200, and reliable 12 ga Shotgun for $209.

Guess what? That leaves enough funds to pick up a Mosin Nagant rifle for less than $120 that will take down any large game you may need to put on the table for your family (or even two-legged predators). Now I'm no math major, but for $529 (+FFL fees), you can purchase all the home defense that you really need. But here's the rub: These will do you no good unless you practice, practice, practice. Get involved with USPSA. Find other like-minded folks in your area who are interested in running various drills, shooting matches, and get the practice and experience you need. Losers practice so they don't miss. Winners practice until they can't miss. Chew on that for a minute.

MEDICAL - Preventive maintenance is most critical. Get off your duff and move for 20-30 minutes day. Walk, hike, hit up p90x or Insanity. Heck, go online and find some sort of fitness that you find fun. I have a 20 minute circuit of sit-ups, pushups, pull-ups, handstands, rev pull-ups, dips, burpees, curl/shrugs, weighted jump rope and deep squats/sprints that I knock out in the time it takes most people to watch television commercials. Beyond preventative, you will obviously need some basics: Supplements, pain meds, insulin, Neosporin, Band-aids, rubbing alcohol, etc. Don't over think it. Just put together what you need as you need it in a water-tight tool box, or Rubbermaid tote container. Then find some place to get CPR certified.

COMMUNITY - No man is an island, and you aren't going to be able to do this alone. We're not wire up that way. Got a bug out retreat in the boonies that's 50 miles from the nearest town? Awesome. Then what. Why not organize with people in your community. Find a common thread, and decide that if TSHTF that you, your family, your neighbors, and people within your community are going to be proactive in setting up all the items listed above.  Since before the formation of our nation, churches have played a vital role in our communities, both for spiritual guidance, as well as for community. We need each other.  As a former athlete I cannot tell you how many times I was reminded of the acronym “TEAM – Together Everyone Achieves More!”.  It became a running joke, but today those words ring truer than ever.  There are people you know who can build shelter, run plumbing, electricity, fix cars and engines, set up and orchestrate civil communications and defense, bake, can, and coordinate anything you can imagine. But apart from community, those talents and strengths all go to waste.  But when combined, we all become a part of something much greater than the sum of our individual parts.

The media seems to enjoy casting "preppers" as outer fringe nut jobs, yet the federal government has underground bunkers and contingency plans for every conceivable disaster known to man. Did you know they even have contingency plans in the event an asteroid slams into the planet and wipes 90% of the population off the face of the earth? Yet you're told that you're nuts to set aside 30 days of food and water... well, to me that is nuts not to think about these things and set plans in motion. And above all else, find things that you enjoy doing and share them! Movies, plays, art, music, backpacking, dancing...and my favorite, eating! There is so much worth living and fighting for.

So why not start today with an open discussion with the people in your life? The journey of a thousand miles begins with a single step. Start by picking up that extra 25lb block of rice at Sam’s Club. Then look to add 1 new thing each day or week. Remember, the days are evil, and each passing day is a lost opportunity to do good, not only for yourself, but for the lives of those around you who are beginning to wake up.  And see this time as a tremendous opportunity to become more as a person, and to minister to the needs of others.  Imagine the impact and good you can do when a family member or friend comes to you panicked by the reality that the world that they’ve always know is about to change.  Nature abhors a vacuum, and when a void is created, Edmund Burke once said that “All that is necessary for evil to prevail is for good men to do nothing”.  Well, now is your chance to do something good.

Friday, May 18, 2012

I want to pass along a recommendation for field telephones. Coleman's Military Surplus is selling Swiss army surplus field telephones (made by Ericsson) for $19.95 plus shipping. I have purchased some of these and have good luck with them.

They use a crank for ringing the bells and "D" cell batteries for voice transmission. They can also be hooked up in a common battery / switchboard set up if a person is lucky enough to have one. - Matthew in Kansas City, Missouri

Saturday, April 14, 2012

Most people wouldn’t keep .22 shells on hand for their .30-06 rifle.  They likely wouldn’t waste space in their pantry, storage, garden or go-bag for foodstuffs that were not calorically or nutritionally dense compared with the space they occupied

Each serious or well-intentioned survivalist knows how precious resources, energy, space and time can be, and would likely strive for a high level of efficiency.  Being well prepared and resourceful is a cornerstone of success when it comes to survival. And yet, there is a fundamental tool that is oft overlooked- effective communication strategies.

The tools in a survivalist’s arsenal should reflect necessity.  The select items and materials one keeps on hand can ultimately mean the difference between success and failure, between abundance and poverty, and ultimately, between life and death. One of the most functional assets the strategic survivalist can have on hand is effective, constructive communication skills.

Effective communication is an important skill for all humans, and should not be undervalued. Ones ability to communicate well can positively impact and change the trajectory of many a conflict or social dilemma. Its development is useful in all types of interpersonal relationships and settings.  Crisis, conflict, courtship- it matters not where one imagines he or she might want to use these skills- we need only understand that we most certainly will.

Good communication skills are a fundamental component of human success.  When anthropologists study immediate-return foraging cultures, untouched by civilization, they often note a social dynamic which most often comes with unyielding emphasis placed on cooperation and problem solving. It has been termed “fierce egalitarianism”,  it makes sense- living in small bands, at the mercy of nature and highly dependent on one-another, humans likely developed solution-oriented communication tendencies in order to be successful in the face of the danger and uncertainty of their world.

The devolution of our disposition for solution-oriented, cooperation-directed communication skills is likely to be a relatively recent phenomenon- one associated with the development of systems of food production and storage that over time required or lead to greater divisions in labor, status, population growth and land ownership.  Agriculture cropped up years ago and the division of labor and society in ever-growing social groups has undermined the egalitarian mindset of our ancestral, tribal forebears- the emphasis of common ground- amongst the population ever since.

There is clear evidence, both currently and historically, that without the skills necessary to find resolution to conflicts which are nurturing to the group’s moral and promote cooperation and positive outcomes, the resentment, distrust and hardships which arise give way to deterioration rapidly. 

Daniel Balliet, of Singapore University, conducted a meta-analysis of much of the available research on how social dilemmas are enhanced by cooperative communication. In the paper, which appeared in the Journal of Conflict Resolution, Balliet looks to a number of studies to find out what strategies enhanced conflict-resolution.  He writes that while “there is no magic bullet…  the single solution that has harnessed the most support and reduced the most conflict… is [effective] communication.” (JCR, 40)

Conflict is everywhere.  As social, highly emotional creatures with many variable forays, inevitably, toes are stepped on, walls are put up, hearts are broken.  Even a decision like “what to make for dinner”, or an off-handed remark can lead to conflict.  The interlocking web of opportunity for conflict-resolution is endless.  Cultivating effective communication strategies will be as useful to you as stocking up on toilet paper or finding out which plants won’t give you a gnarly rash when you have to go without.

So, how does one begin in their quest to advance their communication skills?  The first objective in this process would be realizing that cultivating better communication skills takes time and patience- with oneself and others. Patience is a virtue, and this adage could become a mantra for to assist you in advancing your communication.

As for the how-to, fortunately, there has been much research into the field of what makes communication with others strong, and what makes it go sour.  Various researchers have come up with more or less the same basic tenets.  If understood and practiced frequently, the skills a person develops can change the course of their relationships with others fundamentally.  So, if you feel up to the task, read on for a primer on what will likely be a rewarding investment of your energy and time.

A few books stand out which shed light on the subject of bettering our communication skills.  The three that I am most familiar with, and that are very easy to digest, are “Getting to Yes: Negotiating Agreement Without Giving In” by Fisher, Ury and Patton, “Communicating Effectively for Dummies” by Martin Brounstein, and “Nonviolent Communication: A Language of Life” by Marshall Rosenberg, Ph.D.

These authors’ work is based on many years of research observing human communication, across cultures and in different scenarios, from spousal discourse to business deals.

When we think of communication, we think of speaking, generally.  Funny enough, one of the most critical facets of being an effective communicator is listening well.  We are not raised in western culture to listen well… many of us come from family dynamics where people heard what they wanted to hear, and based their responses on that.

 We have also been conditioned by the culture at large to be impatient and hasty with our responses and assumptions. These ways of relating are unlikely to produce positive outcomes… when an “agreement” is struck, and the aforementioned ways of listening were a large factor influencing it, then it is likely that one party simply acquiesced or gave up- which creates resentment and does not deepen understanding, nor does it further positive feelings amongst the participants.

So, how does one become a good listener, and ultimately a good communicator?  There’s not a special formula.  There is, however, a need to be objective, empathic, and to cultivate a sense of joint effort to find a common ground.

The authors of the book “Getting to Yes” advocate some fundamentals that are easy to understand.  It may seem trite, but they really are simple ideas. It is getting past your enculturation and habits that is the difficult part.

First, don’t bargain over positions- it is inefficient, it endangers a relationship, and it gets worse the more parties that are involved.   Positional bargaining is the most common pitfall in social dilemmas… each party in a conflict adheres rigidly to their own desires, thereby invalidating the ideas of those around them.  All elements of communication, like salt roads to Rome, lead back to the position of the party espousing their views in contrast to another’s.

It’s a no-win situation.  If listening is a key ingredient to good communication, then it follows that objectivity and flexibility would work well, too.  After all, what are we listening for if not to gain insight into the ideas of the other party?

The next concept outlined in Getting to Yes is to “Separate the People from the Problem”.   Remember that negotiators are people first, and that every negotiator has two kinds of interests: The substance and the relationship.  The relationship, however, tends to become entangled with the problem.  Since positional bargaining (where one is fixated on a particular idea or outcome, and orients all attempts at resolution toward that end) tends to put a relationship in conflict with the substance, its best to keep them separate. Deal directly with people.

How do you deal with people directly?  Seems like an easy task- many people are probably scratching their heads, because this seems like the only thing that you are doing when engaged in a discourse or argument with another person.  But without some alterations to the approach, many of us may find ourselves squabbling, yelling, and ending up sans solution, and mired in frustration and resentment. 

The authors suggest we start this by changing our perceptions.  We must change the way we are viewing them, the other, and take the opportunity to influence how they are viewing us. 

We start by putting ourselves in the other person’s shoes.  That’s where we try to understand their position, or why they might feel a certain way.  If you were in a survival situation, and came upon others that were looking for food, ill, or frightened, you could attempt to see things from their vantage point.  Doing so might keep you from making a rash decision. 

There are many people in the survivalist community who take a “me and my own” stance when it comes to dealing with outsiders, especially in a SHTF scenario.  And, while this concept certainly has its place, this type of mentality makes it likely that if there is a person with valuable skills who comes along, information or ideas, say a doctor or engineer or perhaps just an individual with an able body and sound mind, they will be obscured to the group that cannot adequately address confrontations by utilizing empathy.  In other words, sharing a meal with an outsider who comes looking for food, as opposed to chasing them off with sticks from the get- go (and yes, this is a metaphor as well) can be a tool in and of itself.

When dealing with social dilemmas, its also important to try not to deduce their intentions from your fears.  This is a strange phenomenon, yet we all do it from time to time.  It is an aspect of communication that takes on an almost magical or paranormal quality, where we assume their intentions based on how we feel.  It’s a slippery slope, however, and best to be avoided.  Why? Because we are not (most of us, anyway) equipped with psychic, infallible capacities of deduction for the intentions of others.

Its best to get past the blame hurdle as well.  This has got to be one of the most difficult pitfalls that many of us learned- blaming others.  It feels “right”… they did or said something.  The problem is, if that is the angle we come from, the human tendency is to recoil or become defensive.  Neither produces the results we want- which is a solution, right?

There is a show on television right now that centers around a survivalist/ SHTF scenario, and it couldn’t be more perfect in its depiction of how not to communicate effectively during social dilemmas.  Secrecy, positional bargaining, even murder… its all there.  Now, while I haven’t had a television in my home for the last 10 years, I was recently at a friend’s house.  They are apparently avid fans of this show, and asked me to take in a few episodes that were being played back to back.

Its called The Walking Dead, and it airs on AMC.  The characters, catapulted from normalcy into an apocalyptic, zombie plagues nightmare, travel the countryside, trying to evade harm and zombies.  Far more then a gore-show, the greatest conflict is the drama which unfolds socially, aided by the characters’ utter lack of efficient, cooperative communication.  The characters undermine, with each new episode, the quality of their groups cohesion, by approaching interpersonal and group dilemmas with dysfunctional communication skills.

The overwhelming tendency toward blame and self-centered perspectives on conflicts that arise likely causes more zombie-related skirmishes, bites and battles then just trying to navigate a world of zombies in an of itself would portend.   The characters are utterly inept at effective communication- they bicker, yell, attempt to kill, and constantly quarrel with one-another, to no avail.  The show is entertaining- but the way that the characters communicate is baffling.
As a survivalist, it seems outrageous that petty arguments could take the attention of the characters away from… well… zombies around every turn.  Yet many a character has had a flesh-eating, roaming, gimpy corpse creep up behind them, nearly chomping a bit of shoulder, even in broad daylight.  Why?  How?  Its really simple- they’re always arguing, and their debates are littered with the worst communication patterns imaginable. 

Sadly, admittedly, the communication patterns used by the characters in this show are often used by real-life people not being pursued by hoards of walking dead.  All of us fall prey from time to time, to the ineffective, messy, hindering patterns of communication that we were conditioned to believe was normal. Part of that narrative of normalcy includes not really caring to find out another’s perspective. 

By discussing each other’s perceptions, we open new doors.  We shatter our old habits.  We can use it as an opportunity to act inconsistently with their perceptions.  (And example would be listening when they have stated they feel like you don’t.)    And, by making sure that they participate in the process, you give them a stake in the outcome. Now you’re working as a team.

But with all this objectivity, we don’t want to lose sight of what’s really driving much of our misunderstanding, anger and conflict.  Emotions.

Take the time to recognize and understand their emotions and your own.  Talk about them.  Acknowledge them as legitimate.  Allowing the other side to “let off steam” is a great way to diffuse tension and hear what they’ve been feeling without taking it personally.  If they have emotional outbursts, do not react to them.  This keeps the tension low, and it’s a strength in character to work towards this end. 

Once you are identifying with your co-communicator, despite your differences of opinion, you can make good headway towards a solution.  If you listen actively and acknowledge what is being said, if you speak well so that you are understood, and clarify when you are not, then you will go far.  Speak for a purpose.  And all-importantly, speak about yourself, not them. 

Some people may be thinking “Well, this sounds nice, but how does it look in practice?”  These strategies are used by businessman and women world-wide.  They are used amongst union members who attend mediation groups to work out settlements.  They are used by teachers, by colleagues, by spiritual communities, and by families.  In short, we know the principles, when utilized with earnest, tend to work well, because they are used so universally in settings where there is group cohesion, community health and finances at stake.

To each their own- remember that adage? A critical step when approaching conflict is to recognize that each side has multiple interests.  Their interests define the problem at hand.  Despite the presence of opposed positions, there are many shared and compatible interests mingling with the conflicting ones.

The most powerful interests are basic human needs, and for some communication scenarios, a list can be made.  By putting both parties interests and needs down on paper, it helps you to look forward, not backwards.  It acknowledges their interests and your own.  Yet, it can make it easier to mutually  identify which interests you or the other party have that may actually be part of the problem. 

When you’re working towards a solution, try to avoid premature judgment, searching for the single answer, or thinking that solving their problem is “their problem”.

When we look at a situation through another’s eyes, when we detach ourselves from what we assume might be another’s thoughts, and when we focus on meeting the person where they are, as opposed to “having our way” (positional bargaining), we tend to have great success when resolving conflict.

Engaging in conflict resolution with an open mind, and a conscientious while assertive approach, makes our argument or ideas more appealing to others, and opens the door to concepts or issues we may have overlooked or had yet to grasp.  When people feel respected, they often feel more flexible- more generous with their interests.

For most of us, its not difficult to imagine a scenario in which the communication takes a turn for the worst- where things break down.  Much of our arguments and discussions go in that direction.  Even if we “come out on top” or as “right”, much of the time, a poorly communicated discourse or debate leaves parties feeling unsettled, angry, anxious or hurt.

We can engage with others in a way that validates our own feelings and interests, while simultaneously supporting a solution-oriented interaction with someone we might be at odds with. This is the substance of a healthy community, relationship and general philosophy of life.

There are many more things that can advance your communication skills, and they are best practiced regularly, in all types of scenarios or conflicts, in order to really develop them solidly.  I recommend the aforementioned books; many of us were not taught adequate ways to communicate with others, and reading up on the subject can be rewarding.

Remember- effective communication should be a fundamental tool in your arsenal for survival.  It is not enough to have the best bug-out bag, the most complete fall-out shelter, or the most serious stash of weaponry.  Even if you had not an item to your name, not a tool on your person, just knowing how to communicate well can be a valuable asset to get you out of a hairy situation.

We need to acknowledge that we are human, and that there are skillful ways in which we can influence our relationships and social encounters that can transform outcomes in a positive way, can serve as the binding glue for our community, and ultimately mean the difference between life and death for ourselves and others.


Balliet, Daniel.  Communication and Cooperation in Social Dilemmas: A Metanalytic Review,  Journal of Conflict Resolution 2010, 54:39

Ury, William. Fisher, Roger. Patton, Bruce.  Getting to Yes: Negotiating Agreement Without Giving In.  Penguin Books, 1983.

Saturday, April 7, 2012

Many preppers and other radio communications enthusiasts want to be well equipped for receiving and transmitting under adverse conditions, but most modern hams, shortwave listeners (SWLs), preppers and observers are not familiar with the evolution of receiver and transmitter designs and how that progression can give us a useful advantage in gearing up for different scenarios. Old tech is, after all, appropriate tech when the going gets rough-the rougher, the older in many instances.

I want to start with receivers because a transmitter without a receiver is useful only for broadcasting, and in our endeavors broadcasting is generally our last goal. One concept I want to make clear is that in the design of radio communications technology, 'Ontogeny recapitulates phylogeny'. The most simple and easiest to implement systems are usually those that in fact evolved early on, and they are often the most resistant to failure. But they also tend to have limitations which were why they were superseded: however, in extreme circumstances knowing how to implement them and having a few key items on hand could mean the difference between success and failure.

The primary steps or changes in the design of radio receiver construction are, the "crystal set" or Passive Tuned-Radio-Frequency (TRF) receiver, the Active TRF, or 'straight', receiver, the Regenerative ('regen' or 'howler')  receiver and the superheterodyne (superhet, or mixing) receiver.  There are other designs such as the 'superregenerative', 'direct conversion', and 'homodyne', but they are not significant for our purposes and are used today, if at all, for specific niche purposes.  The four main categories each may have a use but only one, the last, will generally prove practical for a modern, all purpose radio and constitutes 99% of all commercially manufactured sets. All are worth knowing about and may have some specific application depending on the resources you have and what you are trying to accomplish.

The Crystal Set 

The first radio receiver to be available in any quantity, and the first radio construction project for three generations of schoolboys and hobbyists, was the "crystal radio". It had no vacuum tubes or other active devices, and consisted of an antenna, an earth ground, a tuned circuit to select a particular 'wavelength' or frequency to pick up, a 'crystal' detector to turn the modulated signal into an audio voltage, and some type of transducer to enable the listener to hear that small voltage.  There were no batteries or any power source, other than that provided by the signal itself. There were no active devices to power either. The 'crystal' was not, as in modern electronics of all types, a small piece of resonant cut quartz used to provide a frequency reference but rather a semiconductor junction made up of a chunk of certain kinds of rock or mineral and a small needle or 'whisker' of dissimilar metal. Galena was the preferred detector, usually mounted in a holder with a convenient gizmo to make putting the whisker on a certain part of the little rock where it would work best, but many materials would work and a rusty razor blade and a stick pin or wire often saw service as well. Modern crystal radio builders usually just use a regular diode, preferably salvaged from a junk television, computer or what have you: Most any diode or transistor will work but germanium or Schottky diodes are preferred for best sensitivity.

Almost any old boy's electrical or science book will have diagrams of crystal radios and some instructions on building various types. There are many different circuits but the keys are always the same: a good antenna, a good ground, a sensitive transducer, and patience.

The transducer, or speaker, bears some comment. A modern loudspeaker will not reproduce anything, usually, with a crystal set. Even modern headphones are useless. The little crystal ear-bud they used to include with the old transistor radios will provide some results, but best is the old, high impedance, "watch case" headphones. They are very sensitive and have many uses for electronic servicing and antique radio use besides crystal sets. They were made up until the 1960s or early 1970s for the military, and can be found at hamfests or online. I have found that piano and organ stores often have a set or two lying around because for some peculiar reason Wurlitzer used them, with a matching transformer, with their home organs, most of which have little value today and will be parted out by organ servicemen.

The upside of the crystal set is that it is eminently suited to do-it-yourself construction, needs no batteries, and will enable users to hear local AM stations during the day and a number of clear channel stations at night. In rural areas, with enough antenna and a really good ground, many AM broadcast band stations and, with the right tuning coils, even an occasional shortwave broadcast station can be heard at night.

There was a good reason it fell into disuse except as a novelty or boys' project after the mid-1920s: it couldn't be used to listen to CW (Morse code) or SSB signals, it only got strong stations in the day (and when it did, often more than one at the same time), and you had to listen carefully with headphones. In other words, poor sensitivity, poor selectivity, and low audio output. Also, it was infeasible to build a crystal set useful above roughly 40 meters, unless you were monitoring the transmitter next door.

Under ideal conditions, though, it could provide superb fidelity and that's why crystal sets were manufactured commercially again in the 1950s, as a tuner for high fidelity buffs who wanted good AM reception. When FM became popular, this ended. Another later use for crystal sets was on ships as an emergency receiver, if for some reason all else failed. Since they were light, small, inexpensive and consumed no power, they were usually built into the ship's radio equipment.

 My recommendation for more information on crystal sets is to obtain, if possible, the first three volumes of Alfred P. Morgan's Boys Books of Radio and Electronics. These are somewhat scarce, in contrast to his "The Boy Electrician" whose early editions are now public domain and therefore reprinted widely. Modern publications include those sold by Lindsay Publications, such as "The Impoverished Radio Experimenter" and the books put out by The Xtal Set Society . Ed Romney's 'How To Fix Up Nice Old Radios' has useful material on these and later sets as well.

The TRF Receiver

People wanted better selectivity and sensitivity and above all they wanted to be able to listen to the radio at a normal volume, without headphones. Amplifying the signal, tuning it carefully, and feeding it to a loudspeaker solved those problems and an invention called by the British a "Thermionic Valve" made that possible. We on this side of the Atlantic know it more commonly as a vacuum tube.

 The valve, or tube, started out as a light bulb that had been fitted with a metal plate across from the filament. If the light bulb was running and a second voltage was applied from the filament, which became a cathode, the plate became an anode and current would flow in one direction but not the other. Thus it could rectify alternating current and act as a detector for modulation put on a transmitted carrier. It could not amplify a weak signal, though, until it was found that if a "fence" or grid was put between the filament and plate, a third voltage would in effect open or close the gate and cause current to flow, or not to flow. Moreover, it could make the current flow a lot or a little, like the throttle on an engine's carburetor. (Remember those?) A small change in voltage could cause a large change in current, so in effect it could amplify weak signals. And it could do it at DC or as high as many megacycles, meaning it could amplify both audio and radio signals.

There you have the TRF receiver. It consisted of one or more stages of radio frequency amplifiers, each with a tube, and with separate tuned circuits in between so the desired radio frequency would be received at the exclusion of others: then, a detector that just as with the crystal set changed the modulated RF signal into an audio signal: and then one or more untuned audio amplifier stages that made the signal, louder than before but still no match for a loudspeaker's needs, big enough to drive a speaker that everyone in a room could hear. Of course you could still use a headset, but only hams and "night hawks" or "DXers" did that. The TRF set meant that radio was now a family affair, and Dad tuned the set so everyone could listen. The TRF set was expensive and delicate enough that in most families, the kids (and even Mom) were not allowed to fool with it. Radio had changed a lot.

Although most houses had electricity, except on farms, most TRF radios ran on batteries, because no simple and cheap method existed to turn AC into smooth and quiet enough DC to run a radio set. Two, and sometimes three different kinds of batteries were needed: a low voltage high current supply, usually 6 volts for the filaments (called the A battery) and a high voltage low current supply made up of a lot of small dry cells in most cases. The A battery was usually borrowed from the family car if they had one. (More did than not, except in New York.) The B battery was bought new and discarded and this made for a considerable expense. So did the tubes, which at first only lasted a few dozen hours if that.

The TRF became obsolete within a few years, around the same time AC powered tubes and usable capacitors made batteries obsolete and tubes began to last longer and cost less. A few were built later on, again occasionally for "hi-fi nuts", and in Britain especially, they were used for surveillance by MI5 and MI6 and so forth because they had no local oscillator to give their presence and location away. Spies, real or imagined, would listen to what were then "regular" radios and the counterintelligence service would monitor their local oscillator emissions to catch them. American military and intelligence services had a different solution, which didn't occur to the Brits. Then again, they put the plumbing on the outside of the building so they can get to it easier when it freezes up.

I can't think of any circumstance where you'd want one today, but the TRF does exist and did work.

The Regenerative Receiver

The regenerative receiver, often called a 'regen' or a 'howler', is based on another property of the vacuum tube, and amplifiers generally. If you feed some of the output of an amplifier back into the input, in phase, it will start swinging back and forth electrically, or "oscillating". A radio transmitter, in its most basic form, is an oscillator. Its frequency is controlled by a tuned circuit or by some other kind of filter.

If you set up a vacuum tube as an oscillator, and fed in a radio frequency signal, and adjusted it so it was just barely ready to oscillate, it would make a really sensitive detector. The regen was cheap to build, it had a single tuned circuit, and it was sensitive and it became a really popular homebrew project. Never popular as a broadcast receiver, the regen made listening to short waves possible for anyone who could scrape up a tube, a headset, and enough wire to wind a coil or two plus some batteries. Since there was a Depression on, and since people were (even so) throwing out stuff with wire and tubes you could salvage, building a regen was the stuff of schoolboys and impecunious hobbyists.

The one tube regen wasn't a great radio. It would pick up a lot of stations, often more than one at once. The sound quality was poor, because the detector distorted. The antenna was part of the tuned circuit so any wind or movement near it made the frequency wander. And since it was still an oscillator, it would transmit as easily as it received, causing interference and neighborhood fights. (Today it still might, and with guns rather than fists in a real disaster.) And, it would sometimes oscillate at audio frequencies as well as radio ones, causing the listener to be blasted with a sine wave so loud he'd rip the headset off and throw it.That's why they were called howlers.

Later regens, commercial or homebrew, improved somewhat on these problems. An RF amplifier and tuned stage, as on the TRF set, was added, both for more sensitivity and to keep the regenerative detector's RF inside the set where they belonged. A stage of audio amplification was also added after the detector, to reduce the load on it, help stop howling, and give more volume. And the set was shielded and a precise tuning and regeneration controls added. Probably the best regen ever built was the National SW-3, which would still be a nice thing to have today, even with its limitations, for a serious prepper. But compared to a modern superhet communications receiver, it has poor selectivity, poor audio quality and good sensitivity only up to about 10 megacycles. (They call them megaHertz, MHz, now.)

But building a regen is good experience and could be a lifesaver in a situation where no other radio is around. You can use transistors instead of tubes, as well, should you have any that still work. (And if you correctly stash away a few dollars' worth of them at surplus prices now you will have hundreds of them that work). They quit building regens commercially just as soon as the superhet became understood and the patents didn't stop them, except for hobbyists and a few kits in the late 1950s for kids. The exception: Marine suppliers made and sold regens as late as the 1960s for 500 kHz marine service on ships. Even though the Germans sank ships with them by listening for their characteristic emissions, homing in on them and torpedoing them in WWII.

The Superheterodyne

Major Edwin H. Armstrong invented a new kind of receiver and patented it  in 1918. (He had also invented the regenerative and the superregenerative receiver and would go on to invent frequency modulation later. ) It solved the problems of making a good radio that could be tuned to different frequencies by having a variable local oscillator-in other words, a small generator or transmitter built into the radio itself-that could be tuned easily and that would convert the received signal into a second, intermediate frequency, that could be filtered, amplified and detected.  This meant that with a single knob, a mass produced, inexpensive set could be as sensitive and selective as the most complicated and fussy precision TRF set, and it could detect the signal cleanly, with great fidelity.

Superhet receivers became utterly dominant by 1930 and still are. They could be built with as few as two or as many as 40+ tubes and when transistors came out they could be built cheaper with those. Modern superhet receivers may consist of just one integrated circuit or 'chip' with a few, tiny, inexpensive capacitors and coils around them.

One of the most popular early types of superhet radio you should be aware of is the famous "All American 5". It can run on AC or DC, has no power transformer, and was called that (it's sometimes referred to as an AA5 in print) because it had five tubes, in a particular layout.  There was a converter tube that acted as an RF amplifier and a local oscillator in one, an IF amplifier, a detector and first audio amplifier tube, a power output tube and a rectifier tube. They were often offered as a kit for hobbyists or for training in vo-tech schools from about 1940 to as late as 1975 or even 1980. (Yes, tubes were obsolete, but government funds weren't.) They were also sold by the tens-maybe hundreds- of millions in every country with 100-130 volt power.  Most of them were just for the AM broadcast band, and they gave good local station performance, but a few AM and shortwave versions and even a few VHF aeronautical band versions exist.  These radios have one dangerous characteristic: One side of the chassis is hooked to the AC power line, and if it's the hot side the radio will work just fine, but if you come in contact with any metal parts connected to the chassis you will get a severe shock. The radio must be repaired or junked if the case or knobs break or the chassis is exposed. If it is a metal case radio then it should only be used with an isolation transformer no matter its condition.

All of the communications receivers and transceivers you will use are superhets and with that exception, most have a power transformer and are isolated from the AC line, or in the case of solid state radios they may run from 12 volt DC. Building superhet radios from scratch requires intermediate frequency transformers and other specialized parts, as well as test equipment to align them, and will not be something you'll do on a field expedient basis. Even experienced hams quit building their own superhets because they could buy them commercially made cheaper than the parts cost and because most were too cheap to buy good test equipment: by 1960, kids had other interests and ham radio was mostly middle aged guys whose ham shacks were a diversion from nagging XYLs and an excuse to buy expensive stuff to impress their ham friends, just as it is now.

What you will want to do is to buy the good radios now while you can, learn to use and maintain them, and to be able to select the good ones from the not so good. You will definitely want to buy some tools and test equipment while they are cheap now, because few want them. You will want to stash away those parts you can get cheaply, and acquire at least the skills to know what you don't know and where to go to change that. (More to follow in Part 2.)

Sunday, March 18, 2012

Capt. Rawles,
I enjoy your blog very much, however, I have read several times that you need a physical mailing address to get an amateur (ham) radio license.  I don't believe that is correct.  If you look closely at FCC form 605, line 15, they ask for a "P.O. Box, and/or Street Address".     The FCC needs a "address of record".  One could rent a box at a UPS Store (which gives a street address) they just want to be able to reach you by mail.  You can also register as an "Entity", i.e. a business, corporation, LLC, etc.  I recently went through the process.  I used an old business that has not been active in years, along with it's EIN, instead of my social security number.  It should not be very difficult to keep ones actual physical address out of the FCC database, without lying or doing anything illegal. - The Shiny New Tech    

Saturday, March 10, 2012

David in Israel warned of a possible "kill shot" CME after the latest impact.

As quoted by, here it comes, possibly on Sunday night:

"SOHO/LASCO detected a full halo CME in association with the M6.3 flare in Catania sunspot group 65 (NOAA AR 1429) this morning. The CME first appeared in the LASCO C2 field of view at 04:14 UT and had a speed around 750 km/s. We expect the CME arrival at the Earth late on March 11 - early on March 12. An evaluation of the possible erupting flux rope orientation on the basis of HMI photospheric magnetograms and AIA images of the post-eruption arcade gives the south-east-north (SEN, left-handed) configuration. Due to the position of the CME source region close to the solar central meridian, we expect a nearly central encounter of the resulting ICME, which will probably be a magnetic cloud with leading southward field. A strong geomagnetic storm (K = 7 or higher) is probable."

- J.B. in Tennessee

Friday, March 9, 2012

I'm writing to remind readers that the Coronal Mass Ejection (CME) that began March 8, 2012 will sweep away low speed particles clearing the way for a few days for a somewhat possible 1859 Carrington Event style kill shot should there be another large CME.  I suggest that SurvivalBlog readers keep up to date on though utilities and emergency services will also be watching this.  Even if there is another larger CME and the utilities disconnect to save their equipment any long conductor can act as an antenna for the radio waves produced by an ionospheric event. So be ready to check electrical connections to any large metal objects, disconnect antennas and even pull removable power supplies. Good grounding is always a good idea even if there is no EMP/CME worries [since lightning is a day-to-day risk.] Purim Somayach - David in Israel

JWR Adds: SurvivalBlog reader Randy K. sent a link to a blog post at A Survival Plan with a fairly comprehensive list of very useful web links: Large X-Class Solar Flare – Resources and News. And here is an AP wire story: Biggest solar storm in years hits, so far so good

Wednesday, March 7, 2012

I admit it. I’m woefully unprepared.  Recent events have caused me to “wake up”, much like Neo in The Matrix who takes the “red pill” and awakens to the painful reality.  When you first awaken it’s overwhelming.  You feel that there is so much to do and so little time. My resources are limited and I expect they will become more so over time.  Rather than succumbing to the paralysis of analysis, and constant study without action, I feel it’s better to begin chipping away at getting prepared.  I suggest you start today and get a toe hold on being prepared.  Starting small is better than not starting at all. There are many small things you can do that will get you going in the right direction, and will give you an advantage should you find yourself in an emergency situation.  You could build your first 72 hour kit bag. You could attend a free Community Emergency Response Team (CERT) Academy. Or, like this article suggests, you could spend one day of your life in a “Ham Cram” class for $5 -$15 dollars and walk away with a skill that you can use the rest of your life. Getting your first Amateur Radio License allows you to use some pretty powerful equipment with capabilities beyond what you can legally use as a non licensed citizen.    Ham radio is infrastructure independent, is used by those interested in emergency preparedness and has gotten a lot less expensive in the last few years.
The Back Story
Recent events got me interested in prepping for the next emergency situation.  The first event was the San Diego Blackout of 2011.  Unlike others I stayed at work for three hours after the power outage started.  Everyone else left work immediately and jumped on the freeway right into a park lot.  For some people that just lived a few miles way away from work it took hours to get home.  I spent those three hours at work on a project I had put off for far too long and left work when it got dark.  I had waited out the traffic, but I didn’t know what was going on until I heard the mayor give a speech on the FM radio in my car.  After the event I talked to a buddy of mine who had a handheld ham radio at work and he said he knew within about 2 minutes what had happened and the extent of the blackout. He used a handheld transceiver (HT) commonly called a handi-talkie. While the cell phones had gone offline, the ham repeaters were up and working fine on backup power.  After talking with him I was impressed with the amount of ‘intel’ he was able to gather over his ham radio in such a short amount of time.  I would have done just about anything at the time to know what was going on and talk with my wife.  If I had already owned a ham radio, I could have.

The second event was camping in Joshua Tree National Park with my kids.  They were climbing on 2 and 3 story rocks like mountain goats.  Our campground was 10 minutes away from cell phone coverage.  I kept thinking if anything horrible happened there would be no way to contact emergency services in a reasonable amount of time.  I just wouldn’t be able to live with myself if one of the kids got hurt and I wasn’t able to contact emergency assistance immediately and provide my GPS coordinates. It’s my responsibility as a parent to be prepared and protect my children, and for that trip I feel I came up short.
So with those two events fresh in my mind I signed up for a course to get my amateur radio Technician license.
Getting Your Amateur Radio License Is Easier Than You Think

Getting your amateur radio license is easier than you might think. One of the best things about ham radio is that the classes and tests are almost free.  In my case, the all day class was free and the fee for taking the test was $5.  In our area they have a 90% pass rate for people that take the class.  Many don’t even study before taking the course and do well. My wife failed the exam on her first attempt, but was able to retake the test a second time in the same sitting and passed.  I think she would agree there’s no reason not to spend one day and $5 to get your license.   If you do a little up front study there is no reason you shouldn’t be able to earn your first ham license for a modest investment of your time.
At the class I attended almost half of the participants were from one CERT program or another.  That ham class is how I found out about CERT.  Going to a ham class is a good way to network with others that are interested in emergency preparedness (regardless of their motivation). It’s also a great place to find out about local civilian and government organizations that will be active in your area during times of emergency.  If you are hooked into ham radio you’ll be in the know.  The information you learn using a ham radio during a crisis situation could be invaluable.
Get Field Tested and Emergency Appropriate Equipment

Local emergency groups are also good sources of information regarding what equipment is actually used and reliable in the field.  The most active CERT group in my county uses the Yaesu FT-60R.  After doing quite a bit of research including reading the Yaesu FT-60R spec sheet on the product I discovered why they like that radio so much. This is the radio I purchased for my wife and myself.  The radio has a very low current draw during transmit and receive, and it can transmit at a full 5 watts using AA batteries.  Many modern Handi-Talkies (HTs) have become very small and use proprietary batteries that can only be used in a few models and are very expensive.  You can get factory AA battery adapters for most ham handhelds, but since the battery adapters are the same size as the original battery and are limited to the number of AA cells that can fit inside the adapter. This forces manufacturers to use AA battery adapters with a limited number of AA batteries, so they have to reduce the transmit power to half a watt when running on AAs. Using the Yaesu AA battery adapter (part #: FBA-25) with the FT-60R adds quite a bit of flexibility in emergency situations as you can use six AA Alkaline batteries or the latest rechargeable battery technology and still transmit at a full 5 watts.  Regardless of which radio you choose, make sure that the AA battery adapter will allow the radio to transmit at maximum power and uses a large number of AA batteries.  Also, check the receive (RX) and transmit (TX) current draw on the spec sheet and compare it against other handheld radios you are considering.  Make sure you are using a radio that uses power efficiently since it’s in short supply during emergency situations.
Ham Radios Give You Options
Although the FT-60R is only dual band (2M/440MHz) for transmit, it has wideband reception from 108-520 MHz and 700-999.990 MHz.  This allows it to be used as a poor man’s scanner in emergency situations.  While a dedicated scanner is recommended, “one is none” as they say.  It’s good to have back up and some redundant functionality should your dedicated scanner get lost, run out of batteries or fail.

The FT-60R can monitor the FRS (Family Radio Service), GMRS (General Mobile Radio Service) and MURS (Multi-Use Radio Service) radio frequencies.  MURS is adjacent to the 2M band while, FRS and GMRS are adjacent to the 440Mhz band.  Many ham handhelds transmit at 5 watts, while FRS is limited to 0.5 watts and MURS is limited to 2 watts.

You’ll notice that FRS/MURS radios have short little stubby antennas called ‘rubber duckies’. Legally FRS radios cannot have their antennas modified, so they don’t make it convenient to do so.  MURS radios can have external antennas, but they are limited to 2 watts of total power output (TPO). Unlike FRS and MURS radios, ham handheld transceivers have a wide array of options for antennas.   This allows you to attach antennas that are longer, get better reception, and have more gain which can allow you to reduce power output needed to transmit. You can also attach a ham handheld to a wide variety of external antennas like those small magnetic ones you can put on the roof of your car.  The fact that you can easily and legally modify your radios prior to an emergency situation is a quite an advantage.  If you can’t get the range you want it’s easy to add a new antenna. You can even add an antenna as a way to increase the gain and increase battery life. If you need even better battery life, you can use a AA adapter and the leverage the latest battery technology without having to buy a new radio.  This also allows you to standardize on a particular battery form factor.  When camping I do my best to stick with equipment that uses AA batteries whenever possible.  This allows me to move my usable power to the device where I need it the most if I’m low on power. 

You can even modify your FT-60R to allow it to transmit (TX) on 137-177MHz and 420-470MHz. Make sure you only transmit on frequencies for which you are licensed or are prepared to face the consequences if you need to use those frequencies during a life threatening emergency.

Over the last few years competition from inexpensive Chinese radios sold under the Wouxun (pronounced Oh-Sheng, like "ocean") and Baofeng brands have caused name brand handhelds to come down in price.  It used to cost $200+ to get a decent handheld.  Current competition is pushing the prices down toward $120. The Yaesu FT-60R used to be a $200 radio.  You can now get them retail for $160.  On eBay you can get the FT-60R in ‘like-new’ used condition with no tax for around $120.  The point is that you can get a great radio and the bottom tier price levels.  Personally I’d rather have for $120 radios, than two radios that cost twice as much. “One is none” and backups are critical, especially in an emergency situation where buying a replacement at short notice is impossible or impractical.  Ham radio equipment holds its value reasonably well compared to other electronic devices, so if you change your mind in the future and need to sell some of your equipment to get something else or upgrade you  should be able to recoup a  good deal of your investment.  In a grid down situation I would expect ham radio equipment to be worth its weight in gold.

It’s important to note that brand name accessories are expensive compared to the price of the radio.  Each accessory for a band name radio costs an average of $30.  If you do buy your radio used or on eBay it’s possible to get the radio/accessory bundle for almost half the retail price.

Ham handheld radios are often purpose build for emergency communications, so they are durable, are often waterproof or water resistant and have factory accessories for 12v support.  Yaesu even sells and accessory (Part #: E-DC-6) for the FT-60R that has a DC plug for the radio on one and bare wires on the other for connecting the radio to a DC power source.
If you’re new to ham radios you may not be familiar with the concept of a repeater, and I keep throwing that word around so I’ll cover it briefly.  A repeater is a radio station that receives a transmission on one frequency and outputs it on another.  The purpose of a repeater is to boost the signal of the incoming transmission to increase the range and help radio signals get around terrain obstructions.  Repeaters often reside on the tallest mountain tops in your area that provide good ‘line of sight’ coverage to the surrounding areas on both sides of the mountain.  This way, a person on one side of the mountain can communicate with someone on the other side.  It also extends the range of the radios greatly.  Using a repeater you can communicate with people 20, 30, 50 sometimes even 100 miles away!  Also, repeaters can be linked to create ‘networks’ that cover an entire city, county or state.  A detailed discussion of repeaters is beyond the scope of this article, but it’s important to know that repeaters are one of the biggest advantages of going with a ham radio.  It’s amazing to be able to talk with people over such great distances with a little 5 watt handheld.  And when the cell phone system is down the ham repeaters are usually still working on backup generators or battery power.
Turn your 5 watt handheld into a 50 watt handheld
If you do get a ham handheld radio make sure it’s dual band and supports cross band repeat. Cross band repeat will allow you to use a mobile ham radio in your car or home to boost the signal of your handheld.  Basically with cross band repeat you use two frequencies on two different bands to bounce communications through another mobile ham radio.  This will allow you to stay mobile with the handheld but leverage the power output and larger antenna installed on the house or vehicle.  A typical mobile ham radio in a car is 50 watts and can have a full size antenna.  If you position your car at the top of a hill you can use it to communicate with radios where your handheld doesn’t have ‘line of sight’.   Used with a radio in your house “sky’s the limit”!
Final Words
While all the ‘hams’ I’ve met in local clubs so far have been kind and helpful, they really didn’t seem too concerned with battery life. For me [as a prepper on a budget] battery life and affordability were the toptwo issues.  Long term I want to have many back up radios, and $120 a pop they add up.  I’m really glad I took the time to get involved in ham radio because it introduced me to CERT and others involved in practical emergency preparedness.  I hope this article lands you in a ham class sometime in the near future and gets you involved with your local CERT group.  Knowing what is going on around you will allow you to prepare quickly and make good decisions as information during a crisis as it unfolds.  The next step is to get my General license so I can access the High Frequency (HF) bands and take my ‘intel’ gathering to the national and/or global level.

1. Getting into ham radio can be inexpensive and easy.
a. Ham classes are often free, and run by volunteers.
b. Ham exams cost $5 or $15, and can be taken the same day as a class.
c. Great ‘like-new’ brand name radios can be had for as little as $120.
2. Getting involved in ham radio will provide a network of people interested in emergency preparedness (i.e. CERT).
3. Ham radios are much more powerful and configurable than retail FRS or MURS radios.
4. Ham radios can be dual band (2m/440Mhz), while MURS is just above the 2 meter band and FRS/GMRS is in the 440Mhz band.
5. Dual band ham radios can monitor FRS/GMRS and MURS bands.
6. Ham radios are 5 watts while FRS and MURS radios are half a watt to 2 watts.
7. Ham handhelds have great power options and some can provide full capability with AA batteries.
8. Battery life can be increased by getting a better antenna.
9. Repeaters can extend the range of ham handhelds to the county or even state level.
10. Cross band functionality using a mobile ham radio in your vehicle or house as a repeater can increase your operational capability.
Useful Links

Monday, February 13, 2012

I would like to begin this story by telling you why I felt it was needed. I was reading the blog and saw the post from R.H. "When the lights went out in the southwest" and how they had a very hard time getting in contact with his nephew. And also a recent post on CME and nuclear power plant failures and grid down type situations. And it got me thinking about how little some people know about how the traditional communications grid in this country works.
To qualify my position on this subject I will tell you that I'm a network technician for a very major telephone company (Telco) that serves all of Jim's American Redoubt states and many others. I have 11 years here and love my job and I have been everything from an installer/repair tech to the guy that splices the cable and installs high speed data lines. 
So where to start? I would like to tell you all there is to know about how this stuff works, but I don't want to bore you all to tears so I'm going to leave most of the technical terms and stuff like that out. I'll start with R.H. and his trouble getting in touch with his nephew. 

In his story he talks about getting texts and some calls on his cell. So we can assume that he had a signal from a cell tower and his cell phone was in good working order. But there was a problem with one town not getting or sending cell calls and texts. This was possibly a tower that served that area had lost grid power and had no battery or generator back-up. Or it was over loaded with call volume. See in a typical cell site there are pretty much three major components that make the whole thing work.
 1. The tower, This guy sends out and receives radio like signals to and from your cell phone.
 2. The switching equipment in the building on the ground. This takes the signal and turns it into a call or SMS message and routes them out to the world. 
 3. The tower's connection to the world. This is typically a couple T-1s or a fiber optic connection. 
 Sometimes part #2 or #3 will become over loaded with volume and that's why you'll get that message "sorry but all circuits are busy" when you try to make a call. The switch may not have enough spots free to connect you out but the tower can make a connection to your phone. Or the T-1 or fiber connection to the world doesn't have enough bandwidth to handle all the calls if its being overloaded with calls. This is why sometimes you can send a SMS message but not make a call. Because the message needs less bandwidth to send compared to a voice call. 

Visualize bandwidth like a pipe. If its big enough to handle the traffic on a normal day but all of a sudden you start cramming more stuff in it it just can't fit sometimes. Like trying to use a garden hose to fight a house fire, its just not big enough sometimes. Now land lines are a little bit different, and have some advantages for preppers over the cell phones. Don't get me wrong they both have good and bad sides. If you have a land line great but if you don't I'll let you know why you might want to consider getting one.
First off the whole problem of signals and battery power on your end are almost nil. If you have a hard wired or "corded phone" it will use the electric signal that's on the line from the Telco's own equipment. Assuming everything is working correctly at the central office, or some of the more rural areas are served thru what we call "pair gain" or a R.T. (short for Remote Terminal) more on this set-up later as there is a difference between Central Office (CO) based and R.T./pair gain based services. 

Second, the whole bandwidth issue is not as bad because the CO for your area is where most cell towers get their fiber/T-1's from. Now CO switches can also become bogged down buy call volume also but most of the time they have extra capacity built into them because of this. And if you are making a call to another line that is from the same office the switch will make the connection in the same office. A long distance call or one that has to be sent to another office is more susceptible to volume problems due to the trunk lines used to connect the CO's to each other becoming overloaded.  
Third, The COs have a big generator that kicks in when the office loses grid power. The offices I work out of have either a 72 hour supply of diesel fuel or run on utility-piped natural gas. But the diesel is most common as you can see the disadvantage to the gas option, I only know of one that is like that. Additionally, hey also have a 8 hour back-up battery bank. 
This is where the difference between CO-based service and R.T.s kicks in. First off the R.T. is usually connected to the CO by a dedicated group of T-1s that have one time slot per line in the R.T. so you don't have the problem of "all circuits are busy" or a fiber optic connection that is for our sake the same. The trouble kicks in when these guys lose grid power, They typically have a 8-to-24 hour battery back-up in them and that's it. We have to go out with our trucks and charge them back up with the gensets on our trucks. You can see where that could get tricky. Most newer DSL service is provided by a R.T. and some of them don't even have a battery back-up as the companies are not required to have it on them by most regulations. My own line is like this, the dial tone is provided straight from the CO but my DSL comes from an R.T. So when my part of town loses grid power the phone still works but my DSL doesn't. This is something you might consider if you are using a VOIP type system. 
The next thing you might think about is 911 service, your land line is tied to your address so if you call 911 from your land line the dispatcher on the other end knows where the call is coming from as soon as it's received. This is why a 911 hang-up still brings the cops to your house. The cell phones are getting better about knowing where you are with GPS and other things being used to tell where you made the call from. 

I'm not to well-versed on how reverse 911 works with the cell's but I do know it works well with the land lines. This could be a double edged sword for preppers as the cell or land line could give up your location if you want to be all secret squirrel, but I have personally installed lines to addresses that are something like: "County Road 21 pole 5 second gate on the left." We don't care where the house is, just where the N.I. (short for Network Interface) is. I have seen these little gray boxes on fence posts and we take it to there and the customer takes it past that point. There are other ways around this but it usually requires you to use VOIP to get a fake area code and number. I know of guys that use this type of stuff but that's for another post.

This is just some info on why, during a short term SHTF you have problems using traditional communications. Be it a hurricane or another 9-11-01 type situation you'll be better prepared for them. In a TEOTWAWKI type of scenario your pretty much doing the YOYO thing but I hope this helps for the minor emergencies you run into in you lives. 
And you can always stop one of us out on the road and ask questions to find out info on your setup. I would have to say that maybe 50% of the guys I work with are preppers and even more are ex-military so we would not think it strange at all if you wanted to know how it works! Hope this helps, - The Phone Guy

Thursday, February 9, 2012

Southern California, September 8, 2011, 3:45 p.m.: Crud, my computer just shut down. It had been an uneventful day at the ranch studio to this point. I was finishing the day’s work on a project and looking forward to riding my horse before it got dark; now my computer flat-lines. Great…, what next?

Hit the television power switch on the remote, nothing... Power light on the plotter is off too, Huh? Went to the main breaker to see if the circuit to the studio had tripped. Nope, the wheel-of-debt inside the meter was not turning so the solution was not going to be “just the flip of a breaker away”. The problem just ratcheted up a notch.
Called San Diego Gas and Electric (SDGE) but could not get through, circuits were overloaded. Living in a rural area it is not unusual for the power to go out from time to time and take it in stride. We also have those raging Santa Ana wildfires  every year, but a quick scan of eastern mountains showed no hint of smoke and living near the airport where the tankers stage, I didn't hear or see any tanker or helicopter activity.

Walked out to my truck and turned on the radio but no information about any power outage. Strange, must be a local power outage, or maybe just the transformer to my place.
Using my iPhone, I called a couple of neighbors. One not home, the other had no power either. The ratchet turns another notch.

Ok, so this is starting to look a little more serious than a tripped breaker.
Called my wife, who works in a corporate office downtown, and their power is out too. With no backup power, everyone was told to go home. A few minutes later, she calls back to say the security gates to the underground parking garage have no backup power so all the cars are trapped inside with no way out. Great...this situation is escalating from mere inconvenience to a "what next" event.

Cell phone rings, wife says a few of her co-workers with cars trapped in the garage had decided to stay in the building (being a biotech company they have good security), overnight if necessary, until someone could get the security gates open to the underground garage (or I come to pick her up). I reminded her that she had her Get Home Bag (GHB), just in case. Whenever we travel beyond our rural community each vehicle has a pack loaded with gear so we can hike back home (dreaded EMP event) and hers was in her truck. That meant she had MREs, water, first aid, hiking boots, sleeping bag, change of clothes, etc.

Now I am hearing sirens in town (a mile away). Even though I do not let my diesel tank get below the half way mark, I thought I would run into town to see what was going on and top off my tank anyway. What a shocker when I got to Main Street, to see the stoplights not working and lines already spilling out of the service stations into the street. There are only six stoplights in town and with none of them working the main street (small town and we really do have a Main Street) was a complete parking lot with stopped cars.

The parking lots for the two grocery stores in town were filling up too. I later heard that transactions could only be made in cash as the computers were out and they only had battery back-up lights. My ‘alert flag’ colors are starting to change.

Having been through the wildfire drill quite a few times, but well along in the Beans, Bullets, Band-Aids (BBB) departments I was comfortable as I drove back to my ranch watching others scramble to get in line at the few gas stations and two markets. The gas station lines were particularly futile since the pumps had no power anyway. Waiting in line was for the desperate people that were so low on fuel they had no choice but to park and wait.

Wife calls before I get back to the ranch to say someone managed to get the security gates open but now she is stuck in the gridlock of everyone trying to get home and every single stop light was out. What normally is a 40-minute commute turned into over a four-hour stop and go nightmare.
I now hear on my truck radio that the power outage extends beyond my small town and into other areas of San Diego, as well as east and north of the downtown area. However, no news on where or how it started the extent of coverage or estimate of when it will be back on. Fog-of-war starts to set in.

The radio newscaster talks in general terms about the power outage, but again no specific or useful information, just as it always is during the wildfires. During those, I did not evacuate and stayed to protect my property (yes, we did have looters). During those fires, one of the most frustrating things was the useless news coverage. Then, while watching the television news coverage (when the television had power), the smoke outside was sometimes so thick I could not see ten feet let alone down to my horse corals. I needed specific information (street names would have been nice) on where the fire was in real time to make go-no go decisions. Instead, the news broadcasters spoke of the fire only in general terms. Kind of like tornado news coverage on Fox News about a tornado in Oklahoma. Nice to know about as you casually watch television, however, a bit lacking if you are living the event and need information to make critical decisions, fast. Local news needs to do a better job at this.

After the last two Santa Ana fire experiences, I realized that Beans, Bullets, and Band-Aids did not address what I consider another critical category- Communications (comms). Consequently, I went down the ham radio road to fix that deficiency. I have my General license, which gives me access to High Frequency (HF) bands not available to a Technician license, a two band handheld radio, plus a HF mobile rig that will really reach out and touch somebody on HF bands. My son has the exact same license and gear and we routinely communicate with our dipole antennas (aimed at each other) from southern California to where he lives north of Los Angeles, without the use of repeaters, or computers. This met our comms goal of not having to rely on anyone to “help” us with our comms. All we need is our gear and a 12 volt DC battery.

Now it is getting closer to sunset. Check on horses to be sure they have water and feed. Filled extra water barrels for horses since during the last big Santa Ana fire the local water department generators stopped working. Set out flashlights throughout the house and studio. Also, set out candles and several kerosene lanterns just in case.
It is a warm evening so decided to set up comm center outside on the deck where I had a view of the surrounding area. Lit the kerosene lantern. Grabbed my handheld ham radio, car top magnetic antenna and a cookie bake sheet. The magnetic antenna centered on the bake sheet acts like the roof of the vehicle, which provides much better reception than the standard rubber-duck antenna. This way I can set up my UHF/VHF station remote from my vehicle. Added a writing tablet and pens, several flashlights, snacks, comfortable director’s chair and switched on the radio to see what was really going on.

As it gets darker, the reality of the situation starts to set in. Being a rural area, when it gets dark, it is not like being in the city, it is a lot darker. We also have dark-sky restrictions for outdoor lighting because of our proximity to the Mount Palomar Observatory, and with the power out everywhere, tonight, dark has become pitch black; the occasional vehicle on the road is the only light I see. I hear a few generators running and now see a few dim lights in the distance.
Scanning my programmed repeater frequencies, I find that someone has set up an unofficial network ("Net") where, finally, some useful information is being provided. I quickly learn that the power outage extends beyond the San Diego area, into Mexico, east to Arizona, and up to the southern part of Los Angeles. The cause is still under investigation. Time to get the grid back up, unknown. Not good. Wife is still in traffic so using the “Find My iPhone” app, I monitor her progress in real time on the map display of my iPhone.

Listening to my handheld, I check FaceBook on my iPhone and see many postings about the outage, mostly questions and speculative assumptions being posted compared to the verified info I hear on my FT-60 radio.

The fellow acting as Net Control is doing a good job of fielding questions and passing information. Requests are coming in for ham operators to help out at a hospital; someone needs a prescription delivered to their house; is the local CVS pharmacy still open for prescriptions, can anyone stop by such and such an address to check on an elderly couple; water is needed for the volunteers directing traffic at the stop light locations.

A local emergency assistance group (ham operators) break out their generators and lights and set them up at the stop light intersections so those directing traffic are more visible.

The Net traffic is increasing and one of the owners of the repeater keys up her mike to say she is monitoring this frequency and eventually steps in as the Net control to give the first fellow a well-deserved break. A question is asked about the backup generator for the repeater and she tells everyone that it would run for at least a week with no problem. Later, things ratchet up another notch as she is replaced by a fellow who takes over as Net control and announces that this frequency will be restricted to essential communications only. At this point, we are very close to the repeater being commandeered for official emergency communications only.

As new information is transmitted, there was the recurring questions of “where did you hear this?” What is your source? Can you confirm, etc. Because it is the nature of ham radio operators to be precise in relaying accurate communications the information being passed was specific and useful, not at all like the local news. So having been monitoring Face Book while listening to the ham, I started posting information I thought useful to Face Book. Before I know it, I have quite a few Facebook friends posting that I am their source for useful and reliable information.

My wife finally drives up and describes the traffic nightmare she just went through. She sits and listens to the ham radio traffic for a short while then goes to bed. It has been a long commute home for her.

I stayed up monitoring the radio until after midnight. By then the radio traffic had slowed and there was still no information on the cause of the outage or when the grid would be back up. Nothing left to do but get some rest and see what a new day brings.
As we all know the power started being restored in the early morning and everything pretty much returned to normal by the end of the next day.

After Action notes for this short-term event:

  • Keep the fuel in your vehicle over half full at all times. Spare fuel cans are a plus.
  • Work on your BBB supplies. You can never have enough.
  • Have a Get Home Bag (GHB) in your vehicle. You never know when you will need it to get home. My wife is the only person at her workplace that had all the gear she needed to either stay at the workplace or make the trek home if it came to that.
  • Get a ham license, some basic gear and familiarize yourself with how this valuable asset works.

While this did not turn into a BBB event, having those preps adequately covered made this much less stressful.
I later heard that the grocery stores sold out of water and ice faster than anything else did but other shelves were starting to look bare as the night wore on.
On another note, a friend of a friend who owns a precision gun store in another city (AR and high-end sniper rifles) had to call the police because of attempted break-in attempts during this grid down episode. Were just these opportunistic thieves or more desperate types looking longer-term at the situation and opportunity?

This event was just a hiccup. It lasted less than 12 hours. It took everyone completely by surprise and happened as people were getting off work. Those that were prepared were able to focus on important tasks, those that were not prepared stood in line. Having BBB is fine. Having comms provided invaluable real time information about the situation.
There are three stages humans go through to make decisions in stressful situations: Denial, Deliberation, and Decision (DDD). How long a person lingers in the (Denial) “this can’t be happening to me” stages depends on many factors. Spending too much time in this stage can lead to bad consequences. Once they realize it is really happening to them, people will naturally Deliberate on how serious, long term, threatening their situation is. Timely and accurate information is critical at this stage. Do not let the ‘Paralysis of Analysis’ tendency creep in at this point. Get reliable information since it is important to get to stage three quick. Like stage one, Denial, the faster you get though the Deliberation stage, the faster you get to the most important stage. Now it is time to make a Decision. Good or bad, this is where the rubber meets the road; go-no go, bug-in, bug-out. Not having real time, accurate information can lead to wasting too much time going through the first two of the DDD stages or worse yet, not making any, or making the wrong Decision based on completely inaccurate, or out of date, information.

If you are reading this, someone thinks you have some interest and understanding of the need to be prepared. Regardless of where you are in your journey, have your basic BBBs covered. Consider though, how important it is to also have comms so you go through the DDD process faster, and make the correct Decision in phase 3. We all know knowledge is power. Good comms could be that knowledge that saves you or your loved ones life. Just ask any leadership military person about command and control.
Consider budgeting some time and money and get your ham license and some gear. I see more and more articles appearing in the blogs about ham radio. There are good reasons for this. I have never regretted going down that road and having the fourth leg of my prepping table supported by good comms. A four-legged table is a lot sturdier to stand on than a three-legged stool (Beans, Bullets, Band-Aids, + comms). Hope for the best, but plan for the worst!

Sunday, January 22, 2012

With reference to the Comprehensive Crisis Communications Planning for the prepper, by Hammer the portion where he described the Dakota Alert using the MURS frequencies is very good, to say the least.
I have the system and anywhere I go around my property  or further I carry the the transmitter on my person. If the barrier is broken according to the audible alert voice system telling me which zone has been broken I can check it out. It is a very reliable system, not cheap but reliable. Each zone can carry whatever amount of receivers you want to put on that zone. So a large area can be covered with many receivers. You can add extra receivers when you are able to do so.
We have two transmitters, one as I leave to go outside and one inside for my wife. We can talk to each other without always having to use the cell phones.
I have never had outside interference with the system. False alarms are rare.
I have a friend that put me onto this MURS as he lives way, way out and is well protected by this system. He is always aware of anyone coming through the barrier to his property. - H. in Central Florida.
JWR Replies: As I've mentioned several times in SurvivalBlog, I'm also a big fan of MURS handheld radios. We use them here at the Rawles Ranch. Not only are they interoperable with Dakota Alerts, but you can also program your local National Weather Service frequency as one of your presets. These are of course "listen only" limited frequencies.

Thursday, January 19, 2012

In the words of the fictional character Jeff Trasel from the novel "Patriots: A Novel of Survival in the Coming Collapse": “If you don’t have Com, you don’t have jaaack“. The subject of radio communications as it relates to Prepping is an often misunderstood topic. Understanding radio communications issues can also be confusing, complicated, and daunting for the newcomer. There is a lot to know about the subject, and speaking as one that has spent a good part of his life experimenting with radio communications, it seems that the more I learn about radio communications, the more I learn how much I have to learn! In this article I would like to share much of the information that I have gleaned about radio communications technology and it’s applications. I will attempt to present this article in a way that the reader can glean real world applications, and in a way that it is easy to understand for the novice.

Before delving into any technical issues about radio, one must establish what it is that one wants and needs their communications systems to accomplish. Communications is yet another area where rule 6-P applies; that is, “Proper Prior Planning Prevents Poor Performance“. Proper planning is absolutely crucial to accomplishing your communications related goals. Communications equipment can be somewhat costly, depending on what it is designed to do. The main question one must ask when planning a crisis communications system is, “What is it exactly that I want my crisis communications system to accomplish?” Crisis communications planning must be approached from a system wide mindset and not a compartmentalized mindset. This means you have think of the big picture and you must be cognizant of how all the pieces of your communications plan fit together before you start buying equipment This will allow you to better utilize your limited resources as it relates to what equipment you will buy and how you will use it. It will also prevent significant headaches later on.

Although there are plenty of arguments pro and con in the “preparedness” world about this, I would advise anyone that is serious about establishing a crisis communications system to consider becoming a licensed Amateur Radio operator. Communications equipment is like any other preparedness related equipment. If it is purchased and then left in a box until needed, it will not work as intended at the moment of truth. Becoming a skillful radio technician and communicator is an on-going process. This is true whether you go down the Amateur Radio road or not. You must know the strengths, weaknesses, and limitations of your equipment. If you don’t, then you can’t reasonably expect to know how to use the equipment under less than ideal circumstances. I use the following illustration to make the point. In our county, the local health department recently had several of it’s employees take a “Ham Cram” class and they received a Technician Class Amateur Radio license. The health center also received Amateur Radio equipment through federal and state grant funding. The reality is, even though several of the employees are licensed Amateurs, the equipment does not get utilized because none of the employees have truly applied themselves to learning the “hands on” and “how to” of Amateur Radio. This shows that just because one has a license to do something, it doesn’t necessarily follow that one is proficient at the task which one is licensed for. Once you decide what it is you want to accomplish, then it’s time to consider your options. The first options I will discuss are those which are available to be purchased and used by anyone and that does not require a license to operate. Then I will delve into what Amateur Radio can do for your crisis communications plan.

The first option I will discuss is a system know as the Family Radio Service (FRS) . It consists of fourteen Ultra High Frequency (UHF) frequencies. FRS radios are limited to an output power of 0.5 watt, and can be purchased at a low price from many retailers. The low power output means that the range of these radios are limited. One advantage is that FRS radios use FM modulation as opposed to AM. This means that FRS frequencies are not as susceptible to noise or interference from power lines, as can be seen with handheld Citizens Band (CB) radio which will be discussed later. Another possible advantage to FRS radios and UHF signals in general is that they often perform better in urban environments. This is because signals in the UHF frequency range penetrate buildings better than signals in other frequency bands. FRS channels 1 through 7 are shared with the General Mobile Radio Service (GMRS), channels 8 through 14 are for FRS use only, and channels 15 to 22 are for GMRS use only. This is why most FRS radios are pre-programmed with 22 channels. The GMRS only channels should not be used unless you possess a GMRS license. GMRS will be discussed later.

There are many practical uses for FRS, and it can be used in situations where one needs non-secure voice communications over an area of five miles or less. You should only expect FRS to work reliably for approximately 1 to 2 miles. The range will depend greatly upon the surrounding terrain, because propagation of radio waves in the UHF frequency range is limited to line of sight. This means that the radio wave will only travel as far as the horizon. I will also discuss line of sight in depth later in this article. One drawback to FRS is that is a very popular system, and there will be many other people sharing a very limited pool of frequencies. Many manufactures of FRS radios will tout “privacy” features on their radios. Do no misunderstand what they are talking about here. The “privacy” features do not encrypt or make your communications secure in any way. These features utilize a combination of Digital Coded Squelch (DCS) and Continuous Tone Coded Squelch System (CTCSS) techniques. I know that sounds very technical, but think of it in this way. If you activate DCS or CTCSS, then the only time the squelch of your radio will open (this means you will hear audio coming from the speaker) , is when the radio transmitting the signal is transmitting the same code that you have programmed your radio to receive. Because of this, there may be someone else operating on your frequency, but if they do not have the proper transmit tone programmed, then you will not hear them. DCS or CTCSS do not change the fact that FM receivers by their design will always “capture” the strongest signal. This is known as the “capture effect”. This means that the strongest of any two or more signals will override weaker signals in the receiver. DCS or CTCSS allows you to reduce the amount of frivolous traffic that you will hear on the radio, but it in no way makes your communications secure or private. Anyone with a programmable scanner receiver or an FRS radio will be able to eaves drop on your communications.

Also, remember that is always possible that organized adversaries may utilize FRS radio equipment to coordinate their attacks, assaults, and other activities. In the event of a crisis, it would be of great value to have the ability to constantly monitor the FRS channels for this type of activity. Obtaining this communications intelligence (COMINT) could keep you and your family safe and could give you the early warning you need to prepare for an imminent an assault. For reference the FRS frequency table is as follows, expressed in MegaHertz (MHz):

CH 1 462.5625 (Shared with GMRS)
CH 2 462.5875 (Shared with GMRS)
CH 3 462.6125 (Shared with GMRS)
CH 4 462.6375 (Shared with GMRS)
CH 5 462.6625 (Shared with GMRS)
CH 6 462.6875 (Shared with GMRS)
CH 7 462.7125 (Shared with GMRS)
CH 8 467.5625 (FRS only)
CH 9 467.5875 (FRS only)
CH10 467.6125 (FRS only)
CH11 467.6375 (FRS only)
CH 12 467.6625 (FRS only)
CH 13 467.6875 (FRS only)
CH 14 467.7125 (FRS only)
CH 15 462.550 (GMRS only)
CH 16 462.575 (GMRS only)
CH 17 462.600 (GMRS only)
CH 18 462.625 (GMRS only)
CH 19 462.650 (GMRS only)
CH 20 462.675 (GMRS only)
CH 21 462.700 (GMRS only)
CH 22 462.725 (GMRS only)

The Multiple Use Radio Service (MURS) is another communications system that can be used by individuals and which requires no license to operate. MURS is similar to FRS in operation but MURS frequencies are in the Very High Frequency (VHF) band. MURS radios operate at a maximum output power of 2 watts. This is slightly higher than FRS radios which are limited to 0.5 watts. MURS radios can be purchased through many different on line retailers and communication equipment suppliers. The effective range of MURS radios is similar to FRS radios and depending upon terrain, will typically range from 1 to 5 miles for hand held units. In urban areas this may be decreased due to the types and number of structures in the area. This is because VHF signals don’t penetrate buildings and structures as well as UHF signals. MURS range may be increased in some rural areas because signals in the VHF frequency range tend to propagate better over open, flat terrain. It should be noted that VHF signals from MURS radios are subject to the same limitation as UHF signals from FRS and GMRS, in that they are line of sight, and the signals will only travel as far as the antenna can “see”. One advantage to MURS is that you are allowed to use external gain antennas with MURS frequencies. An externally mounted, elevated antenna will improve the performance and range of most any radio because of the “line of sight” principle. Logic dictates that the higher the antenna is, the further it can “see”. The legal antenna height for MURS is limited to no more than 60 feet above ground, or no more than 20 feet above the structure that it is mounted on. An external gain antenna is of great benefit to the performance of most types of transmitters and receivers, not just MURS radios. (A transmitter is any radio that sends out or “transmits” a signal and a receiver is any radio that “receives” or picks up a signal.) Also, “antenna gain” is a term that describes how well an antenna performs. The higher the gain, the better the performance.

It should also be noted that some driveway monitors, including those made by “Dakota Alert” use MURS frequencies. The advantage to this arrangement is that you can carry a MURS portable radio on your person while you are out working around your retreat, and you can receive alerts from the driveway alarm. Some of these MURS based driveway alarms include a push to talk (PTT) base station for your home, which means that not only can the indoor base receive the driveway alerts, but a person inside the house can transmit from the base station and have communications with another person carrying a MURS portable radio. As with FRS, possible adversaries may use MURS equipment to coordinate their activities, so it is worthwhile to monitor these frequencies for COMINT. The MURS frequency table is as follows, expressed in MegaHertz (MHz):

151.820 (FM narrow mode)
151.880 (FM narrow mode)
151.940 (FM narrow mode)
154.570 (FM wide mode, shared with business band)
154.600 (FM wide mode, shared with business band)

The next communications system I will discuss is the Citizen’s Band (CB) radio. CB radio has been in existence since the late 1950s, and now consists of 40 pre-programmed channels in the 27 MHz band. CB radio has some limitations that, in the opinion of the author, make it a poor choice as a survival related communications tool. CB radio has many things that work against it. CB is limited to 4 watts of output power. CBs also operate in the Amplitude Modulation (AM) mode. AM modulation, in conjunction with CB’s place at the top end of the High Frequency (HF) radio spectrum, makes it very susceptible to interference from power lines and other sources. Try a real world test to prove this point. The next time you are driving underneath high voltage power lines, tune the AM radio in your car to an unoccupied frequency. You will hear a great deal of noise that comes over the speakers of your car radio. Now tune it over to a vacant FM frequency. You will not hear the line noise. This same phenomenon affects CB radio and greatly limits it’s utility, especially in cities, towns, and urban areas where high voltage lines are present. The low transmit output power also severely limit’s the distance that a CB signal will travel. Some CB radios utilize “side-band” technology. This means that the radio takes a standard AM signal and divides it into two halves, upper and lower sideband. This allows slightly more power to be used to create the voice signal. This single sideband (SSB) mode can be selected by a knob on properly equipped CBs, tuning to either Upper Side band (USB) or Lower Side band (LSB). Sideband technology does increase the output power of a CB, but only to about 12 watts PEP (peak envelope power).

A decent antenna will improve CB performance whether it is installed in a vehicle as a mobile installation or as a base station inside a structure with which you can utilize external gain antennas. CB can work well in point to point simplex applications (such as one retreat communicating with another on a direct frequency), but there are better solutions for base to base communications to be found in the realm of Amateur Radio. One advantage to CB is that he radios typically operate of 12 volts DC, which makes it more practical to provide back up power. A deep cycle battery or other 12 volt DC system can provide this power. Amateur radio gear that will be discussed later also runs on 12 volts DC. You can easily install a CB base station at your retreat by connecting a mobile CB radio to a 12 volt DC power supply. The key to effective CB base station installation is to get the antenna up in the air as high as possible. Most of the time, radio waves in the 27 MHz propagate effectively as ground waves. This means that once again, the waves travel “line of sight”. However, at some points in the 11 year solar cycle, the Maximum Usable Frequency of the Ionosphere (more on that later in the Amateur Radio section) will increase to the point where to 27 MHz signals can propagate across the country and even across the world while using very low power levels. This can be fun to “shoot skip” as the CB’ers say but in reality 27 MHz skywave is not very reliable, so 27 MHz signals can only be depended on to function “line of sight” with regular reliability.

Another advantage to CB use is that is very widespread and having CB radio capability promotes interoperability with others. This could be very useful during a bug out when traveling on roadways and you are in need of information. As most red-blooded American’s know, CB is widely used in the trucking industry and those trucks can be treasure trove of useful information. For that reason, even though I don’t rely solely upon CB for my crisis communications plan, I do always have CB equipment available for use if needed. As with the other equipment mentioned earlier, CB is easily monitored and intercepted. This means your communications are not secure and an adversary using CB radio could use it against your retreat. Also note that there are several CB channels available for “remote control” purposes. These are intended to be used for RC aircraft, cars, etc. Under normal circumstances, I would certainly obey these restrictions but if needed, and if the user had the proper equipment, these channels could provide the user with less congested frequencies to conduct voice communications. CB frequencies can also be monitored by some programmable scanner receivers. The CB frequency table is included below for your reference, expressed in MHz:

CH 1 26.965
CH 2 26.975
CH 3 26.985
CH 4 27.005
CH 5 27.015
CH 6 27.025
CH 7 27.035
CH 8 27.055
CH 9 27.065
CH 10 27.075
CH 11 27.085
CH 12 27.105
CH 13 27.115
CH 14 27.125
CH 15 27.135
CH 16 27.155
CH 17 27.165
CH 18 27.175
CH 19 27.185
CH 20 27.205
CH 21 27.215
CH 22 27.225
CH 23 27.255
CH 24 27.235
CH 25 27.245
CH 26 27.265
CH 27 27.275
CH 28 27.285
CH 29 27.295
CH 30 27.305
CH 31 27.315
CH 32 27.325
CH 33 27.335
CH 34 27.345
CH 35 27.355
CH 36 27.365
CH 37 27.375
CH 38 27.385
CH 39 27.395
CH 40 27.405

CB Remote Control Channels

Amateur Radio

The next section we will discuss is Amateur Radio. Amateur Radio is, in the opinion of the author, the most viable form of communications for a crisis. I say this because all of the communications systems discussed up to this point are fixed in nature and are not designed to be flexible. These radios use only pre-programmed, non-tunable channels. They are designed to be used by untrained, unlicensed individuals and they are designed in a way that will limit there effective range so as to prevent harmful interference to other untrained, unlicensed users. Amateur radio on the other hand is just the opposite. It is flexible by nature, and for many reasons.
Amateur Radio (otherwise known as Ham Radio) has been around for almost 100 years and consists of many different frequency bands ranging from 1.8 MHz to 1240 MHz. Amateur Radio operators are licensed in the United States by the Federal Communications Commission (FCC). To be an Amateur Radio operator, one must pass a written multiple choice test which consists of different elements such as operating rules, electronic theory, radio frequency energy (RF) safety, antenna theory, and others. There are three levels of Amateur Radio license in the U.S. and they are Technician Class the entry level license), General Class ( an intermediate license) and Extra Class (the highest level of license). Many folks I have spoken with over the years have told me that they didn’t want to get involved with Amateur Radio because they didn’t want to learn Morse Code. The reality is that Morse code proficiency is no longer required to obtain an Amateur Radio license and hasn’t been for several years.

Obtaining an Amateur Radio license has never been easier. License exams are administered by volunteers with an FCC approved Volunteer Examiner Coordinator (VEC). Most communities are within an easy car trip of a testing location. The cost is very low and once you obtain the license, you renew it every 10 years at no cost. You can find a testing site near you by going to this web page. The American Radio Relay League (ARRL) is the America’s national association for Amateur Radio and you can explore their informational web site at . The questions and answers to the tests are published in pools that are updated every three years. As such it is very easy to study for these tests because you already have access to all of the possible questions and answers before the test. The VEC’s must select questions only from this pool so, it’s not a subjective test. There is ample study material available at and other internet sources. This includes study manuals and study software. I’m not giving anybody a plug here but I can tell you that the Gordon West study manuals that are available at are great material to use, and they helped me pass all of my exams easily. Amateur Radio equipment can be found at reasonable prices on the Internet (such as eBay), from other Amateurs, or at local “Hamfests”, which are swap meet for Amateur Radio gear. Find a local Amateur to help you out. We are a helpful bunch and will bend over backwards to get someone into the hobby and look forward to "Elmering" (mentoring) someone.

To get started in Amateur Radio, the first test you need to take is the Technician Class test. This test consists of a 35 question multiple choice test. After passing this test, and after you receive your first callsign from the FCC, you will have operating privileges on all Amateur Radio bands from 6 Meters (50 MHz) and up. This will provide you with access to the entire VHF and UHF amateur frequency bands. The propagation characteristics (meaning how radio waves travel) of these frequency bands can allow you to communicate both locally and regionally (out to about 50 miles, depending on system configuration). Frequency bands differ from “channels” in that “channels” (as applied to FRS, GMRS, MURS, CB) are pre-set and synthesized meaning that you can’t change the frequency. This means that you will have a lot of stations competing for a very limited amount of radio spectrum. With Amateur Radio however, the user selects the operating frequency and there is much more spectrum space available to carry out interference free communications. The two most commonly used bands available to Technician Class licensees are the 2 Meter band (144 to 148 MHz) and the 70 cm band (420-450 MHz). The Technician Class will also give you limited voice operating privileges on the 10 Meter HF band from 28.300 to 28.500 MHz. The 10 Meter band is at the highest portion of the High Frequency (HF) amateur bands. This means you will give you a taste of what HF radio is all about. 10 Meters propagates very similar to CB radio so you will only be able to communicate over long distances beyond line of sight when propagation conditions are favorable.

The second license available is the General Class license. This test consists of 35 multiple choice questions. There are many advantages to pursuing the General class upgrade after you pass the Technician test. Amateur Radio licenses build on one another, so when you upgrade to the next license class, you retain all of the privileges that you have previously earned and then receive more. The biggest advantage to the General class license is that it gives you much broader access to the High Frequency (HF) bands. The General class license will give you operating privileges on every Amateur band, whereas the Technician license limits your activities as an incentive for you to upgrade your license. The HF bands allow you to communicate locally, regionally, nationally, and even worldwide when the geomagnetic ionospheric conditions are favorable. More on those conditions later.
The third and final class of Amateur Radio license is the Extra Class license. This test consists of 50 multiple choice questions. The Extra Class is highest level of Amateur Radio license issued buy the FCC. The only advantage to earning the Extra Class license is that it gives one additional slivers of access to some of the HF bands. Your level of interest in furthering your expertise and study is what will motivate you to seek the Extra Class license or not. I know many amateurs who have been a General for many years and they have seen no need to upgrade. I have met others who challenged and took all three license exams and passed on the same day! [JWR Adds: And when you pay the day's test fee ( $15) that covers all of the tests that you take on that day.] So it really depends on one’s personal motivations as to whether one pursues this goal.

Band Allocation

I will now provide a description of each of the most commonly utilized Amateur Radio bands and equipment and how they can be utilized in communications planning. Before talking about the bands, one must have a grasp of a few basic concepts and terms. First, the designation “meter” as it applies to the description of radio bands is the measurement in meters between the peaks of the radio waves at a given frequency. Think of it this way. Radio waves, if they could be seen with the naked eye, would appear much as waves in the ocean do. They have peaks and lulls at timed intervals. The “meter band” measurement is the measurement between the middle of the peak of one wave and the middle of the peak of the following or preceding wave in meters (or centimeters in some cases) at a given frequency.

The second concept one must understand is antenna resonance. When an antenna is resonant, that means that the antenna absorbs and thereby radiates most all of the Radio frequency (RF) energy that is applied to it. If the antenna is not resonant, it will reflect a given portion of the power applied to it back to the transmitter. The amount of reflected power will be proportional to just how far out of resonance the antenna is. The amount of power reflected back as compared to the amount of forward power applied is known as the Standing Wave Ratio (SWR). Typically, an SWR of greater than 2:1 indicates antenna inefficiency and may the reflected power may damage your transmitter. An antenna analyzer is very helpful in attaining antenna resonance but is a very costly piece of equipment and is out of the price range of most Amateurs, and the theories of inductance and capacitance as they effect antenna tuning are way beyond the scope of a small article. A good rule of thumb to remember is that the lower one goes in operating frequency, the larger the antennas become due to the unchangeable laws of physics. But fear not, there are many things you can do to get a good signal on the air, which will also be discussed.

The third concept one must understand is the concept of radio wave propagation. Propagation is simply the method by which a radio wave travels from point A to Point B. There are two major ways that radio waves propagate. The first is by “line of sight” as discussed earlier. Line of sight means that the radio wave will only travel as far as the antenna can electrically “see:” This is typically the distance to the visual horizon plus about 15%. There are two very simple formulas for calculating line of sight which I have found to be very useful in determining how far a radio signal will travel. They are:

Radio Line of Sight:
D= approximate distance to radio horizon in miles
Hr= height of receive antenna in feet
Ht= height of transmit antenna in feet

Visual Line of sight:
Approximate distance in miles= 1.33 X v (height in feet)

Another quick reference table regarding radio line of sight that may be useful:
Range=approximate radio range in miles
TX Ant. Height= height of transmitting antenna in feet
RX Ant. Height= height of receiving antenna in feet
Range TX Ant. Height RX Ant. Height TX Ant. Height Range
8 10 5.5 150 21
10 20 5.5 200 23
11 30 5.5 300 28
12 40 5.5 400 32
13 50 5.5 500 35
16 75 5.5 750 42
17 100 5.5 1000 48

The second mode of propagation is by “Skywave”. This concept is a bit more complex but with time and experience, one can get a pretty good grasp as to how skywave will behave on certain bands, at certain times of the year, and at certain times in the sunspot cycle. Skywave involves HF radio waves (which are frequencies of 3 to30 MHz) being sent up and then reflected back to the Earth’s surface by the Ionosphere at distances of hundreds or thousands of miles away. Skywave propagation is made possible thanks to the Ionosphere. The Ionosphere several layers of electrically charged particles that range from about 30 to 600 miles above the earth’s surface. It is comprised of several layers including D, E, F, F1 and F2. The D layer ranges from about 35 to 55 miles above the surface. The D layer is an enemy to skywave propagation but fortunately it is only in existence during the day and it vanishes at night. The D layer does nothing to reflect signals, but it will absorb and attenuate daytime signals, especially in the 160, 80, 75, 60, and 40 Meter Amateur bands. It is often known to Amateurs as “That Dang D”. The E layer ranges from 55 to 75 miles above the surface. The E layer is an occasional player in skywave propagation and can reflect signals back to Earth at distances of several thousand miles under proper conditions. E layer skywave propagation is often sporadic in nature, and can effect frequencies that are well above the HF part of the spectrum. The F1 and F2 layers exist only in the daytime (like the D layer). At night, the F1 and F2 layer combine to form the F layer. The F layer in it’s various forms ranges from 125 to 300 miles above the surface. The F layer is responsible for most reliable skywave communications.

The Ionosphere is “ionized” by Ultraviolet (UV) rays and X-Ray radiation from the sun. The sun goes through stages of activity and inactivity that waxes and wanes over an 11 year period. This means that the amount of radiation from the sun goes up and down, and that in turn effects the Ionosphere. The rule of thumb is that as more sunspots, (which are dark and comparatively cool areas) develop on the visible surface of the sun, the more ionizing radiation the sun emits. This means that sky wave propagation is usually enhanced due to increased ionization in the Ionosphere. Increased solar activity is a double edged sword however, and during solar flares, which are sudden, large emissions of solar radiation, HF communications can be adversely affected to the point where HF radio is blacked out and unusable. This occurs because of disruptions in the Ionosphere as well as in the earths magnetic field, which also plays a role in skywave propagation. As most Preppers know, severe solar flares can induce huge currents in the power grid which could cause severe damage and in turn lead to power outages that could last for years in the worst case scenario, such as the Carrington Event of 1859.

A good understanding of Ionospheric and Geomagnetic activity is a must for any serious user of HF radio. The term Geomagnetic refers to the relationship between the Earth and it’s magnetic field, which is mostly concentrated at the poles. There is ample information available to HF radio users that can allow one to reasonably predict what sky wave propagation will be doing at a given frequency at a given time. There are four measurements that can be used to make this estimation. These measurements are the A index, the K index, the Solar Flux Index (SFI) and the Sunspot number. The A index is a general measurement of activity in the Earth’s magnetic field over the past 24 hours and indicates an average trend of geomagnetic activity. The K index indicates the nearly real time level of disturbance in the earth’s magnetic field, as observed at observatories around the globe and then averaged. The K index is generally updated at three hour increments. The rule of thumb is that the higher the A and K indices are, the more disturbed the magnetic field is. This means that HF communications may be degraded, especially at higher latitudes and over the poles. The Solar Flux Index is a measurement of radio energy that is being emitted from the sun at 2800 MHz (10.7 cm wavelength). The higher the solar flux, the higher the level of ionizing radiation being emitted from the sun. This usually means that HF communications will be enhanced, because the Ionosphere is receiving more ionizing radiation. The last measurement is the Sunspot number. This is a simple method which indicates the number of dark spots that are visible on the sun’s surface. The more sunspots that are visible, the more ionizing radiation that the sun emits. What does it all mean? It means that you want to see a low A index, a low K index, a high Solar Flux Index and a high sunspot number for good HF propagation. If the A and K index are high, HF communications may be disrupted. If the SFI and sunspot numbers are low, it means that most of the higher HF frequencies will not be usable for sky wave. These current indices can be found at .

This all brings me to the next concept that one must understand about HF radio and radio waves in general. It is the concept of Maximum Usable Frequency (MUF). MUF is the maximum frequency at which, at any given time, the Ionosphere will refract a radio wave back to the earth’s surface. The MUF will change with the seasons, the time of day, and the point of the sunspot cycle. The east majority of the time, the MUF is 30 MHz or below. This is why VHF and UHF radio waves are line of sight. Any VHF or UHF waves that get transmitted up into the Ionosphere are not reflected back to Earth and pass into space. This is why if you want to have access to transmit on frequencies that will reliably propagate over long distances (greater than about 50 miles most cases), you will need to have an HF radio station. There are exceptions to this but it usually involves Sporadic E layer propagation as mentioned above, which is an unstable and fleeting form of propagation. It can be fun to work this type of propagation during normal times but don’t count on it to work as a part of your crisis communications plan. There also other Amateur Radio systems other than HF that you can use to communicate over long distances (such as EchoLink), but these typically rely on the Internet infrastructure which most Preppers are at pains not to do.

The first individual band to be discussed is the 160 Meter band or commonly known as “Top Band“ to Amateurs. This band ranges from 1.8 to 2.0 MHz and is the lowest amateur band and is in the MF (Medium Frequency) part of the electromagnetic spectrum. The typical operating mode for 160 Meters is Lower Side Band (LSB). The propagation characteristics of the 160 Meter band are usually similar to what you would expect from a broadcast AM radio station. Note that the 160 Meter Amateur band is located just above the AM broadcast band which runs from about 510 KHz to 1.710 MHz. The 160 Meter band is not utilized by most Amateurs because the antennas for 160 Meters are typically very large for the reasons of antenna resonance described above. Like most Amateur bands, 160 Meters has quirky propagation characteristics at times, and it changes with the seasons and sunspot cycle. 160 Meters is greatly affected by D layer absorption and is nearly unusable during the daytime hours during the summer, but can propagate great distances at night during the winter. 160 meters also suffers from a high atmospheric noise level at times. Another great rule of thumb to remember is that the lower one goes in operating frequency, the higher the atmospheric noise levels become. Atmospheric noise is also generated by lightning and thunderstorms to the point where MF and HF can be become unusable due to static crashes.

The next band is the 80 and 75 meter bands. Those two terms are sometimes used interchangeably. The 75/80 Meter band ranges from 3.5 to 4.0 MHz and the default voice communications mode is Lower Side Band. This band will be of potentially great use to the Prepper. 75/80 Meters has the ability to communicate regionally, beyond the range of typical VHF and UHF systems which will be discussed later. 75/80 fills a unique gap in HF coverage, and can provide statewide communications. This is where most statewide emergency communications “nets” take place. Groups such as the Amateur Radio Emergency Service (ARES) and state Emergency Operations Centers (EOCs) conduct most statewide HF operations in this band. It has been said that most disasters are local and regional in nature. This makes 75/80 very useful because of it’s propagation characteristics.
The best propagation mode for the Prepper on this band is to use Near Vertical Incidence Skywave (NVIS). This involves the counter intuitive placement of an antenna that is very close the ground, within about 8 feet or so. It needs to be just high enough that people or animals cannot touch it. This proximity to the ground causes the radiated energy to ascend towards the Ionosphere at a very steep angle. This means that when the waves are reflected back to earth, they are also returned at a very steep angle. This makes the coverage pattern of an NVIS antenna to be much closer to the transmitting station, typically within a range of 25 to 300 miles. This makes it the perfect choice for a Prepper that wants regional communications. There is information later in the article about how to build an easy and inexpensive dipole antenna for 75/80 that can be configured for NVIS. 75/80 typically covers out to about 200 miles during the day, but can extend out several thousand miles at night when the D layer and its associated absorption disappears. 75/80 is very susceptible to D layer absorption during local daylight hours. 75/80 also suffers from higher noise levels during the day, especially during the summer months.

The next band is 60 Meters. This band is unique in that it is the only Amateur band that is channelized. The center frequencies for 60 Meters are 5332, 5348, 5368, 5358.5, 5373, and 5405 kHz. These are center frequencies and not the dial frequency that will be displayed on the display of an HF radio. The corresponding dial frequencies are 5330.5, 5346.5,5357.0,5371.5, and 5403.5 kHz. The channel width is limited to 2.8 kHz in the Upper Side Band mode. This band is allocated to the Amateur Radio service on a Secondary basis only, and the Primary users are typically federal government users. Secondary users must always yield to Primary users. Power on this band is currently limited to 100 watts Peak Envelope Power (PEP) into a half wave dipole antenna (whose construction is described later in this article). Most amateur radios do not have the ability to transmit in this band without modifications. 60 Meters is useful in that it fills a propagation gap between the 75/80 Meter and the 40 Meter bands. 60 Meters does not suffer from as much atmospheric noise as 75/80 Meters but 60 Meters is still susceptible to D layer absorption. NVIS antennas may also be used effectively on 60 Meters, and it useful for communications within the same state and with surrounding states. The main problem is that not very many Amateurs are on the air on 60 Meters.

The next band is the 40 Meter band, which covers 7.0 to 7.3 MHz. The default voice operating mode is Lower Side Band. 40 meters is typically the highest frequency amateur band that can be used for effectively for regional communications. 40 Meters differs from 75/80 Meters and 60 Meters in that it’s regional range usually extends from about 200 to 500 miles during the day and extends to several thousand miles at night. 40 Meters is typically better than 75/80 Meters for communications with states in the same general region of the country. This makes 40 Meters a good regional band but not necessarily a good band for statewide communications. A disadvantage to 40 Meters is that it is still shared with international broadcast stations in some parts of the world, especially above 7.2 MHz. The international stations don’t usually cause a problem during the day due to the D layer but they are the bane of 40 Meter operations at night.

The next band is the 30 Meter band., which ranges from 10.1 to 10.15 MHz. 30 Meters is different from the previously mentioned bands in that it is limited to the use of digital communications modes only. PEP is limited to 200 watts. Voice communications are not allowed on this band. Digital communications can be as simple as the old stand by Morse Code and as advanced as modern software suites which allow users to interconnect radios with computers and then send and receive data packets over the air. There are many digital modes that can be used on Amateur Radio bands. The advantages to digital modes is that you can send and receive large amounts of data faster than it can be relayed by voice. Digital modes are also very useful in situations where signals are very weak and voice communications cannot be established. There are many inexpensive digital interfaces available to connect radios to computers, and most of the software is freeware or available at a very reasonable cost. Digital modes are not restricted to just 30 meters and they can be used on the other amateur bands as well. Another advantage to digital modes is that while they are not considered encryption (because of open, public source protocols), they can defeat the very casual listener that doesn’t have the proper receive equipment. 30 Meters can propagate regionally, nationally and world wide depending upon the propagation conditions.

The next band is the 20 meter band which ranges from 14.0 to 14.35 MHz. The default voice operating mode is Upper Side Band. 20 Meters is what some Amateurs refer to as the “work horse band” because of it‘s useful propagation qualities. There are many types of operations that take place on this band, including a great deal of “nets”. Nets are formal on the air gatherings of Amateurs for different purposes. 20 Meters is generally open year round and typically only closes down at night as the MUF due to de-ionization of the Ionosphere. 20 Meter propagation is generally nation wide in nature, but it will occasionally propagate regionally on shorter skywave hops. Depending on how far away the station is that you need to establish communications, 20 Meters may be a good bet. I know Amateurs that maintain 20 meter contact schedules with other stations that are located on opposite ends of the country. 20 Meters does not suffer from D layer absorption as the lower bands do, and atmospheric noise levels on 20 are typically low except during thunderstorms. This makes 20 Meters an all around good band for talking with friends across the country.

The other HF bands I will group together. They are:
17 Meters from 18.068 to 18.168 MHz
15 Meters from 21.0 to 21.450 MHz
12 Meters from 24.890 to 24.990 MHz
10 Meters from 28.0 to 29.7 MHz

These bands are useful for nation wide and world wide propagation depending upon the solar and geomagnetic conditions. The default voice operating mode for these bands is Upper Side Band. I would point out that 10 Meters is a very large band and it is the only HF amateur band that allows Frequency Modulation (FM) operations. This is allowed from 29.6 to 29.7 MHz. This is because FM transmissions are wider than Single Side Band (SSB) signals so they require more space (bandwidth). 10 Meters is a big enough band to allow for the increased bandwidths. FM is an advantage over AM and even SSB in that it is not as susceptible to line noise interference from power lines. 10 Meter FM would be a decent choice for point to point simplex communications between retreats. 10 Meter ground wave propagation behaves very similar to Citizens Band propagation because the frequencies in which they operate are very close together. This also an advantage because some CB antennas can be re-tuned for use on the 10 Meter band. Digital modes are also allowed on these bands.
Here’s great HF radio hands on skill. You can build a simple HF wire dipole antenna at very low cost and with just a few parts. You will need some copper antenna wire (preferably with a steel core for strength), and three insulators (which can be made from ceramic, plastic, glass or even wood) . The insulators need to be at least 3 inches in length. You will also need a length of 50 Ohm coaxial cable (such as RG8) with the appropriate connector for your radio. This is typically a type PL-259 in most Amateur Radio applications. You will also need some rope to support the antenna, as well as a soldering iron and electronics solder to make all of the connections permanent.

Just follow the following steps, using the formula:
I=dipole antenna length in feet
f= the intended operating frequency in MHz.

This gives you the overall length that your wire antenna needs to be. Then, divide this number by 2 and cut two pieces of wire to this length. Place an insulator between the two pieces of wire. This will be the center insulator. It is usually best to drill a hole in each end of the insulator, and then wrap the antenna wire through the hole, wrap the free end around the antenna a few times within an inch or two of the center insulator, and solder the connections. Do this on each side of the insulator, so that you have one end of each of the two equal length wires attached to the center insulator. Then place an insulator on each end of the two wires using the same procedure. Then go back to the center insulator and strip the outer jacket off of your 50 ohm cable to a length of a few inches (dependent on the length of your insulator). Then separate the outer shield from the center conductor, making certain that the two do not contact one another. Then solder the center conductor (stripped of insulation) to one leg of the dipole at the center insulator and solder the shield to the other side of the dipole, also at the center insulator. Then you will want to attach the coax to the center insulator using a heavy wire tie or other strong attachment to reduce stress on the insulator connections to keep them from breaking in the elements. Then you can tie of the ends and center insulator of the dipole to trees or other similar elevated structures. Route the cable and connector to your radio and test with an SWR bridge. An SWR of 2:1 or less should be adequate for most radios. Many modern HF radios already have a SWR bride built in. You may need to slightly lengthen or shorten the antenna to get it to resonance. This is a very inexpensive and easy way to build an HF dipole antenna. I have made several of these, one for each amateur band from 80 to 10 meters, and I keep them in my crisis communications kit for immediate set up and use. You can read a great article about this project at .

Then next band is the 6 Meter band, from 50 to 54 MHz. as a Technician Class licensee, a new ham would have full access to this band and all others above it. 6 Meters propagates mostly ground wave and there are many FM repeaters in this band. More on repeater operations in the 2 meter and 70 cm band descriptions. SSB is widely used on 6 Meters, and it occasionally will propagate via sky wave via the E layer of the ionosphere. Skywave on 6 Meters is not reliable but is an interesting mode to work distant or “DX” stations on. 6 Meters is in the VHF low part of the spectrum, and signals in this frequency range tend to propagate further via ground wave than other frequencies that are above or below it. It is no coincidence that many state police agencies have used VHF Low for the last 60 years. It is because of VHF Low signals propagate better over large, rural areas than VHF High or UHF frequencies do. If you wanted to communicate via simplex ground wave with another retreat, this would be the most ideal band.

The next band is the 2 Meter band from 144 to 148 MHz. 2 Meters is quite possibly the most popular and widely used band, and FM is the most common mode. There are many repeaters in the 2 Meter band. A repeater is a station is installed at an elevated point, typically on a large communications tower or on top of a building or mountain. A repeater uses two frequencies simultaneously. The repeater receives on an input frequency, amplifies the signal to higher power, and retransmits it from the elevated antenna on an output frequency. This allows two stations that would otherwise be unable to communicate due to Line of Sight problems to establish communications. Other communications options on 2 Meters are the use of “simplex” frequencies. This just means transmitting directly from one station to another on the same frequency without use of repeaters. It’s the same principle as voice operations on the of the bands that don’t allow use of repeaters. There are also SSB operations on 2 meters, and digital operations are allowed at higher throughput rates. This means you can send more data, faster. This is because the band is larger and there is more spectrum available. There are thousands of 2 Meter repeaters in operation across the country. Some of them have back up power sources, some do not. It is the recommendation of the author that you not rely on repeaters in your crisis communications plan. This is because the repeaters may become congested with radio traffic or there power may fail in a crisis situation. Always have plan to establish simplex communications with your family, friends, and your retreat, without relying on a repeater if at all possible.

The next band is the 70 cm band from 420 to 450 MHz. The most common operating mode is FM, but there extensive digital and Amateur Television (ATV) operations in this band. Yes, you can actually transmit “Ham TV”! There are many repeaters on the air in this band, especially in urban areas. 70 cm performs well in urban areas because UHF radio waves tend to penetrate buildings and structures better that frequencies in other ranges. Simplex operations are also common on 70 cm. 70cm is widely used as a “backbone” band for linked repeaters. Some repeater operators have linked their systems together so that in some cases, one can communicate statewide on a VHF or UHF repeater. 70 cm is often used to relay this link data. Both 2 Meters an 70 cm are often used in Amateur satellite operations. There are several satellites in earth orbit that have amateur radio repeaters on board. While this is fun to play with and is a tool for your communications tool belt, satellites have limited utility for consistent, reliable communications with other specific stations. This is because most of the satellites are in a Low Earth Orbit and the orbit is circular in nature. This means that the satellite circles the earth about once every ninety minutes. When combined with the rotation of the earth, this means that passes over a given location are limited in occurrence and short in scope. Satellites are also heavily used and it can be difficult to establish contact on them. For this reason they should not be relied upon to provide time sensitive communications for the Prepper.

The other two commonly used bands I will lump together. They are the 33 cm band from 902 to 928 MHz and the 23 cm band from 1240 to 1300 MHz. These bands are great for the digital or ATV operator. They provide ample bandwidth for data throughput an the antennas for these bands are very small. Voice and repeaters are also used on these bands. There is not a lot of activity on these bands in the rural areas of the country, but they are more active in the urban areas. They are also outside the range of most cheap scanners, which provides some protection from the casual listener. Again, encryption is no allowed on any of the amateur bands but the squeaks and squawks of digital are meaningless to the untrained and unequipped listener.

The next area that must be addressed for a reliable crisis communications system is back up power. This can be accomplished in many ways. The good news is that most Amateur Radio systems and other related communications equipment operate from 12 Volts DC negative ground. This means you can connect this equipment to a car battery or preferably (if using a battery), to a marine deep cycle battery. Maintenance free lead acid batteries make good back up power sources for radio. Of course, you need to have a back up plan to recharge the batteries without the grid. This can be done using a variety of systems including solar panels, wind generators, or hydro generators connected to a battery charging conditioner to prevent damage to the battery pr to the charging system. One can also use a standard gasoline, diesel, or natural gas powered generator to power a 120 Volts Alternating Current (VAC) to a 12 VDC power supply for the radios. These 120 VAC to 12 VDC power supplies are commonly used to power Amateur Radio equipment from the grid under normal conditions. Do not rely on grid power to at any point in your crisis communications plan.

In my situation, I utilize HF radio on 80 through 10 Meters for back up long haul communications , as well as 2 Meter and 70 cm simplex for local use. I use the repeaters regularly, but I don’t rely on it. Our local 2 Meter repeater also has a limited back up power source. I work about 10 miles form my home and I have 2 Meter radios installed in all of our vehicles, including my work vehicle. I have a very understanding employer. I have 2 Meters and 70 cm installed at my home and I can communicate with my family regardless of grid condition. I have utilized this before when a disaster struck our town and cellular phone communications were out for hours. The only communications I had with home were by Amateur Radio. The cell network was overloaded and damaged, and it was good to know that even when bad things happened, I could inform my family of my status. It was a huge relief to my wife because she had been very concerned about my well being, and all of her phone calls to me got the familiar “We‘re sorry, all circuits are busy now. Please try your call again later” or something to that effect. She knew what to do in order to contact me due to rule 6-P.

Another area of great interest to the Prepper is utility monitoring. This a complex subject, but it boils down to listening to all different types of frequencies and modes to figure out what’s happening in the world. Engage in and learn about this activity and you would be surprised at what you will hear. I advise you not to do anything that is illegal. In some states, it is unlawful to possess a police scanner in a vehicle, so make sure that you know your local laws. Consider installing a wideband scanner receiver, and a high gain external base antenna at your retreat. The author recommends the Uniden Bearcat BC9000XLT or equivalent and the Antenna craft ST-2 antenna. They make a great pair. You can monitor local public safety entities as well as other government entities. Many of these entities encrypt their radio traffic so you cannot listen to them. It is unlawful to decipher these communications. Most of theme use a very secure protocol and most attempts at decryption would be moot for most people anyway. It is also unlawful to intercept cellular telephone or other encrypted communications, so don’t do it. Also, some entities utilize a P25 digital modulation protocol, and if that’s the case where you live, then you will need to acquire a P-25 digital trunking scanner to receive them.

Shortwave broadcast, while somewhat on the decline from some parts of the world, is still alive and well. You will interesting news and content that the regular lap dog media will not report. This includes a great deal of alternative and Christian media that would be snubbed, defamed and marginalized by the politically correct main stream media. The author’s favorite shortwave broadcast station is WWCR out of Nashville, Tennessee. They operate on the frequencies of 3.215, 4.840, 5.935, 7.465, 7.490, 9.350, 9.985, 15.825,12.160, and 13.845 kHz AM. There are also many broadcasters from around the world still on shortwave. This could prove to be a vital news source in the vent of an information blackout here in the U.S. Most amateur HF radios have wide band receivers so an HF station doubles as a shortwave receiver. There is also a great deal of military and government traffic on the HF bands. Military monitoring is also a popular pastime that could have utility in a crisis. It is still considered lawful in the U.S. (Yet, anyway. Many countries have outlawed it). A decent scanner receiver (like the BC 9000XLT) will cover the 225 to 406 MHz range where most UHF military operations take place. With an outdoor antenna, you can hear military aircraft operating hundreds of miles away in the AM, non-encrypted mode. Most scanners will also allow you to monitor amateur frequencies, weather broadcast stations (which are a great source for civil emergency alerts), civilian aircraft, taxi cabs, busses, railroads, transportation departments, and utility companies. A great source for local radio frequency information for your area is the database here. There are also many other web sources for the frequencies for your area. Engaging in utility monitoring will remind you of how important it is to utilize Communications Security (COMSEC). It will remind you to mindful of what information you transmit in the open. Also remember that in a collapse scenario, do not transmit from your retreat unless absolutely necessary. If it is necessary, keep your transmissions very brief, and consider using a modular addition encryption protocol. Line of sight transmissions can be DF’d. That means an adversary can use Direction Finding techniques to locate your retreat. Skywaves are much more difficult to DF but it can be done, so keep your HF transmissions short as well. Spend most of your time listening and use COMINT to your advantage.

Another thing to remember is to not completely discount grid based communications systems as a part of your plan. I’m not saying that you should rely on these systems. You absolutely should not. But many of these systems, if they are operating in some capacity may have utility to you even if they are compromised and not reliable. Landline phone companies for example are required to maintain battery and generator back up power for their network switches. Remember that the landline network providers still provide the Plain Old Telephone System (POTS) backbone that interconnects telephone voice circuits to cellular sites. Also consider installing a landline phone in your home for this reason, if it fits into your budget. It does in my home because it is a part of my DSL internet package. Landline phones, as long as they are not the cordless type, will typically continue to work during a short-term power outage because the phone is powered by telephone company equipment and not by the power to your home. Cordless phones require AC power to your home or back up power supply to operate. You can purchase battery back up units for cordless phones that provide several hours of talk time during a power outage. I picked one of these units up at a Hamfest for $5. Also consider installing Skype on your computer which provides free IP-based video chat capability if you have a web cam, microphone, speakers, and a broadband Internet connection for your computer. Also remember to use e-mail and text message capability if you have it. Text messages or e-mails can sometimes get through to members of your family and friends who do not have a crisis communications system even if the voice circuits are overloaded and unavailable. You may need these methods to communicate with folks that didn’t prepare ahead of time.

A lot of folks also don’t know that most cell phone carriers have e-mail gateways into their text messaging system. This means you can send an e-mail and it will be delivered to the recipients cell phone as a text message. Text message charges apply.

Check out the table below to look for you carrier:
Alltel or
Bell Canada
Centennial Wireless
Cellular South
Cincinnati Bell
Metro PCS or
U.S. Cellular
Virgin Mobile


Alaska Communications Systems
General Communications Inc.

Puerto Rico

Centennial Wireless

U.S Virgin Islands

Centennial Wireless

For more carriers, see:

I hope this information is useful to you in your preparation efforts. May God bless you and your families as we endure these turbulent times in our world. don’t forget to make preparations in other necessary areas as well. Beans, bullets, and band aids should be squared away before you invest in communications. And most importantly, remember to walk daily with the Jesus Christ. He is the way, the truth, and the life, and no one will come to the father but through Him.

Friday, January 13, 2012

I'd like to start off by expressing my appreciation for this blog – I've learned a lot from everyone here. I'm fairly new to prepping and I am by no means an expert. In this article, I will be putting together some of the things that my group and I are doing to raise the odds that we will get home when the Schumer Hits the Fan (TSHTF) and referencing other articles that I found helpful.

Like most people, I commute a long distance to work. I do this because there are few to no jobs in my field that pay a wage that I could live on close to home – just like everyone else. I am fortunate in that my commute is just less than 40 miles, but that is still a long way to walk – especially if I'm walking through the woods and avoiding towns and roads.

Why would I be walking? Several reasons. Although it is stated in this article that there is a fairly good chance that my vehicle will still be running when TSHTF (assuming the event is EMP related), everybody and their dog will be trying to get out of Dodge, and the roads will be backed up. See this article for more information. Even the back roads. I am under no illusions that I'm the only one who knows these roads.

Another reason is that the roads will become traps fairly quickly. There will be plenty of goblins out there whose survival planning involves robbing and pillaging those who had the foresight to prepare. I intend to increase my chances of not meeting any of them, and getting home safely in spite of them. The most successful survival strategy is to avoid a fight, rather than try to survive one.

Where Are We Going?
First, credit where it's due: this idea was adapted from this article. What I did was to go to Google Maps, and find several different ways to get from the area where I work to home. I then downloaded the USGS maps for those entire routes. It may take some poking around, but you should be able to get contiguous maps for the whole route. It's best to lay out more than one route. More on this later.

Here's a tip for working with these maps. They are in PDF format. If you can get your hands on a computer with the full version of Adobe Acrobat installed on it (not just the reader), you can export the map as a JPG image. In version 8, it's File/Export/Image/JPEG, but that may vary, depending on your system.. Once you've exported the image, you can then edit and print it using your favorite image editing software. I use Photoshop, but you can use less expensive (or free) image editing software. The idea is to be able to read the map on the go.

I generally cut out a lot of the extraneous area that I'm not likely to be traversing in my travels. That being said, I usually leave a good amount (several miles worth) around my intended route as I have no way of knowing what conditions will be like when TSHTF, and I want to keep my options open. I leave especially large areas surrounding towns and natural barriers (rivers, cliffs, steep mountainsides, swamps – you get the idea). The more you can cut out of the map, the larger the features in what you're printing will be.

If you end up with a lot on a single map, you can cut it in pieces and print each piece, or just print detail maps (a zoomed-in section) of the areas of interest (like towns or river crossings, for instance). I have more than a dozen maps for my 40 mile commute. One of the nice features is that the USGS maps show where there are houses and other structures. However, you need to be aware that the structures shown will be those that were there in the year that the survey was done. Just be aware that if the date on the map that you downloaded is 1984, there is a high likelihood that there are far more houses and businesses around now.

Once you have your maps to your satisfaction, you will need to print them. I prefer to use a color laser printer. Color, because it's easier to read the map, and laser because inkjet tends to smear very easily with the slightest amount of moisture.

I highly recommend purchasing (or borrowing if you're lucky enough) a laminator. A fairly decent one will cost around $100-$150 and the pouches around $30 for 100 (don't get the cheaper ones – they're really flimsy and they don't seal as well as the heavier ones). This may seem like a lot of hard-earned cash to lay out, but these maps could mean the difference between making it back to your retreat or not.

I typically lay out my maps by route (see Options below), and pair them up. If I have a large map with a detail map of something on the large map, they will go together. If not, then I pair them up in the order that I will likely use them as I'm working my way home.

When I laminate them, I put 2 maps in each pouch – like a printed book, you can see a map on both sides of the page. I then 3-hole punch them and put them in a 3 ring binder in the order that I will be traveling. Take care how you orient the maps when you laminate them – they should all face the same direction. When flipping through the book, you should not have to turn it more that 90 degrees and back to see all of the maps upright.

This book stays in my vehicle at all times. If I'm out with the family in my wife's vehicle, I put the book and my B.O.B. in there. My wife has her own "emergency kit" that stays in her vehicle all the time.

Once again, credit where it's due: This came from this article.

I have several routes that I can take to get home from where I work. Unfortunately, they all involve major roadways – one major interstate and two State Highways. However, all three of my main routes home can be (mostly) through heavily forested areas and State Game Lands. This is a big plus in avoiding ambushes and just generally keeping a low profile.

One major problem that I will have is that I have to cross a major river (and possibly a smaller one, depending on which route I'm forced to take). There are two main bridges over this river that I will be avoiding like the plague when TSHTF. I can't help but think that bridges will be nothing more than shooting galleries: you can only go forward or back, there is no cover for you and the goblins likely have a lot of cover. Not good.

Using the USGS maps (and my knowledge of the area), I have identified at least seven good crossing points on the major river – two for each route. One route actually has three good crossing points. Depending on the time of year and recent rainfall, I may have even more.

The subject of river crossing brings me to my next point:

G.O.O.D. Bag
There are many outstanding articles here regarding G.O.O.D. kits and I don't want to re-invent the wheel. Keeping in mind that there are many more, a few good recent ones can be found here, here, here and here. As you can see from the selection of articles, I liked the ones having to do with the medical aspects of the B.O.B.

So, I've come to the river and I've scouted it out and am ready to attempt to cross. How do I keep my gear from getting soaked? My solution is rather simple: garbage bags. I use the big 30 mil, 50 gallon industrial sized bags. I'll simply put my gear into several different garbage bags and tie them to myself. I have a couple of hundred feet of paracord packed in my bag that I'll be doing the tying with. Each bag will be tripled – three bags, one inside the other inside the other. This has several advantages. First, it will (hopefully) keep my gear dry. I have actually used this method on canoe trips, and it works pretty well as long as you tie the bags well and don't snag them on anything. Second, they can be used as flotation devices. When I pack the bags, I put a little bit of gear in a bag, blow some air in it and tie it up, leaving a bunch of the top of the bag free above the knot. I then put this bag inside another bag, leaving some air space between the two bags. When I tie up the second bag, I pull the top of the first bag (above the knot) up into the part of the second bag that I'm going to tie, and then I tie a knot in both bags, leaving a section of the bags above this knot to do the same with the third bag. This way, if any of the bags gets ripped, you don't risk losing the contents. Depending on how bulky the gear is in each bag, you may not have enough of the inner-most bag left to tie into the third knot (the third knot will be rather big if there is 3 thicknesses of garbage bags in it), but that’s not a huge problem.

The next trick is to be lavish in your use of the cord to tie the bags to yourself. If you tied the bags as I explained above, you should have the outer knot near the end of the bags, and two more knots further down towards the contents. Tie your cord around the lower-most knot – the one on the inner-most bag. You will be tying all of the paracord knots on the outside of the outer-most bag. Now, take the long end of the cord, and wrap it tightly around the bags between the first and second knot (the first knot is on the inner-most bag, second knot on the middle bag, etc.), and then tie it here. Do the same thing between the second and third knots.

I have a "duty harness". It consists of a webbed duty belt with heavy padded suspenders with many attachment points. This is what I will be tying the bags of gear to – NOT to my belt loops on my pants. In the event that I get tired to the point that I'm struggling to stay afloat because I'm stressed out, I've been attacked, the current is too strong, I've been hiking for longer than I'm accustomed to or a combination of these, and I want to use the bags as flotation devices, it would be nice if they held my head out of the water, rather than my other end.

I recommend practicing this now as trying to figure it out under the stress of TEOTWAWKI probably won't give good results. Some of the things that will take some figuring out are how much cord to use between the bags and yourself, how much gear to pack in each bag, how much air to put in each bag. You'll also want to practice swimming with all of these bags tied to you – they WILL interfere with your movements. When choosing your crossing point, keep this in mind. I found that using a modified side-stroke/breast stroke to be the most effective and the least noisy. Using a crawl-type or any other stroke that takes your hands and arms out of the water generates a lot of attention-getting noise and tends to get you tangled up in the cords. Your bags of gear will tend to keep gravitating towards you as you settle lower in the water or make headway. If you use longer lines, or tie them to your belt, they will interfere less with your movements, but will not work well as floatation devices. This would work for smaller creeks, but not a larger river.

One point: when you put the gear in the first bag, it should float easily on its own. Don't pack so much in the bag that it barely floats (or doesn't float at all) and try to make it up on the outer bag(s). If the outer bags get ripped or leak, your gear can become an anchor, which tends to be counter-productive. Having several bags holding you up can be a good thing – especially if the river you have to cross is very wide or has a strong current. The down side of having a lot of bags is if the current is strong they tend to drag you down-river. They also make you a bigger target. I think that I would prefer to cross at night for this reason.

I actually tried this on the major river that I have to cross this past summer. I went to one of the swimming beaches with my gear already packed up in several bags as described above. It was a hot day, and there were a lot of people around swimming, partying, hanging out, etc. I got out of my truck, donned my duty harness, walked down to the river and started tying all of these bags to myself. To say that I attracted a lot of attention would be an understatement. However, I did find out that the amount of gear that I intend to carry, packed into several packages as described above will support me with my head out of the water, but will also slow my progress across the river appreciably. I think that I will probably use a smaller number of larger packages as I don't intend to spend too much time in the river, if I can help it.

This is a very broad topic, so I'll just touch on a couple of points. First of all, if at all possible, I recommend taking the time to try and walk your route(s) home. Or at least, parts of them. Practice the skills you think you may need. Can you reliably build a fire with only your firesteel and whatever is available wherever you happen to be? Under stress? In the dark? Do you have an alternative method of making fire? Two? Can you navigate from your maps (whatever type you decide to use)? If you have to cross a river, can you without losing or ruining your gear? At night? In the rain? Or freezing weather? How long will it take you to pack all of the gear in your B.O.B. into plastic bags to get across that river? Can you do it silently? In the dark? How long will it take to re-pack it into your B.O.B.? Can you do that silently? Where will you build the fire that you will need to dry-out/warm-up after being in the water? What are the OPSEC considerations of building a fire near where you crossed? What will you do with all of those wet plastic bags? Try to think your scenario through. Better yet, walk it through.

Although my home state is part of America, where citizens have 2nd Amendment rights, I work in a state that doesn't allow citizens to carry guns (and the requirements for ownership are onerous – especially for those of us who live elsewhere). If your state is similar, how will you defend yourself if that becomes necessary? Will you carry a weapon even if it's frowned upon? Where will you keep it? How will you get to it when TSHTF? How much and what type of ammo will you carry? This is a highly personal decision, and I'm not making a recommendation one way or the other. That being said, it's definitely something you need to think about now – most likely, the goblins will have weapons.

One of the problems that I think I may have is that I can't carry enough food, clothing, etc. for the entire trip. Especially if it happens in winter as I'll need to carry even more food and clothing. I'm thinking that under ideal conditions, the trip will take about 8 days. Under less than ideal conditions (and we all know that TEOTWAWKI will occur at the worst possible time, in the worst possible weather), it will probably take a lot longer. I've decided to use the buried cache to get around this. I had a source for 8 gallon plastic drums with lids and metal snap-rings. Sort of like your standard 5 gallon pail with a snap-ring lid, only bigger. I've buried three of them – one on each route. In each one is two weeks worth of MREs, several pairs of socks, soap, underwear, first-aid supplies, vitamins, insect repellent, garbage bags, a sweat-shirt, t-shirts, a pair of jeans and a few other items (yes, it was expensive putting them together). They are located away from homes, roads, businesses, etc. on public lands where few are likely to go or stumble upon them. With the 8 days of food that I have in my B.O.B. and the 2 weeks worth buried, I will have 22 days of food for myself. Considerably less if my friends didn't bring enough with them, in which case we'll have to hit more than one.

I am the only person who knows where they are and how to find them. This is important. No matter how well you think you know someone, if they know where your cache is and they get there before you do when TSHTF, you will most likely be out of luck. There are three friends of mine that I will (hopefully) meet up with to travel home, and they don't know where they are. They'll find out when we dig one (or more) of them up. Yes, I'm paranoid… But am I paranoid enough?

I mentioned that there are three friends of mine that I will be meeting up and traveling with for mutual support. They are all further away from home than I am, and I'm not going to hang around where I work waiting for them to show up (it could take several days for them to get there). We will be using hand-held radios with selectable output power levels to communicate. We will have specific frequencies and times that we will be broadcasting on to contact each other.

One of the things that we decided on early on was to stay away from CB radios. They are simply too common and you never know who is listening in. One option that we have considered is Marine Band radios. These require a license to operate, but in a true SHTF scenario, I don't think that anyone will be enforcing that. With that being said, there is the possibility of a "slow decline" type of scenario, where there will still be some law enforcement out there and we would be putting ourselves in jeopardy needlessly. We're still working through this one. The selectable power levels are a must, though.


Now we come to security. The maps that we all will be using are very readable. If one of us should lose our maps, whoever finds them will know whatever we write on them. Therefore, my group has agreed that nothing gets written on the maps. No X's, Town names, road names, marks, scribbles, doodles, nothing. We have come up with our own names for potential meeting places that would make no sense to anyone but us. If anyone leaves the group for any reason, those of us remaining will change all of the codes and pick new meeting places.

Each person has his own maps for getting from his place of work to the next person's, in addition to his own routes home, in case we don't meet up. No one knows anyone else's exact route, although we're all going the same general direction, the three routes I came up with are vastly different. The river crossing points on the two that are furthest apart are more than 20 miles distant from each other.

We will be using short, low power transmissions at set times. We won't transmit from a meeting point. Just because we're paranoid, it doesn't mean that they're not out to get us (and our stuff), and so we will be playing it out as if the goblins can hear everything we say and will attempt to use it against us.

No one will be staying within a half mile of our meeting places. At certain set times, we will make short low-power broadcasts to let the others know we are near using our code names for the meeting place. Once one of us gets to a meeting place, if circumstances dictate that we need to move on, we have mutually agreed upon signs that we will be using to let the others know that we were here and moved on, when we left, which meeting place we're going to next and possibly why we had to leave. We decided to let each other know when we left so that those following will know whether to try to catch up. If you're more than a day behind, it's probably not worth it. If we left because of something dangerous, it would be good to let those following know so that they don't waste time hanging around there, needlessly putting themselves in danger.

In my opinion, your best bet is to travel in groups if you must travel.

So there you have it – my plan for getting home when TSHTF. I welcome comments, criticisms, suggestions, rants, whatever – I'm still learning, and would like to get others' views on my plan.

Keep your head down, your powder dry and avoid confrontations.

Preppers consciously devote a great deal of time and resources toward their families or groups, preparing to defend themselves, building better stocks of supplies, creating communications links, and planning for contingencies. It's not a coincidence that these all mirror elements of a military staff; they're the essential elements of surviving and operating, whether under the best of circumstances or the worst. In normal life, they can be fulfilled without much conscious thought. Your personnel (J1) are your family, coworkers, neighbors, and friends. Your daily operations (J3) are your work or other activities that you build your day and life around. Your logistics (J4) are filled by the gas station, grocery store, highway department, and Wal-Mart. Planning, such as most people do (J5), is devoted to vacations or preparations. Communications (J6) is filled by the cable guy, Geek Squad, or cell phone store.

If, however, these externally decided and performed functions break down, you have to do them yourself, and some knowledge of the fundamentals of each is an essential part of preparing for the worst. The careful reader may have already noticed, but I have only named functions 1, 3, 4, 5, & 6. The J2 function is intelligence, and in my opinion, many preppers are leaving serious consideration of  that essential function out of their plan (there is not an “Intelligence Techniques” category listed between “Home Schooling” and “Land Navigation” on SurvivalBlog, for instance). Normally, people get their actionable information as easily as breathing; press a button and a news radio or television program will tell you if a natural disaster is developing or gangs of mutant zombie gerbils are roaming the prairie. However, obtaining good information after a breakdown of communications and order could be as difficult as obtaining gasoline or batteries. In other words, you need to plan to fill your information needs as carefully as you plan your logistical needs.
Intelligence as a function (as opposed to a trait- can't help you with that one) is the collection,  analysis, and dissemination of the information needed to make a decision. Notice that there is no mention of laser beam watches, martinis, or code-breaking supercomputers in that definition. For your purposes as a prepper, gaining intelligence in or after a crisis is simply a matter of replacing the information flow that you enjoy today. However, since there might not always be a global network of reporters, analysts, and bloggers flowing the data to your car or home via cable or satellite, you need a plan to collect and analyze for yourself. You also need a plan to get that intelligence to those in your group that need it.

For preppers, there are really two categories of preps: those you can stock up on now, and those you have to produce or perform in or after a crisis. Intelligence is the same. The military uses the term Intelligence Preparation of the Operational Environment (IPOE). You can learn more about IPOE in Joint Publication JP 2-01.3). IPOE is a continual process in four parts: 1. Analyze the operational environment, 2. Assess the effects of the operational environment, 3. Analyze the adversary, and 4. Determine adversary courses of action (COAs).

In step one, you define the area in which you will operate. This means bounding the geographic space where you will live and work in order to limit your analysis to where it matters. Then you research all of the physical, meteorological, social, legal, and informational aspects of that area. You collect maps, census data, weather information, lists of radio stations (don't forget ham frequencies), lists of important people, and anything else you can think of that you need to know about the area itself.

In step two, you analyze the effects of that environment on the operations that you intend to conduct. If you need to disinfect water in Alaska, the weather report for January should be a good indicator that solar disinfection isn't going to work. If you are planning to go about your business armed, researching weapons laws in your area is essential to building that plan. If you intend on moving around, you need to assess what the effect of local roads will be on your vehicle.

In step three, you look at your potential adversaries. In this step, you determine who might do you harm and conduct the same sort of analysis as in step two. Who are they personally? How many of them are there, and how are they equipped? From what do they draw their strength (centers of gravity or COGs)? As an example, if you are considering relocation to an isolated ranch near the US/Mexico border, you might include drug trafficking gangs among your potential adversaries. Their centers of gravity could include the lucrative sale of illegal drugs, weapons, reputations for ruthless violence against their enemies, and wide networks of group members. Under normal circumstances, if you are conducting IPOE to harden your home, your adversary might be the common burglar, and his COGs could be darkness, knowledge of your personal schedule, and simple willingness to act. Try not to mirror your   adversary; remember that they likely will not think or act the way you would in the same circumstances, and try to get into their shoes. Don't limit this analysis to just one threat; consider the full range and spectrum and complete the process for each.

In step four, you try to come up with your adversary's most likely and most dangerous courses of action (COA). In the case of the general threat of a burglar, if you have made your home a hardened target with lights, spiky bushes, and a noisy dog, the most likely COA might be to move on to an easier house down the block. His most dangerous COA might be to switch tactics and attempt a home invasion as you arrive home from work or just after you have left. As in step 3, conduct this analysis for each potential threat. Refine your own actions in response to your analysis of the threat's courses of action, and realize that as you change your posture, you need to update your analysis.

Once you have completed all four steps, store all your information in a place where you can always get to it, just as with stocks of beans and toilet paper. A hard copy binder containing all of your relevant maps, frequency lists, weather charts, and other information would be invaluable if the power went out and you couldn't use Google Earth to find the best route to grandmother's house. Update this binder regularly; just like food, information gets stale with time.

The second broad category of prepping is that which has to be procured or done in a crisis. Unfortunately, you can't stock up on bullseyes at the range for the day the zombies show up; you have to take your shots in the moment they're needed. The same rule applies for some information that can only be gathered in relatively real time. Since preppers assume that they can't always rely on the normal systems of daily life, they need a systematic approach to collecting that intelligence. Collection of intelligence is generally divided into categories, or disciplines, and each helps provide a potentially essential element of information. The most important disciplines for the prepper are open source intelligence (OSINT), communications intelligence (COMINT), human intelligence (HUMINT),  and imagery intelligence (IMINT).

OSINT is what we do every day when we turn on the news and watch what is prepared for us by the networks. It is the collection of information of intelligence value from the openly provided media. Reading the newspaper can provide essential information that can drive action: yard sales, weather approaching, volcano erupting, etc. However, the consumer of that information needs to realize that it is being provided in order to benefit the broadcaster; that is, that it is produced by people who know it will be consumed and used to drive decisions. In the event of a crisis, you may need to consider that traditional sources of OSINT could be unavailable or that the people deciding what to broadcast may be trying to shape your decisions in a way that you would otherwise disagree with. As an example, after the Chernobyl disaster, Soviet news broadcasts sought to minimize public relations damage more than to urge people to evacuate. 

COMINT is a sub-division of signals intelligence that focuses on communications between people, as opposed to other data. This is analogous to eavesdropping on a conversation in a restaurant. In order to do this for yourself, you need a means of monitoring a wide swath of radio broadcasts. A simple AM/FM radio is a start, but that only lets you gather what is broadcast on the traditional dial; that is to say that it contains mainly OSINT. A CB radio can pick up conversations among ordinary people that can be very useful, especially to travelers. A scanner or ham radio that can receive a wider range of signals can enable you to hear weather reports, emergency responders coordinating their actions, other ordinary people, or broadcasts from outside your local area or country. Importantly, remember that if you can hear people talking on the radio who aren't talking to you, other people can hear you when you broadcast to your own selected audience as well.

HUMINT focuses on that information gained from other people. If your friend who runs the electronics store tells you that they'll have a big sale on Saturday, you have gained actionable information via a human source (trench coat, hat, and sunglasses optional). Preppers should build their network of sources now; get to know people who work in important places or who otherwise have access to information of value. In the event that you need to ask a question of your source, be discreet so that you don't ruin that source of information by getting your source in trouble. Also realize that people who are telling you something might have their own agenda and that it might not be the same as yours.

IMINT is basically the use of photographs or video for intelligence purposes. If you use Google Earth to find sources of water around your house for fishing, you are conducting IMINT analysis. Imagery provides a powerful tool for surveillance and reconnaissance of an area of interest; a camera can be your eyes in places that you cannot always be. For instance, if you want to watch a feed plot for a huge buck, you can place a camera there and leave it for analysis at your leisure. The same applies for watching your driveway or neighborhood with a security camera. Kits are even available to turn model airplanes into video camera-packing drones that can observe an area from above for hours without needing any control.
Each discipline of collections provides raw data. In some cases, this could contain attempts at deception (your source at the electronics store may just want to see you again) or require interpretation (as in the case of police calls using 10-codes). In every case, raw data requires processing and validation before it can be rolled into your ongoing IPOE. If you receive an indication through one discipline, try to verify it with another: check the newspaper (OSINT) for sale announcements if you're unsure about what your source (HUMINT) said. Ask a police officer (HUMINT) to explain what a term you heard on the radio (COMINT) meant. Look at your security camera (IMINT) to verify what the nice man on the other side of the front door (HUMINT) has to say about his identity. 

Once you have your intelligence, you need to [analyze it and] disseminate it to the people you care about, or at least coordinate with. Normally, this would mean a telephone call, text, or e-mail. In the event of these services not working, you need a means of passing the word that is not reliant on that infrastructure and that provides some security. Some information has value inversely proportional to its distribution outside of its intended audience. For instance, if you know that a certain highway out of danger is clear while the interstate is packed, you obviously want those you care about to know and be able to act before everybody else finds out and clogs that route too.

 Amateur radio is an obvious method of communicating over long distances, as is the humble CB radio. Neither is secure, but you can obtain some level of communications security by using obscure frequencies or other methods, as Mr. Rawles describes in some of his books. Few media are as secure as a runner with a memorized message, but they are also very slow compared to radio. Satellite phones will work whether the local service does or not. The bottom line is to make a plan now and share it with those with whom you need to communicate. It would be horrible to learn of danger approaching and be unable to warn your loved ones.
In summary, intelligence collection and planning are as essential to your preps as beans and bandages. Store and rotate data the same way that you do food and other supplies. Figure out what your needs are for information today and then figure out how to obtain the same data in a crisis. Build a systematically analyzed and arranged set of essential information to store in case it's needed, and build a means of collecting that same data if your normal methods are lost due to a crisis. Create a plan to disseminate valuable information in such a way that it doesn't lose its value by being intercepted by others.

Tuesday, January 10, 2012

I’ve been seriously prepping for a decade and consider myself a prepared and competent guy.   Y2K got me started, but the events of the past few years have kicked my preps into higher gear.   I’m confidant with my guns and food storage.  I have alternate power and heat sources established at both our home and retreat location.  I have a co-worker who includes me in his prepper group’s  meetings.  My family (immediate and some extended) is on board with our plans for TEOTWAWKI.   Although I’m not where I want to be, I’m know I’m better off than 98% of the sheeple out there.
After my travel experience today, I’m not so sure I’m as “practically” prepared as I should be.
Today was a beautiful day.  52 degrees in Nebraska… January!?!?    What a great day for a road trip.  My daily driver is a late 1990s Subaru.  It still gets great mileage and is all wheel drive which is nice in this climate.  My wife drives a newer minivan and we have a low mileage 2001 Dodge Durango for our spare/bug out vehicle.   My car’s odometer read 168,508 when I filled the tank this morning.  It was getting close to ½ empty so of course, as a prepared guy, it was time to fill up. 
I finished a sales call just after noon in a small town about 30 miles North of the City where we live. I decided to take the scenic route on the way back to the office.     I chose to travel a paved road that ran west from the main highway.  From this road I took a number of  gravel roads headed mostly southbound .   Besides the fact that I enjoy the windshield time, I’d like to buy a piece of rural property and these road trips are an easy way to look for them.  It was on one of these roads that my car’s timing belt failed.  In a disabled car on a quiet country road is not a place you want to be on most January days in the Midwest.  I was very thankful for the mild weather today.   I had no clue how much I would learn from this slight diversion from the highway.  
My first thought was…”Where am I?” Situational Awareness is something I’ve read about on Survival Blog dozens of times.  But, I didn’t have a clue what road I was on.  What was the intersecting road had I crossed a mile or so back? How far off the highway was I?  I could see a small town about 2 miles to my south west.  What town is that?  It was too far to read the writing on the water tower.                     

Lesson #1:  Pay attention!  Know where I am all the time. 

Lesson #1.5: Get a GPS for this car.
There were two houses in view, one was about a mile behind me and one was about three quarters of mile ahead.   It was time for a hike.  Note:  Rockport semi-casual dress shoes are fine for sales calls. They are not however, intended for walking on gravel.  Same goes for dress socks or dress pants.  Good news:  I keep wool socks and my Vibram boots in my “Get Home” bag.   I love those boots!  I picked them up at a local Army Surplus store for about $25.   Too bad that my “Get Home” bag wasn’t in the trunk.   I took it in the house to update it last night!  I did not put it back in the car this morning.                                       

Lesson #2: It’s called a “Get Home” bag…not a “leave it at home” bag for a reason.
Not knowing If I’d be coming back to the car or not, I grabbed my laptop in its backpack, my cell phone and my keys (I double checked that I had the keys) and locked the car.  As I walked down the road I was pleased to see I had great cell reception.   I called my wife to tell her what was going on.   She offered to come get me, but she is directionally challenged and doesn’t  trust the GPS . Besides, I couldn’t tell her where I was anyway.   I was in the process of telling her that I would figure out where I was and then call her back when my cell phone battery died.  This just gets better all the time. 

My plan was to walk down the road to the next house or intersection to determine where I was.  I could see the cross road about two miles ahead was a paved road with quite a bit of traffic.  I guessed at what highway it was, but still couldn’t think of the name of that little town.   The farmhouse ahead was set back from the road with a long driveway. I did not want to approach the house.  It seemed a little to ‘cliché: traveling salesman with a broke down car down the road….  No, there had to be another way to figure out where I was.   Their mailbox was on a post along the road but there were no numbers on it. The mailbox door was ajar and I could see that there was mail inside.   I hope I didn’t break and postal laws, but I pulled out a piece of mail and wrote down the address then returned the mail to the box.  At least I had pen and paper with me. 
As I walked back to my car, I plugged my Goal Zero Guide 10 into my cell phone. This is a great little AA (4) battery charger/power supply. It has three different power input ports, a USB output port and a built in LED light.  I keep this and necessary cords in my computer backpack.   I plug it once a week to insure it is charged.  I have set up a reminder on my outlook calendar to remind me to do this.  See, I wasn’t as unprepared as I had thought.    After my phone re-booted, which seemed to take forever, I called my anxious wife and told her not to worry and that I’d just call AAA roadside assistance.   The walk back to the car was colder due to the wind in my face.  52 with wind chill is still nippy.  I had no gloves, no hat, and was only wearing a light jacket.  My “Get Home Bag” has gloves and stocking cap…. oh yeah, I left it at home.                                                                                                                                                             

Lesson #3: It’s fine to wear the light jacket on a nice day, but bring the warmer one, too.  This is Nebraska in January for crying out loud.
Once I reached the car again I called AAA.   This AAA membership is one of the best purchases I’ve ever made.   I understand that my auto insurance company offers roadside assistance at no cost too, but I’ve neglected to sign up for it.  I’ll do that tomorrow….really, I will.   The agent on the phone was very nice but had a hard time finding the address I’d pulled from the nearby mailbox.  It took about 10 minutes to get the tow order set up.  She said the tow truck driver would arrive in about 30 minutes and that He would call in route.  The agent also said they would call again to check on me.
I powered up my laptop (plugged onto the car 12 v), I plugged the cell phone into the laptop USB and used my Air card to get on the Internet. I pulled up MapQuest and determined exactly where I was, the name of the nearby town and settled in for the wait. The net is great but, what if I had not been able to get on it?                                                                                                                                                           

Lesson #4:  I own a good State Road/ Topographical map.  Put it in the car.  
AAA called back and told me that the tow truck driver was going to be more like an hour away.  Good grief!  I gave them a much better description of my location and told her I was content to wait.  The driver called me about 15 minutes later and I also gave him better directions as he had not received the updated information. 
I’d only seen one car go by on the road and that had been right after the mine had died.  That driver didn’t even slow down.  Two utility trucks drove by without stopping before a farmer finally stopped.  I told him I was fine and waiting for a tow.  The next vehicle made me very nervous.  This beater pickup approached from the highway,  slowed as he went by then turned around and came back. There were two guys in this truck and they pulled over dangerously close to my window. The “less than professional looking” passenger leaned out and asked if I needed help. I replied that I was fine and waiting on a tow.  He asked how long I’d been waiting.  I (lied and) answered that the tow truck would be there in just a few minutes.  He asked what I thought was wrong and if I was a salesman.  I remained friendly and answered.    He said “Well I didn’t think you were a farmer, you got them ‘out of county” plates.”  I thanked them for stopping then thanked the Lord when they drove away.     I’m happy to say that I have a concealed carry permit.  I even had it with me… the permit that is.  I did not have my handgun.   I did not have my knife.  I did not have my “truck tire thumper.”  I had nothing for personal protection – on me or in the car. I’ve not felt that vulnerable (or stupid) in a really long time.                                     

Lesson #5: A Concealed Carry Permit does you no good if you don’t carry. 
I now know that I was 24 miles from home.  If I had walked, I estimate the walk on this nice day would have taken me close to six hours (at four miles per hour).  That pace would have gotten me home about 9 p.m. when the temperature would have been in the low 30s and it would have been dark for four hours.  The only thing of any use in the car was a wool blanket which I probably would have improvised into a poncho for the walk.  Obviously, I had communication capability so I would not have walked the entire distance.  But, that was this time.  What if this had been an EMP?  What if the weather today had not been so nice?
The tow truck arrived when expected. Technically, I got myself home ‘all by myself’ and it all turned out fine, except for the upcoming car repair bill.     My “Get Home” bag is restocked, updated and at the front door ready to put in the Durango in the morning.    Lessons learned!

Saturday, January 7, 2012

Just because there is a sewing machine in my house doesn’t mean I think any of my family members can sit down and sew a dress.  The same goes with your ham radio.  If you are one of those folks who bought one for when the SHTF thinking you will be able to just set it up and use it, you might be unpleasantly surprised. Why not make sure you have a ham radio license and become proficient with your radio?  It’s probably a good idea to dust it off anyway and make sure it is still working.  Some have internal RAM chips that die after so many years (ICOM 745 and 751A) and should be upgraded internally.
There are many good reasons to get your ham radio license now for the practice and camaraderie you can enjoy now before the SHTF.  As a ham radio operator, I have had a lot to learn even after getting the license, including which equipment to acquire and radio and antennae set up.    Despite fears of losing OPSEC, there are ways to manage location issues and I think the benefits of practice now far outweigh OPSEC risks.
Getting the technician license is not “technically” difficult.  For all levels of ham licenses, the technician, general and extra, ham radio stores like HRO (ham radio outlet) have study guides with the questions and the answers in the back.  When taking the test, it will be the same questions from the same question pool.  You can Google your local ham radio clubs to find a point of contact on the exams.  Usually there is a small fee (about $5) for the exam.  After you pass, the examiner will send your application to the FCC and a few days later your license comes.  The license is good for 10 years, regardless of if you upgrade before then, and you simply get online to renew it.
The technician license allows you to use the 2 meters and higher frequencies found on repeaters everywhere.  Hook up a mobile radio in your car or truck and you are in business.  Your local store or club will most likely know someone who can do an installation if you are uncomfortable installing one in your car. The radios for use at technician level will give you some range locally, but some repeaters are linked together on a system and will give you an extended range.  For instance, in California there are groups of connected repeaters so when a net is held, you can hear people from the Los Angeles area down in San Diego.  A net, by the way, is when one person acts as a control operator and ham operators check in from all over the area and say hi, give news, and also can advertise ham equipment for sale. 
The next level up is a General Ham license.  This is the level I have and recommend as a minimum to serious preppers.  Now you can broadcast worldwide and with that comes the practice of setting up some serious antennas, measuring SWR (standing wave ratio) and other important skills for being able to operate a radio.  While Morse code is no longer a required skill for attaining this level, it’s something I’ve chosen to learn and practice.  It adds a layer of privacy.  By FCC rules, we cannot not legally conceal the meaning of a message.  But having a little Morse code under your belt when no one else is required to learn it helps reduce who will understand it.  Having said that, be mindful that there are plenty of old timers out there who still know Morse code. Enough said.
Going the next step to get an Extra Ham license does give you more frequency privileges.  Trust me, studying up for this exam is tough. You may not need this level for prepping and knowing how to set up your equipment, but you can decide for yourself after you’ve attained the General level.  There are plenty of ham radio books to supplement what you might need to know, including books on basic electronics.
So let’s talk equipment: There are several sites on the internet to buy a used radio if you are on a budget.  I am hesitant to recommend buying a radio on EBay unless you carefully check seller feedback and/or are doing it for spare parts.  Some sites for used equipment are or  Also check the web site  Do your research.  But I think the best source of used equipment is through the contacts you make in a ham radio club or on a net.   You are more likely to get good reliable equipment or good information on equipment because after the sale you are still in contact with that other operator, and they know they will hear from you if something goes wrong.  I was able to get a wonderful ICOM set through another ham, because he knew an older ham whose health was failing and needed to sell the equipment.  I saved big bucks, and the gentleman got the money he needed.  Equipment also gets sold when a ham operator passes away (called a “silent key”) and family members don’t know what to do with the equipment.  I have seen ads for large radio towers that are free, but someone has to disassemble and move it.  As some of the towers are huge and weigh a few thousand pounds, it’s not always an easy thing to do.  Many hams have extra equipment that they’d like to sell as they upgrade to other radios, and the older equipment is still very viable   I recommend to anyone who is looking to buy used equipment to do their research and talk to other hams.  Find a mentor or an “Elmer” as we call them.  I have an Elmer and he has been superb!  He got me into a club and on a net, and I plan to branch out a little more in the future.  The club and net are an invaluable source of information.
I have also bought some new equipment through the local ham radio store.  It’s nice to go in, learn about the options and see the equipment.  I get help with my purchases if I come back with questions about set up.  I have found that Yaesu radios are a little harder than ICOM radios to “understand” their set up, and it’s not because I’m blonde.  They also sell computer software on the side for programming Yaesu’s.  Supposedly that’s easier.  Glad I am not learning how to do this in TEOWAWKI.
For an antenna, the simplest one to install is a dipole.  Simply running an elevated wire horizontal to the ground, a length depending on a wavelength ratio, with a feedline is the cheapest way to go.  But there are so many other types of antennas, there may be one that is better suited to your situation.  A Yagi, or directional antenna can assist you on tuning in to a more distant frequency.  There are a variety of portable antennas available as well, and many hams pack up and travel to distant locations for the fun of working remotely from places.  There are specialized antennas for vehicles.  ARRL has a an entire book devoted to just antennas.
You may want to consider starting with hand held radios, UHF/VHF.  If you get your General license, you can get hand held radios with upper HF range.  Remember, the lower the frequency the greater the range as a general rule.  Repeaters add to the UHF/VHF range, but are less private than using simplex frequencies.  I have a hand held that goes to 6 meters, the range is better and there are some 6 and 10 meter repeaters out there, too, just not as many.  I have used my hand held in one of my cars with a larger antenna outside the car, and when I am not in the car, I screw on a smaller antenna for walking around.  Some hand-helds as well as “desk style” ham radios transmit data as well.  There are so many applications in ham radio and so many ways to configure for your personal preferences.   If the internet goes down, you can still transmit a message!   It can get  expensive, so do your research as you go into this to be sure how you would best see yourself using a radio to get your needs met.  This is where a good Elmer can really help.
Other skills picked up from ham radio like soldering and understanding electronic theory has come in handy when repairing other household items.  Like many things in my life, the skills learned in one application have come in handy in other applications. 
Encourage your family members to get their licenses as well, and make Christmas and birthday presents of ham equipment where you can.  Practice with those family members just as you would try to reach them in TEOTWAWKI.  This will help you know what frequencies work best for that distance, solar conditions, time of day, etc.  Yes, it all changes!  Isn’t this a better time to find out how to use your radio like a pro rather than when you really need it?
Being part of the recent San Diego blackout, I can tell you it was hard to get through on the cell phones, but I got on my VHF radio and could communicate. (Yes, I’m moving out of Southern California!)   On the local repeater I was able to hear why we had a blackout, how extensive it was and what was happening on the roads.   My neighbors knew none of this, as even the local radio stations went down for awhile.   I heard one gentleman with medical problems asking for help because he needed electricity for his medical device.  The emergency net was hard at work getting emergency care to him.  Wouldn’t this be a great option to have for your family?
After the blackout, one of the tasks I took to heart was identifying several repeaters that were annotated in a repeater directory as having emergency backup power.  I made a comprehensive list and passed it to family members.  Yes, emergency power may be time limited, but it’s a few extra hours of communication with family that may make all the difference in a bad situation.  A repeater directory can tell you what repeaters may be most helpful.  Again, practicing with the repeaters is important.  I have dialed in many a repeater to learn that no one else appeared to be using it, it was inoperable or that it had incorrect tone information.  Glad I know now.  Also learning which repeaters are physically accessible to your location is important, for instance, if you are in a valley or dip, you may not be able to hit it. 
A bit about OPSEC:  when you put down an address on your licensing application, it is one more thing that becomes public record.  If you are worried about future uses of that personal information, (i.e. equipment confiscation) then using a different address than your retreat address may be something to consider. [JWR Adds: Consider any mention of your callsign in any public venue essentially the same as giving someone your street address, since all licensee addresses are available in a matter of a few moments, by visiting And if you have an unusual surname, you can have your address found there, as well.] The address has to be [a physical] one the post office can deliver to. Also you can plan to take an exam in a different region as call signs are assigned based on regional areas.   If someone really does want to find your radio, they can do so using DF (direction finding) equipment.  You can make this more difficult for locating by limiting the time on the radio, having preset times and frequencies planned ahead for when you feel you might be at risk of this.  Knowing the distance your signal has to cover, and using appropriate bands now will better your chance at effective, concise communications when you really need them.  Another thought on OPSEC with regard to your radio, some come with features that allow another user to display location.    This feature is called APRS, for Automatic Position Reporting System.   Depending on your situation, it could be an asset or a liability.  I choose to avoid this feature.  Also consider how you buy your radio:  is there a record of the purchase?  Some stores track who the radio is sold to and of course there’s a record with a credit card purchase.  New equipment means there is a warranty registration, etc.  Here is where buying a used radio can be a real advantage.
There are many roles that ham operators can play in disaster preparedness, whether it’s just for your family or operating in a disaster scenario on a larger scale.  It’s a personal choice.  The main point I hope to drive home to you is that it is not a simple thing to just set up a radio and antennae and operate it.  Like many of the skills we practice now for survival tomorrow, it must be exercised, practiced and learned.  When you need to reach family and agree it’s time to get out of Dodge, you will want to be able to hear them answer you back.  73 to all.

Friday, January 6, 2012

SurvivalBlog readers should take the time to read through a fairly lengthy piece about flash mobs that was recently published in Wired magazine. I note several threats, including: Random "bombings" of activity. Organized criminal events. Organized social events that get out of hand. Police over-reaction. Civil rights over-reaction.

It would be a good idea for all teenagers to be aware that even a legitimate, law-abiding gathering can be turned into a riot by a few troublemakers and a measured police response. If the crowd looks too large, or questionable, then leave early. If you have to ask if it's safe to remain, then it probably isn't.

I wonder how my friend Larry Niven feels about having predicted the flash mob trend. - SurvivalBlog Editor At Large Michael Z. Williamson

Monday, January 2, 2012


NOAA has updated their web site with an easier to read solar storm prediction description. I'm not sure when they changed this, but I've found it helpful.

It breaks down into, 'Geomagnetic, Solar Radiation, and Radio Blackout' categories.  Instead of just giving an X# or M#, they now have scale of 1-5 (minor through extreme), with a real world description of impact  on communications and power systems.  The descriptive scales are outlined in the "NOAA Scales Activity"

For me, this is much clearer and easier than trying to figure out than some M# or X# impact.

I thought that others might find it useful. - Robert B.

Thursday, December 29, 2011

Dear Mr. Rawles,
I was reading back in the archives on the DVD I purchased and found a lot of discussion regarding communications security.  I played with a form of Digital Voice, image and file transfer for HF which could link a number of retreats together with voice, pictures and digital files with a method which in my thinking would be very, very secure.  Have you ever looked at AOR USA's digital voice, image, and data modems using analog HF, VHF, or UHF SSB?

A friend of mine here in my state purchased one and we ran a lot of tests under some of the worst summer conditions you could imagine and most of the time had very dependable, quiet static-free FM like communications on voice and I even transferred some photos from my daughter's camera which he was able to read even the name of the company on a drink cup at a birthday party.  My reason for this is that 99% of other hams and even FCC can't use this mode yet.  It only requires a special modem connected to your microphone input on your transceiver of choice, cut down the power to about half power, hook the microphone to the other end of the modem apply 10-16 volts (6 volts with jumper setting internally on the modem) and voila!, you are in business if the station you desire to communicate with on the other end has the same modem hooked to their radio.  The modem is automatic and normal operation is passed through on analog but when a digital signal is detected it switches to receiving in the digital mode. - Jack M.

Friday, December 16, 2011

USB power is rapidly becoming standard for portable electronic devices, and makes it easy to charge them from either computers, 12 volt DC automobile sockets or 120 volt AC electrical outlets.  However, what do you do when traveling away from such conveniences?

The Brunton Restore photovoltaic charger and its relatives provide a variety of recharging options for the traveler or outdoorsman.

Fully charged, the unit can dispense at least two full recharges to phones, cameras, GPS or similar devices, from its 2,200 mAh battery. This was doing full recharges of a drained device from a fully charged Restore. I wasn't able to test Bluetooth units, but they are claimed at 7-8 recharges, and portable game consoles at 1-2 charges.

A full Restore charge on a sunny day takes about 10 hours.  From a computer, it takes about 4 hours.  From the car adapter or wall, it takes about 2 hours.  My tests concurred closely with their claims.  The unit holds charge for a long time.  I was only able to test for a week, but I'm quite sure it will last much longer than that. 

It comes with USB and Mini USB terminals and cords, a Mini to Micro USB adapter, and a combination adapter for car (12 VDC) or wall socket (120 VAC).  It has a small but bright LED light for locating accessories in the dark, which would also make a useful emergency footing light.  It shuts off automatically after 5 minutes.  It has LEDs to show charge level, and an indicator to show solar charging is taking place.  The power button has a red indicator to confirm operation that shuts off after a few moments, while the unit continues to operate.

The unit is solidly built with rubber bumpers all around, a strong hinge and a sturdy case.  While I didn't deliberately throw the device around, I was not gentle with it.  I left it out in rain and high wind over two nights, temperatures slightly above freezing.  I bumped it off tables and coolers.  I consider this normal usage for outdoor conditions, and the Restore had no trouble with it at all.  I put it wet in the freezer for a day, then thawed it. No issues.  It provided power while still below freezing. 

I did find the directions a bit unclear until I had a chance to work with the unit, but Brunton promptly responded to all my inquiries.  The instruction booklet is in English, German, French and Spanish.

For backpackers or preppers needing to travel off grid while still having access to modern communication devices, the Restore is a reliable and useful piece of equipment.  It retails at $120 MSRP, but is frequently available at significant discounts.

Full disclosure: I was furnished one unit for test, and return has not yet been discussed, but is typically done in 90 days, through the marketing firm.  Brunton may have charged it off as promotional, in which case I will be able to keep it, but I have not been offered to keep the unit at this time. - SurvivalBlog Editor At Large Michael Z. Williamson

Wednesday, December 7, 2011

Just a quick note to those interested in obtaining a simple cost-effective Faraday Cage-like enclosures to protect small to mid-size electronic devices. As has been mentioned in SurvivalBlog before, the large steel cans of popcorn sold at the large box stores this time of year make great EMP-proof storage containers. After emptying the popcorn just place your electronics into the can and place the lid on top. No need to ground the container.

I place my Fluke multimeters, spare Solar charge controllers, spare handi-talkies and mobile radios in these tins. Thanks for all you do. - Larry D.

Tuesday, November 15, 2011

Dear James,
I have accounts on Gmail, Yahoo mail, Facebook and LinkedIn. Like many people, I have found it convenient to stay logged in to my online accounts with my personal computer. While on LinkedIn a few weeks ago, I was “recommended” a business associate who I had not been in contact with for nearly 10 years. This alarmed me. How did LinkedIn make this association? So, I looked back through my Yahoo mail and found that I had corresponded with this business associate in 2001, via Yahoo mail.

Several weeks later, I was recommended a “friend” on Facebook who was a person I had talked to from a Craigslist post more than two years ago. It was related to a gold mining operation in Nevada, so recognized the individual right away. A positive conversation had ended without any further business relationship. However, what I found so alarming was that all of my correspondence with this individual had long since been “deleted.” There was no physical evidence of a relationship, but Facebook had mined the information from data not even available to me!
As a computer software professional, I have written applications to interface with Facebook data. There is a lot of information I can obtain about a person who is logged into Facebook and visits a web site application I have control of. I assume the other Internet software providers have similar data available to share.

The method of tracking online is referred to as “cookies.” Tracking cookies are set on your computer by nearly every commercial web site you visit. The tracking cookies from these web sites can be used by other web sites to find out information about your activity and who you are. If you are logged into a service provider, they can share information about you, without your knowledge.

While there is little you can do to ensure your online privacy, there are steps you can take to protect yourself. First of all, realize that ALL correspondence done on the “free” email providers is kept in a database indefinitely. Deleting it does not physically remove it. And in addition to that, consumers need to realize that if you choose to use a smart phone to browse the Internet, send/receive emails, send/receive text messages, etcetera, you are also giving out location data and even more precise personal data. Android-based phones are the most heinous offenders in the tracking of personal information. And don’t think just because you have a server-based, private email, that you are not being tracked. Any email you send or receive to users of one of these “free” email providers is also being stored in a database
The second, and most effective, way to help protect your privacy is to resist the urge to let your browser keep track of all your login information, and make certain all tracking cookies and other data are removed every time you close your browser. All browsers have a setting which claims to delete browsing data on exit. Just keep in mind that there is always some data stored, hidden on the computer, which will not be deleted. In Microsoft Internet Explorer, you can select Tools -> Internet Options and in the “Settings” for browsing history – you can choose to delete browsing history on exit. Each browser has different settings. Cookies are a convenience that presents a double-edged sword. Keeping cookies means that wherever you go on the Internet, providers can see information from your browser and share data with other providers.

Recently published information revealed that Google is processing large amounts of law enforcement warrants for personal data. Many of the warrants include information about people completely unrelated to any crime – People who have merely corresponded with an individual who is under some sort of surveillance. Don’t think that just because you live a clean and responsible life that your email and personal data have not crossed some line of surveillance. And just keep in mind that everything you do online can be tracked, stored and exchanged with others indefinitely without your knowledge or permission.

Thanks again to the SurvivalBlog editors for providing this terrific source of information.
Cheers, - Sheila in Cyberland


Friday, November 11, 2011

Mr Rawles:
I had to send along the link to the news article about the failure of the nationwide test of the Emergency Alert System (EAS) with the observation that I would have bet this wasn't going to work.
I say that as a retired Air Force avionics technician whose job was maintaining and flying as a crew member on the EC-135A, C, G, H, and L model Airborne Command Post Aircraft.  As well as in an advisory capacity for five years when the job was passed over to the Navy E6B in 1998.  Even on our best days with everyone doing the absolute best they could we would have to work around something.  That was with multiple communication options.
I knew the odds of everything being interoperable were going to be slim to none, and I wasn't disappointed.
Keep up the great work your site has really been a "go to" for me and my friends. Respectfully, - Bill T.

Tuesday, November 1, 2011

All radios need an antenna and the type of antenna chosen will determine important performance characteristics. Let us start with a radio most people are familiar with. The citizens band
radio is typically supplied with some form of mobile vertical whip style antenna. This antenna is usually mounted vertically on the vehicle and it radiates radio frequency energy with mostly vertical polarization. Most CB users have vertical antennas so they are most sensitive to similar signals having vertical polarization. If a person using CB radio wanted to make his signal heard by his comrades more and less by people outside his group, he could change his antenna to a horizontally polarized antenna style and have his comrades do the same. There are other tricks to making a radio signal less likely to be intercepted by an unfriendly force. Antennas can be built to have directional characteristics so that the majority of the radio frequency energy is directed toward your comrades but not towards the opposing force. One cheap and user friendly wire beam antenna is named the Moxon beam. The Moxon beam is built to operate on a narrow band of frequencies and it typically doubles your effective radiated power twice and reduces radiation to the rear by a large degree. The Moxon beam antenna also can be set up for vertical or horizontal polarization. A very important feature of the Moxon beam antenna is it's suitability for matching the impedance of the radio transceiver. Most radio transceivers have a 50 ohm nominal impedance and that just means that in order to transfer the most energy to the antenna, you need the connecting cable and the antenna to both have 50 ohm ratings. Coaxial cable is often used to connect the transceiver to the antenna and this cable for low power would typically be RG-58 (available from Radio Shack and many others).

Antennas radiate differently depending how high off the ground they are mounted. Let us take our CB radio and connect it to a dipole antenna. The frequency of CB radios is about 27 Mhz(megahertz) and another way to express the frequency is by the mention of the wavelength which is approximately 11 meters. If we mount our dipole antenna at ¼ wavelength above ground, it will radiate energy efficiently perpendicular to the wire and practically no energy in line with the wire. The ¼ wavelength at 11 meters is close to 108 inches. If we bring the antenna closer to the ground at 50 inches the antenna radiates most of it's energy straight up towards the clouds(which is the reason this type of antenna is called a cloud burner). A point of safety: any antenna radiating radio energy must be isolated so that people are not able to physically touch the wire or an RF burn may result. An RF burn can burn to the bone and take many months to heal. Also, ionizing radiation from antennas can be hazardous if power levels are elevated and/or a power gain antenna is used and directed where humans may be.

Why would you want to direct your radio frequency energy towards the sky? A skywave coming from a near vertical incidence skywave (NVIS) antenna at the appropriate frequency will cover an area that would be described as regional as opposed to global. An NVIS generated signal is much harder to direction find by the opposing force.

Another wire antenna type for point-to-point communications is the Rhombic antenna. This antenna can make a pin point beam width of about 30 degrees and is useful for a wide range of frequencies but may take up a large area to erect. The Rhombic antenna is diamond shaped and each side of the diamond must be 3 or 4 wave lengths. For CB a rhombic antenna would be a little less than 6x11 meters long or about 200 feet overall. On the 75 meter ham band the length would be just under 1400 feet. On the 2 meter ham band the overall length would be under 36 feet. The big plus of the Rhombic antenna is pin point aiming which give higher effective radiated power and much better hearing for the receiver. The antenna gives an amplifying effect without using extra power. The power gain is estimated at 10 dB (Decibels) or greater. The power is doubled effectively for every 3 dB of gain. If the transmitter output power started with 5 watts, this style antenna could boost the directional power to over 30 watts of effective radiated power.

My personal favorite antenna for ham radio is a relatively discreet loop of wire that circles my yard at an average height of less than 15 feet and it has about a 550 foot circumference. It is inexpensive and proven to work on all high frequency ham bands (1.8 to 28 Mhz) with the use of an antenna tuner. This antenna is not for talking reliably for more than about 400 to 600 miles using 100 watts of power on the 75 meter ham band. 

For more in depth antenna study, consult the American Radio Relay League (ARRL) and their publications. The ARRL Antenna Book has a wealth of information as does the ARRL Radio Handbook. The ARRL web page has information about where to test for your ham radio license and has sample test questions to prepare for the test to become an amateur radio operator.

The ham tests are written and all the answers are at is no longer a code test but Morse code is a great mode to operate with under low power conditions or less favorable propagation and it makes your communications more secure from the average eavesdropper.

Disclaimer: Check with your Radio Authority before transmitting to be sure you are operating according to rules of the Authority having Jurisdiction over your geographic area. In the US that authority is the Federal Communications Commission (FCC). - Uniform Delta

Tuesday, October 18, 2011

Hello Jim, and Readers:
Recently I was looking for a way to record some long distance sounds, and thought of a solution for Listening post observation posts.  I discovered  an old Dish Network or Direct TV dish will work fine with a microphone mounted to it.

Using a UHF or N type bulkhead RF connector mounted to the point where the old  antenna LNB was mounted I drilled a hole large enough on the front of the antenna mount with a step drill for the base of the  RF connector, and 1/8th holes for the flange mount of the connector, and mounted it with 4-40 hardware.  Using a standard PA  system microphone mount, and screwing  it on to the RF connector and then placing the  microphone to the dish focal point. allows for a bit more forward gain, and a bit more directional capability.

I found a small audio mixer for a single or multiple microphone setup works fine, Musicians has these small mixers for as little as about seventy five dollars. They can be connected to a set of earphones, and or a recording device like a cassette tape recorder, or MP3 recorder.  There are several brands that are low cost, I bought a Baringer model for my setup. I prefer microphones with standard XLR PA system connectors and standard microphone cables to keep things simple and standardized.
I must caution there are laws protecting your neighbors privacy and those laws should be obeyed. I do believe in a situation where there may be threatening times and being able to hear threats sooner than later would be very beneficial. 
The mount for the dish can be a simple pipe on a stand, or rig it up to some kind of portable tripod. Most of the available mixers use and 18 volt AC power supply so a small AC inverter would be required to run the device. I have modified a few units to work on 12 VDC as long as I don't need the phantom power for a microphone the unit works fine. But for those who don't know how to make this modification it is best to use a small DC to AC inverter. Using one of those battery booster boxes so prevalent in auto parts stores or box stores will work fine, they usually incorporate an  AC inverter, light, and cigar lighter socket for 12 volt accessories. I found that recording the sounds I was looking to record were able to be heard very well through the mixer amplifier, in the headphones. So much so that my old shoulder held artillery ears could actually distinguish what was going on. 

If you were limited in personnel resources and needed to force multiply, think about obtaining several dishes and placing them in strategic places run all the microphones into a multi-channel mixer and listen to everything with enhanced hearing, if a sound of interest is heard, simply fade out one mike at a time until only the one of interest is heard. Low impedance microphones like the ones with XLR three pin connectors will work  to about 200 feet or more, Just think about how far the lines are run at large concerts from a stage to the sound booth.

I am fortunate I have several dishes that have been left after discharging the television companies from getting too greedy. The dishes are generally left when the receiving equipment is returned to the companies. I have several friends who have offered them to me also.  They can frequently be found at yard sales too.
I might also mention that these units can be adapted to make small microwave video and audio sender, receiver units, It takes four dishes and two sets of video sender/ receiver units to make a full duplex system. They generally have 4 channels each. The 5 GHz units would have the most gain for the dish sizes, and by making one set with the antennas horizontal and one full set vertical polarization the  units can give you a couple of miles of line of site full duplex audio and video. Usually the video sender receiver units have two audio sub channels. providing two separate telephone circuits, The video can be connected to a video camera and used for remote surveillance or a video data link. Unless you run some kind of encrypted audio through a computer audio sound card, these units are in the clear.

Being microwave and highly directional the probability of intercept is much lower and at 5 GHz the chances of someone having a scanner or spectrum analyzer to look for your signals is reduced. These video units usually also work on 12 volts. They are consumer products as purchased. Modified they then become a device that no longer meets Part 15 rules. Please take this into consideration if you plan to construct these units.
Running simple audio video lines from the sets to  a monitoring position can be done up to about 50 feet or so.

This piece is over-simplified but to keep this in mind for future reference, a good radio tech or engineer can accomplish these projects fairly easily.  the 5 GHz, or even 2.5 GHz units can be used, but the antenna systems for the units must be modified and takes someone familiar with antenna systems to accomplish this easily. Blessings, - Dave in Oregon

Sunday, October 16, 2011

Technology is a significant force multiplier in emergency situations.  There are several options I’ve found in my preparations to incorporate electronics into our everyday use and emergency preparations.  Hopefully these ideas will be of use and get others thinking about possibilities.  My goal in utilizing these ‘gadgets’ is to increase availability of resource while decreasing maintenance and effort – all at low cost if possible.  I’d like to share a few of the low-cost options that are simplest to try that we’ve adopted in our preps.

I’m an engineer and realize most of the tools I use won’t be appreciated by everyone, but I do recommend that everyone invest in a simple Digital Multi-meter.  They are quite inexpensive (as little as $15) and useful for troubleshooting automotive and equipment electrical problems.  They are easy to use and with all the information and tutorials on the internet anyone can begin taking advantage of their use.  Besides this tool, the rest of my recommendations are targeted to anyone of any background.  There are several helpful electrical gadgets we’ve found and use that have many broader options.  The best part is that these ideas will hopefully start generating interest or ideas of your own.  Realistically most adults won’t start collecting schematics or advanced electrical tools, but they can start learning new things, or may have friends or better yet, children, who are interested in pursuing these areas more.

Some simple things, first.  In a big family we have need for a lot of flashlights.  The kids use them often and so we often find batteries are dead when we need the light most.  On eBay we have found many Chinese suppliers of low cost, solar powered LED lights that have dramatically decreased our monthly expenditures for batteries.  Sure, these lights are cheaply made (you get what you pay for) but work great for everyday use.  Do a search for “Solar LED keychain” on eBay and you can easily find them for less than $1 each ($0.73 on average).  Over the course of a month we accumulated 10-15 of these lights and they all work great.  They are cheaply made and break easily, so think of them as disposable and to keep the kids from wearing out your more dependable gear.

Another good source of solar LED lighting is the inexpensive outdoor lamps available at all hardware stores.  Wal-Mart sells them for ~$2.  We keep these lights all around our chicken coop, outdoor buildings, and garden to help keep deer and predators away.  They also contribute to security and our own convenience when out-n-about at night doing chores.  They are inexpensive enough to proliferate anywhere needed and require no maintenance.  Another option is to use electrical tape to blacken the side of the light facing our home to improve visibility, or to help minimize visibility of our place from roadways.  Keeping these lights about the chicken coop also has improved egg production and extended the laying season longer into the dark days of winter.

EBay is also a great source for inexpensive wireless door chimes and passive infrared (IR) motion detectors.  For $3 each we picked up a number of different devices to test out as deer and predator alarms.  Some devices work great, others are less effective.  All are effective at detecting our dog at 6 feet, and many will see the dog as far away as 30 feet. For less than $10 we have a wireless perimeter around the chickens that detects any small animal movement and provides loud alarm to deter intrusion and warn us of detection.  Another $20 watches over our half-acre garden from deer or elk intrusions.   The alarms seem to deter the deer better than when we left a radio on out in the dark, and do well to give us and the dog a heads-up that marauders are probing the defenses.  The dog is learning well to respond to the cheerful doorbell chimes when they go off.

We purchased a more expensive IR detector that turns on a sprinkler when deer approach the garden and it has worked well, however it requires us to leave the hose on all night, and is too expensive to deploy in adequate numbers to cover all the fruit, garden, and other vulnerable locations on our place.  These low cost wireless chimes have worked very well for us to provide numbers and coverage.

All of these devices use the smaller, “pen-light” batteries and require replacement every few weeks.  Being an engineer, I’m always looking to ‘improve’ original designs or modify them to my unique needs (or wants).  I hate stocking and replacing batteries, so the logical next step was to combine the solar panel from the LED lights to power these wireless motion detectors.  Simply disassembling the LED lights and wiring the power (red) and ground(black) wires into the motion detectors has eliminated the battery need.  Some motion detectors require more power than others, but all the ones we’ve tested are adequately powered by the solar cells.  If more power is needed, simply use two or more solar cells daisy-chained together to boost the voltage to the detector.  Dropping a clean plastic container over the top is adequate weatherproofing that will not hamper the detector too badly, though I recommend spending time to make a more robust enclosure for your device to ensure longer life and use.

Another option to consider with these low-cost LED devices is to make an emergency charging circuit for your cell phone or handheld gadget.  The landscaping lights are recommended for this option.  Again, simply connecting multiple lights in a daisy chain and wiring a surplus USB cable to the mix works well for charging a FRS radio.  If you disassemble the light, you will discover one or more rechargeable battery inside – usually an “AA” size.  This can be removed and used as needed, and then replaced to recharge in the sun.  Some lights we’ve looked at have the battery soldered or “fixed” in the light, and others use a non-standard size battery, so do some snooping before purchasing in quantity.  Many of these solar devices have a single 3.6V battery.  The cheap keychain lights, for example, are sufficient to power a small “spy” camera that is the size of a car’s FOB, and can power the small camera to record video for up to 3 hours, continuously.

I wanted a more ‘discreet’ warning system around the chicken coop than the loud siren of the motion detectors provided, and found that by simply cutting the wires to the small piezo speaker inside the detector and connecting a separate LED to those wires, the detector gave a visual instead of a verbal warning to me.  Individual LEDs in various colors are available from Radio Shack or online for pennies.  The longer wire on the LED connects to power, the shorter one to ground, though on the speaker’s wires it doesn’t matter which wires the LED connects to.   I inserted the LED into a small tube cut from a pen, and now the LED indicator became very discreet and directional – only seen in the direction the LED was pointed.

There is another alarm available for very low cost to detect movement.  Small magnetic alarms that commonly are attached to a door or window are available at our local “Dollar” stores, and have a piercing alarm when the smaller bar is taken away from the main unit.  Besides their obvious use for detecting unwanted entry into your home or shop, these alarms work great to ensure the kids don’t forget to cover up the chicken feed bin, or leave the coop door open, or any other ‘reminder’ you want to keep a door closed.  I like to turn one on and throw it into the boy’s bedrooms on those mornings they haven’t gotten out of bed by the 3rd call!

As a science project with the kids, we created a GPS-based device that we wanted to launch with weather balloons of helium to track wind patterns, and to set adrift in the ocean to watch water currents.  First, we designed a custom circuit and software to record the GPS track, but in the end we found a much better, low cost solution that has many other applications worth considering.  Instead of a custom circuit, we found that on eBay we could purchase an older cell phone (I recommend a Motorola i415) with GPS capabilities for less than $10.  For another $6 we got a pre-paid phone SIM for the phone.  Using an on-line service for real-time cell phone tracking, we could watch the cell phone travel in real-time, and get our GPS data even if we never got the cell phone back from the ocean.  These phones make great, low-cost equipment tracking similar to Lo-Jack for much less cost.  A possible option for farm equipment, shipping container, or other large item you want to keep tabs on.  Gluing a strong magnet to the phone and modifying the charging cable would allow you to place the phone under the hood, wired to the vehicle’s battery for constant power. 

Rather than running 120AC power out to some of our remote locations, we’ve chosen to use car batteries for lighting and power needs instead.  It is great having a spare battery or two on hand, and with inexpensive solar arrays it is easy to keep them charged and available.  I’ve wired our garden house to use low-cost LED lighting strips, which run off the battery.  The solar panel easily keeps the battery topped off and ready for the infrequent use and the 12V is a standard supply for most battery powered devices and gadgets to run off, too.

With 12V readily available, there are a couple other electrical devices worth mentioning.  Various Internet sellers and eBay have remote controlled relay devices for under $15 (search for “12V remote relay”) that are great for remote control of any motor, light, or device.  They are simple to wire up and use, with little electrical experience needed.  It is nice when the lights are left on out in the garden house to have a remote control by the window in our house to simply click, and turn them off.  This gives all kinds of options to our OPSEC considerations.

For locking or mechanical actuation, I love using inexpensive, 12V automotive door lock solenoids.  Again, for less than $5 these can be had and applied to any number of uses.  We lock our chicken coop door at night with a door lock solenoid (remotely controlled, of course).  These solenoids are very strong (more than 7 lbs of pull in some cases) and work well to flip a wall switch, too. 
Two options we are using for power generation include solar panels and hydro power.  Neither option is able to generate more than 150W of power, but that is adequate to charge a single or bank of 12V car batteries.  Car batteries are the power supply of our choice because they are readily available, stable, and carry significant electrical power.  They are robust for charging and 12V is a common input power for many handheld devices.

I do not believe 120V AC is a viable option for TEOTWAWKI.  It requires extensive resources to generate and is neither safe nor versatile.  We do have several generators for running our freezers and power tools, but in a dramatic or long-term scenario, our plan is to rely on gas-based power tools (i.e. chainsaws, generators, rototillers, etc), propane powered stoves and refrigeration, and DC power based communications equipment.

Solar panels are readily available and easy to use.  We have several that are 40 to 50W, and with an inline diode to protect from back current, they work well to maintain car batteries.  Several springs and creeks in our area provide us and our neighbors with hydro power sources, too.  One design we built for a neighbor is based on a GMC truck alternator.  GMC alternators have a built in voltage regulator and are robust for many alternative power generation options - do a search on Google for “bicycle alternator” and you will see many clever designs for bike-power, for example.  This is one reason we keep several older model GMC trucks and a Suburban around – useful, common parts.  The alternator can be used for a 12V generator supplying up to 100 Amps of current to run AC inverters, charge batteries, or run pumps.  The neighbor’s spring is captured in a 2,000 gallon tank, and channeled off the side to ABS piping into the alternator’s turbine.  The alternator was ~$80; turbine blades are homemade and piping all from scrap on hand.

A lower cost option we used on another neighbor’s stream is my favorite.  Instead of an Alternator we used a 1200 gallon-per-hour bilge pump as a generator.  More regulation circuitry was required, but because the output was under 10 Amps, a simple solar regulator from eBay for $12 was adequate.  The smaller stream’s flow was diverted into a garden hose, fitted easily to the bilge pump’s output to run the motor as a generator.  Total setup costs (besides labor) were under $50.  These have been simple, fun, and safe ways to engage with neighbors in exploring options for remote power generation.  This setup is charging two car batteries and running 12V lighting, shortwave radio, dual-band ham radio station, and a fan in his remote shed.

Finally, one last electrical option that has worked out well for us is a water pump for our drip irrigation system.  Some of our plants require more regular watering than others, so we put in a simple drip system of tubing.  To automate it as much as possible, I used a small barrel suspended from 30 feet high to provide the water source for the tubing.  To keep the barrel full, especially in the summer months when rain is less frequent I used a small bulge-pump (12V) I had on hand to pump small amounts of water out of the livestock trough into the bucket.  I did rig up a simple microcontroller to only turn the pump on for 20 minutes each day which required more than basic electrical skills.  The pump is inexpensive and keeps the water barrel charged without any attention required.

All of these ideas are inexpensive and as simple as possible.  Just imagine what is possible with a small, microcontroller (mini computer chip) that costs less than $1.23 and very advanced sensory and computing power!  While not generally of use most people, there are options out there for your consideration.  As an engineer my emergency preparations include keeping extra microcontrollers on-hand for any number of needs.  The powerful capabilities of these modern devices are a big force multiplier for automating farm and garden tasks as well as the obvious security/OPSEC roles.  If you don’t have a working knowledge in these areas, your children may.  Many different options are available to encourage your kids, friends, etc to pursue learning if they are interested in these things, which will pay off not only in your emergency preparations, but enable them for potential engineering careers in life.

Since all of the devices mentioned are less expensive, it should encourage people to experiment with them.  Hack them, open them up, and try using them in new ways.  Kids love exploring and tearing apart things, and many of these projects have been fun for us to explore with and for the children to learn new concepts, science, and practicing putting stuff back together.  There are several photographs of these and other projects on our family blog, (Northwest Podcast).  Since these ideas are based on 12V DC they are much safer, though higher current levels must be respected.

The last note I would make regarding using electronics or technology in your preparations is to echo the warnings of the scriptures.  No gadget can replace faith and trust in the Lord.  There are significant risks and dependencies in using electronics but many of these (such as an EMP event) can be prepared for.   The scriptures warn us of trusting in the arm of flesh (Jeremiah 17:5) and of worshiping the works of man’s hands (Micah 5:13).  I believe that our culture is at great risk to this form of idolatry because of the technological blessings the Lord has given us.  Let’s use these gifts to bless the lives of our families and those around us, and put all of our trust in the Lord.

Tuesday, October 11, 2011

Your readers that store modern electronics long term should be aware of this. There is a problem with all modern electronics that are RoHS compliant. RoHS stands for Reduction of Hazardous Substances. One of its
requirements mandates the use of lead free solder in all consumer electronics. This started in Europe and subsequently adopted here in order for the US to sell products outside this country.

There is a physical process know as tin whiskering, where by tin will grow microscopic metallic whiskers. See NASA's web site for extensive research and information. Please do your research on this and learn.

The lead in solder somehow inhibits the tins from growing, explaining why is beyond the scope of this article, read the NASA research, the growth mechanisms still remain unknown. There are a few US (and the US only) industries that do not comply with the lead free solder due to reliability concerns, such as NASA space hardware, aviation primary flight computers etc., US military hardware, life critical electronics in hospitals to name a few. They state that the people’s lives that depend on these devices outweigh the small lead quantity in the solder.

The tin will grow whiskers regardless if the electronics are powered or in storage or not. I have seen computer electronic failures caused by tin whiskers in as little as six months. The smaller the distance between leads, components etc. the shorter the devices life may be. This is an unpredictable physical effect. This information should be kept in mind when storing anything that bears the RoHS certification. I am not saying
everything will fail, but the long term reliability is affected. Could you imagine a deep space probe half way to Pluto failing do to a tin whisker? I fought this battle almost weekly when I worked for General Electric
Aviation. GE makes high reliability aircraft electronics and is under pressure from within to become RoHS compliant, I fought for the reliability and always had the support of the FAA, Boeing etc. I finally left due to the poor ethics and hypocrisy within the leadership team at GE. Life and safety outweighs all else. I cannot go against the word of God or my personal ethics toward my fellow man.

Basically if you have a large amount of material in an electronic format you do not want to loose in the long term, the first choice is to print a copy, if that is not an option then see if you can find an older computer, you may have to fix it, upgrade the software etc. to read the format you have data stored in, that was made before RoHS compliance was mandated here. They may be hard to find but if you find one it usually can be obtained for free. You do not want to be in a TEOTWAWKI situation with all your books including your Bible in your Kindle, Nook, etc, and have a tin whisker failure. Yes books take space but I have books my mom gave me that are over 100 years old and while fragile I can read them, so I allocate the space. Some of these books are even are kept in buckets with Gamma Seal lids, because of silverfish infestations in my neighborhood

James, again thank you for all you go and God Bless. - Jimmy in California

Monday, October 10, 2011

Hello James:
Take a look at Deb Shindler's blog post linking to a PDF download about reliably erasing data from SSD drives.   Here is just one sentence from the second paragraph of the PDF that really struck me.  "Third, none of the existing hard drive-oriented techniques for individual file sanitization are effective on SSDs."  Thanks for all you do. - Joe K.

Monday, September 26, 2011

I'm looking for info on the range (radius) of direct electromagnetic pulse (EMP) effects from a nuclear detonation. If you could point me in the right direction, I'd be most appreciative.

Sincerely, - Todd H.

JWR Replies: I have discussed this before in SurvivalBlog, such as in my reply to this letter posted in 2009.

Tuesday, September 6, 2011

Captain Rawles,
 As most of your readers would say, we thank you for your ministry.  My question is weather a 40' Continental Express (CONEX) shipping containers would work as a huge Faraday cage, and thus we would be able to store most of our sensitive electronics, such as communications gear, battery chargers, e cetera.
Thank you again, - R.L.S.

JWR Replies: There are a few problems with that concept:

1.) The vast majority of CONEXes have wooden floors. Wood is fairly transparent to radio frequency (RF) waves, including electromagnetic pulse (EMP). A metal Faraday enclosure needs to be an integral box. (Polygonal or spherical.) No windows, and no wooden floors!

2.) Creating a good "gasketed" RF seal at the doorway would be difficult. But RF gaskets might do the trick.

3.) CONEXes tend to "sweat." In a full Faraday enclosure, there would be no ventilation available, so the moisture buildup would likely be excessive. (Depending on your local climate.)

Thursday, September 1, 2011

Operational Security (OPSEC) which is the evaluation and control of any critical information that could be used against you by an adversary. The result of good OPSEC is the elimination or withholding of the most damaging information that your adversary has the ability to gather and understand how to use against you. OPSEC happens everyday. When you go on vacation and hold your mail and newspaper delivery, and use timers to turn your radio and lights on and off to make it appear that you are home, you are practicing good OPSEC.

Here is a another example of OPSEC. A business contact I had worked as the Information Systems Director for the Department of Corrections in a populous state in the US. When he was at his office near the State Capitol, he wore a tie, nice shoes, and a business suit. But when he had to travel to the prisons, he would dress in jeans, tennis shoes, a faded work shirt, and would drive a State vehicle to and from the prison. He did not want the prisoners to know his appearance, or information about his personal car or license plate number. The reason is that he had intelligence that certain criminals said they were going to kidnap the Information System Director, as they thought he had access to the computer system and could lower their sentences by altering the computer files. Even though the computer system was set so that no one person could change anyone's sentence, the implications for this man and his family were the same. Some jobs, especially those dealing with criminals, require a lot of OPSEC in safeguarding your personal information. Once your information is compromised due to poor OPSEC, it is hard to ever regain it.

This last year I had the privilege to read my father-in-law's letters to his wife while he was a sailor during WWII. Each letter was stamped as approved by a Navy censor, and never once did he reveal his location, or his ship's location. He would state that the weather is better here, not as cold, the harbor is beautiful, but never so much as a hint of his location. Even the return address on the envelope was from a State-side mailing address, as the Navy made sure their ships could not be tracked. The Navy coined the term "Loose Lips - Sinks Ships", and studying the US Military's OPSEC procedures is a great exercise for anyone.

So how do we apply the military's OPSEC principles to our personal situation? What is the process? The steps for developing our own OPSEC are:

Step 1. Make a list of any critical information you have that can be used by an adversary.

Step 2.
Determine who your adversaries are.

Step 3.
Look at all the ways your critical information can be compromised.

Step 4.
Make an assessment and rate the items of information that are the most likely to be used by your adversary, and what countermeasures you can employ.

Step 5.
Consistently employ your countermeasures and other security for your most vulnerable assets, in priority order from the results of step 4.

The First Step
is to make a short list of critical information, which for my situation is:
(a) My name, SSN, and DOB (used for identity theft and other purposes).
(b) Bank and credit card information that could allow someone to fraudulently access my funds.
(c) My bank statements that show all of the purchases I have made, and any groups I fund or support.
(d) My garbage, which has old envelopes with their addresses still intact, and many personal items that reveal a wealth of information. (There was a group in Washington DC that would empty the garbage cans of powerful people, such as Henry Kissinger and others, and report the interesting items they found. Quite a find, and there are very few laws against taking someone's garbage.) The correct OPSEC for garbage is to [shred or] burn it, or take it to the landfill, instead of leaving it on the curb awaiting pickup.
(e) My home address.
(f) Information on any real estate or other large assets I own.
(g) A picture of what I look like.
(h) The number of guns and ammo I own and where they are located.
(i) The amount of food and other survival gear I have accumulated, and where they are located.
(j) The interior layout of my home, and its contents.

The Second Step
is to determine who are your adversaries. Everyone has different circumstances, but a general rule that would help identify your adversaries is to determine the types of controversy you are involved in. You may need someone else to look at you objectively and tell you what are the controversial areas of your life that make you visible to predators. For the more controversy you create the more visible you become, and your controversy will draw those that oppose you.

Some things that cause controversy are:
(1) Having more visible wealth than your neighbors or peers,
(2) Supporting and holding allegiance to various controversial groups in a public manner.
(3) The purchase, display and use of military style guns in a region where people do not understand the need for the 2nd Amendment.
(4) Openly using military grade equipment, such as dressing in fatigues or driving old Army trucks.
(5) Campaigning for election to a political office, or influencing the political process in a significant way.
(6) Having a national presence of some type, such as producing popular videos on YouTube, or having a popular radio talk show.
(7) Having a lifestyle that is unacceptable to other people. An example would be the polygamous marriages practiced by the Fundamental Latter Day Saints.

Just as your personal OPSEC assessment should always consider how your information is viewed at present, a good assessment should consider how your information may be used against you in the future. When you begin to engage in items of public controversy, the amount of public information you have revealed in the past will become critical. The best OPSEC is to keep amount of public information about you at the lowest possible level, as many people have so much information in the public domain that it is impossible to do anything about it once they become controversial. You should consider your public information and your potential adversaries before you become involved in a controversial area.

The Third Step
in developing your OPSEC assessment is to look at all of the ways your critical information can be compromised and used by the adversaries identified in step two.
Using LinkedIn may be good for business, and having a FaceBook account may be good for friends, but they can be really bad OPSEC. What you look like, your views and outlooks, and a list of all of your friends and business contacts are available to anyone that can access your account. YouTube videos, web sites, and other Internet activity provide a tremendous amount of information that can direct attention to you and cause problems with your OPSEC.

A good example of how critical information is compromised on the Internet is the case of the Hutaree Militia, who put their paramilitary training videos on YouTube. This raised their profile, and is probably the reason the Hutarees were infiltrated by a government agent. I don't think these people are more than talk, but their paramilitary training videos were very aggressive and probably frightened some people. The statements of the government infiltrator resulted with their arrests, even though they may have done nothing wrong. Paramilitary exercises are perfectly legal [in most jurisdictions], but should be done in secret as they can make you appear to be threatening to many people. You only have to "look" like you are dangerous to encounter problems, and good OPSEC should conceal all information of this type.

Another way your personal information is compromised to a potential adversary is through your property deed information, which is posted by your tax assessor's office on the Internet. A lawyer or anyone else can look up your name, how many parcels of land you own and what they are worth, and what types of buildings or other improvements have been made. Not only can someone find out where you live but they can tell if your home is free and clear of all debts. Having a house that has a lot of equity can make you appear to be rich enough to be a target of a lawsuit. To protect yourself, you will need to obscure your public ownership information.

To do this, you will have put the ownership of your home into a trust or partnership that hides your name on the tax records. This is crucial to avoiding a lawsuit, as lawyers routinely use the property assessor's tax records on the Internet to look for the assets of anyone their clients intend to sue. If you have a lot of known assets and the lawyer thinks he can win the case, the lawyer's proposed fee for his client will be to split the proceeds of the lawsuit that will come from the court's judgment against your assets. This way, it won't cost his client a dime to sue you. But if the public records do not reveal any ownership of real estate and other assets, the lawyer will demand his fee "up front" from his client before he will press a lawsuit against you. This will stop 99% of all lawsuits from ever being brought against you. Lawsuits are hardly ever brought against those that appear to be insolvent, because the lawyers and their clients are not likely to be able to recover their lawyer fees.

A good example of real estate lost due to compromised OPSEC is the lawsuit brought against Operation Ranch Rescue, a controversial group that provided security to farmers along the Mexican border. One of the owners of Ranch Rescue had a large farm in Arizona, apparently listed in the owner's name. Ranch Rescue was sued on the behalf of illegal immigrants by the SPLC, who set the damages slightly greater than the assessed value of the owner's farm. Their lawsuit was successful, and the ranch was taken to satisfy the judgment the court laid on the owner. If the owner had practiced good OPSEC and had put his ranch in a trust, the outcome may have been different.

I have a friend that is a wealthy real estate appraiser, and is often involved in local politics concerning the properties that he owns. He has been sued by county developers and other rascals for ridiculous reasons. He did not want to put his home in an irrevocable trust, so to protect his home from lawyers, he had a good friend file a large lien at the courthouse against his home for more than the property is worth. His friend also gave him a signed and undated quitclaim deed to terminate the lien, which the appraiser keeps in his safe. This makes him appear to have no equity in the property. When the appraiser wants to sell his home, he can file the signed quitclaim deed at the courthouse which will void the lien against the property at any time. None of the appraiser's vehicles are titled in his name, but are titled in his company's name, which is not directly tied to him. His other assets are handled the same way. When a lawyer researches the appraiser's assets, he appears to be insolvent, and so is protected from almost all lawsuits. Using a temporary lien would be one type of OPSEC when you cannot hide your ownership. Some of the best protection of your information from your adversaries is to obscure it with disinformation.

Another way your personal information can be compromised is when you don't know the background of people who suddenly befriend you. This has been the downfall of many people. Randy Weaver had visited a controversial group, and his OPSEC should have been to give everyone there a nickname or something besides his correct name. His next problem in OPSEC was to make friends with a government agent who was trying to infiltrate the group. This agent convinced Weaver to saw off a shotgun for him down to the legal limit. The agent then accused Weaver of sawing the shotgun barrel too short to be legal. The government used this to pressure Weaver to spy on the controversial group or face jail, and Weaver would not spy on the group, or come down from his home when a arrest warrant was issued for sawing off the shotgun. The lapses of OPSEC of using his real name and not investigating his new friend (and almost everyone has made the same mistakes) led to the standoff where Weaver's son and wife were killed by the government. Weaver was not at fault and won a civil judgment against the government, but that doesn't change the outcome. If you are involved with a controversial group, or have new friends that want to involve you in firearms, the lesson for all of us in this time of universal corruption is that we need to increase or evaluate our OPSEC. It may be legal to own guns and participate in groups that are under government investigation, but this is a deadly combination

Even friends that you trust, combined with guns, can be deadly. Those who are friends today can be your enemies tomorrow, and report to others your level of gun ownership, which will compromise your OPSEC. Consider the Branch Davidians in Waco Texas, who were first brought to attention of law enforcement by the complaints of a former member. This was followed by a damaging series of articles written by the local newspaper. Another incident that raised their profile was their mail order gun parts business. One package they ordered by US Mail had dummy hand grenades and other firearm parts. The carton was somehow opened at the Post Office, and law enforcement was notified. This incident, as well as the large number of guns the Branch Davidians were legally purchasing, and the complaints from neighbors of the sound of guns being fired on their property, brought them to the attention of the ATF. The final lapse of OPSEC was purchasing the legal-to-own [and BATF-approved] "Hellfire" trigger, which made their semi-automatic guns sound like they are fully automatic. The legal basis for the ATF raid that ended with the death of the Branch Davidians was that they had "possibly" not paid a $200 license fee for having a unverified fully automatic weapon on their property. I don't believe the Branch Davidians ever broke a law, but their OPSEC was terrible and is what made them the target of the ATF. Better OPSEC for the Branch Davidians would have been to rent a location for the gun parts business away from their compound, and to test fire their guns at a recognized rifle range. No outsider should ever have known that guns were on their property. If guns had not been involved, at most they would have been raided by Child Protective Services and not the ATF, and the outcome would have been much different.

Openly purchasing large amounts of guns and firing a lot of ammo on your property is perfectly legal, but a great way to compromise your OPSEC. No one, not even your closest friends, should know about all of your firearms. "Bump-firing" your semi-automatic rifle at fully automatic speeds is legal and a lot of fun, but who is listening to you shoot? What type of acoustic signature are you creating? Better yet, who are you making afraid? The neighbors that are afraid of you could be the "Human Intelligence" that law enforcement will use to investigate you. You need to appear harmless to everyone, especially your neighbors.

I know one person who claims to be a non-violent Mennonite to avoid any indication that he has a large gun collection. Any target practicing he does is just one shot at a time, to slowly zero in his "hunting" rifle. There is absolutely no need for anyone to rapidly fire a full 40 round magazine. It is just a waste of ammo, and reveals the size of the magazines that you have. Your best OPSEC is to never openly reveal the types or numbers of guns that you have through the sounds they make, or as some would say: "Never pull out a gun unless you are going to use it." For once you make known to the world what types of guns you have, your adversaries will counter with something better that will neutralize your advantage.

Your OPSEC is compromised when you do things that attract attention to yourself, such as wearing camouflage fatigues outside of hunting season, painting your vehicle OD green or camouflage, or stringing up miles of concertina wire around your property. When I see the ultimate mondo security gate, I remember what Jeff Goldblum [as "Dr. Ian Malcolm"] asked about the massive gate at Jurassic Park: "What have they got in there, King Kong?" A large security gate will make your neighbors wonder what you are hiding up there. A better solution is to install steel cables or hardened steel chains to run behind each gate that are hidden when not in use, but can be pulled taut and locked as needed. Bulking up your home with visible guard towers, LP/OPs, trip wires and sand bags is such poor OPSEC as to destroy everything you are trying to do. Security items that are visible to others makes you more vulnerable because it raises your profile.

A good solution for your retreat security improvements is that they provide double duty, one that is perfectly acceptable and normal for today, and one that is meant for when the balloon goes up. For a LP/OP, consider building a kid's "dream tree house", complete with a "fun field telephone" system connected to the house for emergencies. Instead of concertina wire, put electrified barbed wire on top of your fences with a separate "100 mile fence charger" for each strand of wire. The amount of electricity is not obvious, at least until you touch it. For trip wires, consider using High Tensile Electric wires. Not only do they trip, they can shock the pee out of you, as well as keeping your goats and other animals in the right area. Raising animals gives you a good reason for a lot of fencing in various places. Our last line of electric fence surrounding our house may give us protection from intruders after TEOTWAWKI, but right now it keeps the sheep and cows off our back porch. And our Great Pyrenees dogs provide protection from coyotes, as well as handling people that walk by our property. I even got challenged by my 1,500 lb bull one night while I was walking back from the barn. Once he knew it was me, he left me alone, but I would feel sorry for anyone else that tried to run. Our retreat security preparations are natural and out in the open, yet good OPSEC is to not mention any dual purpose they may have, or say anything about them at all.

The correct OPSEC for your radio communication system (more precisely termed COMSEC) will require careful planning. I think it is important that you hide or make invisible the shortwave and other types of radio antennas on your property so they cannot be confiscated. If you use only passive radio receivers on your property and not transmitters, then you will not have to energize your antenna wires, and they will be safe for human contact. This opens a lot of possibilities. A bare wire insulated at both ends that secures a flag pole or windmill, or a wire between two buildings that supports bird house gourds, or perhaps a section of electric fencing that is never charged, these may be good camouflaged passive antennas.

Active radio transmitters are different, as their transmission location is compromised every time they are used. Good OPSEC requires that any radio transmitters be mobile and all transmissions are made in different places away from your residence. If for some reason shortwave and other types of radio transmitters are banned and you have been transmitting for some time from your home, it would be easy through radio detection and triangulation to pre-determine where all of the radio transmitters are located before the ban was made public. If you want to keep your transmitter, use it away from your home.

Project Echelon is a signals intelligence network operated by the US, UK, Canada, Australia, and New Zealand. Echelon has the ability to monitor global communication, including cell phone conversations. Echelon may help identify the movements of people that the government has an interest in following, as it identifies certain types of spoken content. If your cell phone conversations frequently include words such as "jihad", or "nuclear bomb", you might end up on their list. Watch what you say on your cell phone, even in jest. No wireless communication is ever secure, and any information you release over a wireless transmitter should be considered compromised.

I don't think I am enough of a target for Echelon to monitor me, but I have seen a demonstration of the Verizon GPS tracking service called "Field Force Manager" that Verizon offers its corporate customers. If a company issues their employees a Verizon cell phone, Verizon has a new service that allows the company to see on a map where these cell phones are being used. If the cell phone is turned on and you drive a long distance, the map will show your route, your speed, and where you were at each moment of the day. This information is stored, and the company can call up any previous day's GPS locations and movements. It reminds me of a song: "There's an eye, a-watching you...". I don't want Verizon or anyone to track my movements. I always leave my cell phone turned off except when I call out on it. To be perfectly safe, I would need to pull the battery out of the phone, or get rid of it entirely. We had a friend with a domestic situation, and he discovered that a private investigator had placed a cell phone in his car, apparently to track his movements. He gave this cell phone to someone he met at a truck stop going the other direction, and told him to make all of the calls he wanted. For his own use, he bought a "throw-away" cell phone with pre-paid phone card minutes, for which he paid cash at Walgreen's. it is completely untraceable.

The Fourth Step
of an OPSEC plan is to rate a list of the most damaging information I have that could be used by my adversaries. First on my list is anything that would get me killed, either before or after a collapse of society. The knowledge that your home has large number of guns or precious metals can invite a home invasion with deadly results. What would you tell a robber who has a gun at your wife's temple when he asks you where your guns, gold, or survival food is stored? I would put my OPSEC for concealing information about my guns, precious metals, or survival items at the top of my list.

My next most valuable information would be my house and property. For this, you want to put your property into a trust, so that you do not show up as the owner when the property records are searched by a lawyer. I would also suggest an unlisted telephone number, as anyone can find your home address listed in the phone book. I had a Bible prison ministry for a while, and some of the prisoners would call me once they got out of jail. Some were saved, but most were not very repentant, and quite a few of them were dangerous. I finally realized that any of these former prisoners that knew I went to church on a regular basis could rob my house while I was at worship, but only if they knew my address. I unlisted my number, and have since moved to a new address. It is very wise not to have a listed phone number, as this is the number one way a criminal can determine your address.

Your home says a lot about you, and is your sanctuary and castle. You don't want anyone that is a criminal to know the location of your home or its contents. One of the most successful WWII spies for the Allies in France survived because kept his address a secret. He was never caught by the Germans because he changed his appearance often, paid his rent in cash, and he never, ever brought anyone to his home or revealed where he lived. Likewise the information of the contents of your home should not be revealed. King Hezekiah in 2nd Kings 20:12-19 proudly displayed his treasures to the Babylonian diplomats, thinking they were harmless. Babylon later attacked Jerusalem, and took all of the gold and other treasures, probably because they knew how much wealth Hezekiah had. I have a friend that competes in mounted shooting, which is the sport of shooting from horseback for competition. During a short period of time while they were gone, someone stole all of their guns, even the ones that were somewhat hidden. Only someone that knew the contents of their home could have done this. A lack of OPSEC, such as opening up your home to large groups of people that you don't know, can have negative results.
I don't have to hide from the world to have good OPSEC. I have various friends that visit our home, and we worship at each other's homes, but for strangers, we do not let them see the inside of our residence, as the layout and contents of our home is personal information.

The information that is last on my priority list is the "hard to get" information with less value that could only be a problem if something changed. For example if I decided to run for public office, or tried to get a high security clearance for a sensitive job, current records and associations, which are not a problem now, would be scrutinized. Changes to our legal system that might criminalize items in the future that are now legal (such as gun ownership, the possession of gold, using unpasteurized milk, etc) are good reasons to have a good OPSEC plan.

One item of information you should consider is your bank records. Any person or any government agency that can access your bank records can find everything you have purchased, and what groups or programs you support with your donations. Some people will deal purely in cash, but that also raises a red flag. The way I handle it is to buy all of the regular, "conformity" items with my debit card or by check. For anything that may in the future be a problem, such as buying raw milk from an unlicensed dairy (i.e. the farmer down the street), I always pay in cash. That way, I have a "public" persona that appears to be harmless, while my cash-based private life hides my secret consumption of various semi-legal dairy products. The benefits of raw milk are significant, and it should not be up to some bureaucrat to determine my health. But as time goes on, even the items that keep us healthy may be banned under Codex Alimentarius. Another item that may be banned in the future is the ownership of gold. In 1934, Franklin Roosevelt passed the Gold Reserve Act, which made the private ownership of gold [bullion and most coins] a criminal offense. It could happen again. If you are buying gold, guns, or anything that is legal now but may be a crime in the future, then it is critical that you use cash and not create any information "paper trail" concerning your purchases.

It is good to do an routine evaluation of how much compromised public information you have. On occasion, I try to "find myself" on the Internet to see how much information about me is out there. I go to Google and type in my full name surrounded by "double quotes". This makes Google search for the exact string of words in quotes, and sometimes I find public records I did not know I had. is another way investigators find people. I also type in all or part of my street address inside the double quotes, and then leave the city and state outside the quotes. This loosens up the match on Google, and gives a better result. I do the same for my P.O. Boxes, and my unlisted land line phone number and my cell phone number. It is surprising when you find your unlisted phone numbers on the Internet.

The reason I check my name, address and phone information on the web is to make sure they are not compromised, or posted by some company that I do business with. A few years ago I developed some Internet software that became popular. On the Authorship page, I stupidly put my name and old home address, and there has been no way to get this information off the Internet, even now. At my job, I had to fire an unbalanced person, who has since kept tabs on me, and has easily found this old address. For good OPSEC, when I moved my family to our new address, I made sure no connection between the old and new address existed. I forwarded all of my street mail to a P.O. Box at my old location's Post Office. I opened a new P.O. Box at my new location, and did not give a forwarding address. Next, I selectively notified friends, the electric company, and very few others of my new P.O. Box. Nothing else got forwarded. This also got rid of a lot of junk mail. And I did not get a street mailbox at my new home for two years.

The next item in building my OPSEC for my new home was to develop a bullet proof solution for having a street address. Various government agencies, such as our state's driver's license section, require that you have a valid "911" home street address and not a post office box. Some home deliveries and online purchases require a valid street address. Since we purchased raw land that did not have a residence, I had to tell the 911 section at our County where my new home would be located. I told the officials that we were building our house down the road near the paddock, past the barn. The 911office assigned our street number based on the distance from the beginning of the street to where they thought our house would be built. For example, if your 911 address is 1250 Jones Road, your house is located 1.25 miles from the beginning of Jones Road. Each address is based on the distance from the beginning of the road. Anyone using a GPS address locator to find your physical street address will go this exact distance down your road. So after I received my 911 address, I built a large shop building near the paddock, where we lived while we built our house. I put the 911 street number they assigned on the shop. Then I built my driveway about ¼ of a mile up the road from the barn, and put the house even further away up from the shop up on a hill where it is not easily visible. The result has been that whenever the census takers, the county appraiser, US Mail, UPS, FedEx or anyone that uses a GPS locator for my 911 address comes to my street address, they always go to the shop building. If they knock on the door at the shop, they think no one is at home. All deliveries and mail are left at the shop. I have never had anyone I did not know come to my real home, as my real home has no street address, only the shop does.

Your local 911 group will assign a latitude and longitude to your known street address, which Google uses to puts a pointer right on top of your home. Go to Google Maps, or you can download their Google Earth package. Enter in your complete street address, and Google will put a crosshair right on top of your home. The latitude and longitude coordinates for your home were also collected by the US Census Bureau. The only downside to not having a valid 911 address that points to your real home's location is that when an ambulance is called, it will go to the wrong place. In this rare emergency I will just send someone to flag them down to go to the correct location.

The Last Step
in my OPSEC Plan is to continuously employ countermeasures to safeguard the most valuable information I have that is most likely to be accessed by my adversaries. I have listed quite a few of our countermeasures already. One final countermeasure that everyone should have is to encrypt your computer's wireless router, otherwise anyone that drives by your house with a laptop can access your computer system. Even with encryption, your emails, Google searches, and web sites that you visit are recorded as all of your Internet history is kept on file at your Internet Service Provider and can be used by a government agency at anytime. Good OPSEC would be to use the Tor Anonymity Network or other means to control the Internet information you create.

The final countermeasure is to go back through the five steps of OPSEC assessment on a regular basis, namely, identify your information, consider your adversaries or threats, analyze your vulnerabilities, assess or rate your risks from high to low, and employ countermeasures. As your situation changes, so will your OPSEC. Completing and acting on a regularly scheduled OPSEC assessment may save your life.

Thursday, July 28, 2011

I agree with the response posted, and your reply. While older versions of Perl used relatively poor pseudo-random number seeds, the original author's use of a time (at runtime) index as a pseudo random number (PRN) generator seed is a reasonably "secure" method of generating a series of PRNs. That was the first thing I looked for in his code, and such a method would be secure given the caveats you suggest. (That is, it won't be up against true high-power cryptanalysis). If applied with random letters instead of words as suggested, (like a "real" one time pad), it would be a better implementation.

As a note, true hardware-based random number generators are available at much lower costs these days. That would dramatically improve the cryptographic security of a generated one time pad.

Thanks for the great blog. - Marc X.


Good morning Mr. Rawles,  
Reader need to be very careful with encrypted communications. It is illegal for amateur radio operators to broadcast encrypted signals. This should be treated as other illegal activities that we would implement only during a true SHTF situation [where there is no longer a rule of law]. Anonymity in the mass of global communications will provide some protection but Ham operators should be extra vigilant as they are holding a Federal license and they should know better.  - G.B.


James Wesley:
I am sure you realize this but the principal weakness of a one time pad does not lie in ones ability to break it by brute force but rather by ones ability to simply kick down your door and confiscate the pad. The police confiscated firearms during Katrina and could easily confiscate one time pads, computers, radio equipment, etc as well.  

A secure system requires that the key (one time pad or other) also be protected using something like a password based encryption process for example.  Ultimately, the human is always the weak spot in any crypto system and is the weakness most often exploited by crackers. If your objective is to prevent local law enforcement or government from reading your messages you’re going to need to protect your keys/pads from searches and confiscations. - F.C.


Thanks for posting my article. I wasn't sure if it was a little too geeky for the blog, but with all the radio communications articles on the site, I felt that I'd be in good company

I've just read Mike D.'s comments on my one time pad (OTP).  From what I see, I think all of his points are valid.  One of the biggest challenges in writing this was identifying what computer skill set to write to.  The Perl programmer in me wants to use all the latest modules, and make the code as cryptic as possible.  But developing code that way would greatly reduce the audience that could use it.  The reason that I chose to use a simpler method was to provide a solution that did not require a computer science degree to implement, or to ask the readers to trust me completely by writing far more complex code.

To me, this breaks down as follows:

  1. By using words and adding your own keywords instead of pages of letter/character generation, communications are kept short reducing the probability of direction finding - it's a tradeoff between air time and code complexity.  Note that in a SHTF condition, a force-decode would require special hardware, software, and analysis. Code breaking teams would probably be prioritized on bigger fish.
  2. Using a dictionary as a base, then adding in your own terms, saves a lot of typing; and if you prefer your own word list, I tried to make the code clear where to reference your own source word list.
  3. A smaller code base also allows for 'open'  and readable code.
  4. By keeping it simple we allow for a larger audience base to use the OTP,  while still needing significant computer resources to force-decode the content - classic 80/20 rule. 
  5. And last, I've learned to never let the perfect prevent the good from being implemented. Implement good first, then improve.  

Hopefully those that have a programming background are inspired to create their own version, and those that do not know programming are able to use this solution without too much trouble. - B.R.

Wednesday, July 27, 2011

Hey Jim:
I am a little concerned about yesterday evening's post by B.R. regarding the generation of one-time pads. It claims to generate a "pad" using a random selection of dictionary words. A properly generated one-time pad requires a truly random selection of letters; it is only as strong as the source of entropy. Using a dictionary of English language words, acronyms, etc. does not seem to be very wise. Additionally, while I am not terribly familiar with Perl, I know that a lot of languages have built-in "random" functions that are not as random as one might hope for; having a computer generate a truly random number is more difficult than an amateur might expect. I may be way off base on this, having only a few moments to glance at the code and description, but a simpler and safer solution would be to generate a truly random number, modulo 26, correspond it to a letter, and write that letter to the "pad". The use of the dictionary is unnecessary; all you need -- and all you want -- are truly random letters.

Best, - Mike D.

JWR Replies: You are correct that most "random number generators" are actually just pseudo-random number generators. However, the computing power required to break such a system will not be available to looters or even local governments in the disaster situations that we've been discussing in SurvivalBlog. Yes, they can be broken by the NSA and their phalanxes of supercomputers. But for our purposes, book codes or locally-generated one time pads will suffice. My concern is that my readers might try to rely on obsolete encryption methods such as Four-square and Playfair substitution ciphers, which are easily broken, even without computing power. Substitution ciphers are just one notch above transmitting “in the clear”. Don't make that mistake!

Tuesday, July 26, 2011

While re-reading the 'Radio Ranch' chapter in JWR's novel "Patriots", I started thinking about the Book Code method versus a One-Time Pad. I went through the books on my shelf, and noticed the lack of duplicate books; the number of 'common' books; and how many of my books I figured would be in the Uncle Sam's cracked book repository. At that point I thought I'd be SOL when trying to setup a secure method of communication.

Being an ex-Army Infantry turned computer geek and prepper, I figured it would be much easier to write some code to generate pages of random word lists (a.k.a. One-Time Pad or OTP). Besides, creating one from hand would be brutal.

My attitude towards prepping is to start with a grid-down, post-EMP or Solar Storm, condition. Unless I get a Faraday cage up soon which will protect all of my electronics, I'll assume I only have the technology that is secure in large grounded ammo-cans. (Portable communications gear, solar battery rechargers, and lots of batteries).

The code examples, under these conditions, will not be useful unless the output has been printed, in duplicate, and ahead of time.

Since not all of us are computer geeks, I thought I'd cover the following and share with our community.

I've broken them down into the following sections

  1. When One-Time Pads are appropriate
  2. Getting Started: what is needed, how to get it.
  3. OTP Generation: The Code to generate up to 99,999 pages of OTP output
  4. OTP Decryption: The Code to decrypt messages using the OTP method – assuming the computers are still working. Hey, prepare for the worst, hope for the best.
  5. Examples of over the air communication using OTP.


When One-Time Pads are appropriate:

The best use of OTPs are when you need to communicate securely between two or more groups. These groups can be just over the hill or over great distances.  Even if you only have a small retreat and do not expect to use one, it cannot hurt to have two or three printed copies of an OTP ready should SHTF.

This is especially true since we can not predict group expansion, and re-organization (including splitting into smaller groups) due to changes in conditions, numbers, and personality conflicts. Therefore, in my opinion even if you are currently on your own, you should generate multiple printed copies and keep them safe.  Finding multiple copies of an out of print book in a post-SHTF situation will be far from easy.

Because the OTP has to be referenced to de-code the messages, it's best to keep them in a secure location rather than attempting to use them as a means to communicate with patrols, or individuals on the move.

Getting Started: what is needed, how to get it.

The code, covered later, uses something called Perl (a computer language common on Unix/Linux and sometimes Windows systems). I've based the code on the Solaris – aka Unix/Linux operating system.  If you have group to group communications, hopefully there is someone in the group that has a basic understanding of Unix/Linux.  If this is the case, the easiest method it to direct them at this article. A Perl geek will be able to skip most of this article and have you up and running in about five minutes. 

The code is setup to cut-n-paste. There are no additional Perl-modules or fancy install procedures.

Installing Perl (on windows):

UNIX/Linux/MAC operating systems have Perl pre-installed. Perl for windows can be installed via:

Select windows -> download -> Strawberry Perl

Once installed, it is a matter of cut-n-past of code into a text file for execution. Normally the code files have a extension of '.pl', but we will get to the running of code when we cover the included scripts.

A Note on Word Lists

In my case, UNIX keeps a list of words in a file called /usr/dict/words. To improve possible communications I've updated my file to include acronyms from the SurvivalBlog Glossary in addition a number of my own expected terms, local USGS map grid coordinates, expected rally/extraction point codes, and feel free to add in junk – it just helps to confuse any decryption.

The word list is one word per line, example here:

# tail /usr/dict/words

OTP Generation

To use this script cut-n-paste the section between, but not including <CODE>, into a text file. Call that file

There are enough comments included in the code to walk a Perl knowledgeable person through the steps, but for others, it's just a matter of cut-n-paste.

#!/usr/bin/perl -w

# ONE-TIME PAD Generation.

# This perl code generates a random list of words,
# 10 per line, 59 per page. Created from a text file
# containing a source list of words. Every word
# in the list is used.

# The initial word list is one word per line.
# To help simplify the process, the script uses a
# UNIX word dictionary, supplemented by words
# and acronyms added manually.

# Output is collected where $output_directory is defined as
# words-00001.txt is page 1.  The code currently supports
# up to 99,999 pages.

# Every time the script is run, there is a different order
# of words.

# The number of passes through the word list is defined by
# $cycle_count

# The default settings run through the word list 5 times
# Each time the script is executed it will overwrite any
# existing words-#####.txt file, so move them some where safe
# before re-running the script.

# set how many lines per page to output

# set starting page number. Useful if running many
# cycles of this program.

# Number of times to run against the word list.

# Where the word list is.

# Where to put the results



# Main Processing Starts Here

for (1..$cycle_count) {

@file = <WD>;

while ( @file ) {
  $choice = splice(@file, rand @file, 1);
  push(@line, $choice) ;

  # Check if there are 10 words in the array - done to print 10 words per line
  # of output. If you want more than 10 words per line, adjust here.

  if ($count eq 10) {
    s/ ^\s+//gx for @line;
    push(@page, "@line\n");
    # reset count for 10 words per line starting at 0
    # zero out the line array.

  # If we have reached the max lines per page, generate a new page
  # of words.
  if ($line_count eq $lines_per_page ) {
$page_write = sprintf("%05d", $page_count);
open(FW, ">$output_directory/words-$page_write.txt");
print FW "@page\n";
# There's almost always some words that didn't fill up the line or page
# arrays. Dump them to the last page written.
$page_write = sprintf("%05d", $page_count);
open(FW, ">>$output_directory/words-$page_write.txt");
print FW "@page\n";
close (FW);

Next make the script executable:

UNIX/Linux: chmod +x

WINDOWS NOTE: Right click and have it run as Perl. Note that the directory paths will need to be changed, and possibly some of the code updated.

If you want the output placed somewhere other than /tmp, see the section of code where it can be adjusted (comments are clear). You can also adjust the number of times it cycles through the word list.

OTP Decoding

To create the decode script, cut-n-paste all code between, but not including <CODE> into a text file called 


sub _help {
print "USAGE: filename\n";

if (@ARGV != 1 ) {


if ( -e $filename) {
} else {
   print "$filename does not exist\n";

sub _decode {
 while(<PG>) {
  if (sprintf("%03d", $count) eq $line ) {
@myword = split;
$found_word = @myword[$word-1];
chomp $found_word;
print  "$found_word " ;

sub _process_file {
 open(DC, "<$filename");
 while(<DC>) {
($page, $line, $word) = split;
_decode($page, $line, $word);
 print "\n";

The decode script will expect a text file as an argument. You add the OTP codes into it that you want to decode. One word per line.

Example of this would be as follows

001 019 001
999 059 010
023 043 009
006 012 002
863 001 006

To run the decoding use the following command:

./ ./decodeme.txt
meet me at the house

Examples of over the air communication using OTP.

The first item to take care of are 'call-signs'. These should never be something that indicates location, or the group/person sending or receiving. They should be as randomly selected as possible.

For this case, lets say that first group's call sign is C19 (Charley One Niner), and the second group is DFX (Delta Foxtrot Xray).

In addition, let's assume they have a run-book of challenge/response codes.  This is a list of items to ask, and answers expect as a response. Each challenge/response code should only be used once, then scratched off, and never used again. If the wrong response is given, all communication is stopped by the challenger. Best not to even give a reason, or a 'keyed' mike. Just stop listening, and if possible turn off the receiver. Make sure not to send any outgoing signal that could be used for Direction Finding equipment.

Remember, they may send you junk to keep your mike keyed for direction finding to have enough time to track your location.

As an example, let's assume that Blue 16 is the challenge and Alpha- November is the expected answer.  Side note: you could have a specific signal change as part of the authentication.

Using the example decode text above, a radio or phone communications would go as follows. (Please forgive any mistakes, the last time I used this Baghdad Bob was on CNN), after all – OTPs aren't exactly military communications methods anyway. Make up your own SOP.

C19: Delta Foxtrot Xray, this is Charley One Niner, come in over.

DFX: Charley One Niner, this is Delta Foxtrot Xray, authenticate Blue One Six, over.

C19: Authenticate Alpha-November. Over.

DFX: Authentication received, send message over.

C19: message as follows, break.

C19: Zero, Zero, One, break, Niner, Niner, Niner, break, Zero Two Tree, break, Zero, Four, Tree, break, Zero, Zero, Niner,  how copy over?

DFX:  Say again after Zero, Four, Tree, over.

C19: Zero, Zero, Niner, over.

DFX: Copy over.

C19: Copy out.

Bad Rambo Mistakes

Remember there are many 'movie' based terms that are not a part of the Phonetic alphabet, nor the normal military radio-telephone procedure. Some of these may have nasty consequences.

The one that comes to mind is 'repeat' repeat has a specific military usage. It means to resend the same artillery barrage that was last requested. If you want someone to 'repeat' what they just said, use 'say again'.

Another common movie term is 'actual' as in: 'request to speak to Charley One Niner actual.'  I'd strongly recommend not using this at all. It tells Traffic Analysts (TAs) that someone in charge is talking. Then with Direction Finding (DF), they will learn where should target their artillery fire..

These examples could go on for a while, so I recommend reading Army Field Manuals (FMs) that cover calling for artillery. Best not to have an 'oops there it is' moment.

Use common sense, and keep the message short by using pre-determined keywords. 

On a side note, if both groups have someone that speaks an uncommon language, leverage that. Include those terms in the word dictionary. This will help prevent any compromised communications.

For a departing comment, if you ever expect an attack of the Tidy Bowl men, I'd recommend an extensive use of slang. Slang is not usually covered in English classes run in other countries. Use this to your advantage, and include these terms in your communications and word lists. I still remember, years ago in college when I used the word "awesome" in a sentence and an English as a Second Language student thought I meant 'very very bad'. It seems that their dictionary only had the formal definition. I guess the same could be said for breaking out the old Oxford dictionary and using hundred dollar words.

Thursday, July 14, 2011

CPT Rawles:s
I know this is a very obscure topic, but having been a communication guy on a Special Forces A Team for many years and a ham radio operator, I know a couple things about wire antennas in trees. I've tried them all, slingshots, bow and arrow, lead weight, one-quart canteens et cetera.

The problem is getting the right weight to mass ratio - otherwise you either can't get the rope up high enough, it gets caught up in the branches or wraps around the branch you are throwing at.

The single best object I have found is an M69 [spherical steel] grenade simulator body (without the screw-in simulator fuse assembly). It is just a hollow metal ball with two holes in it. It is slightly smaller than a baseball and has enough heft to bring it right back to the ground. Simply run the rope through the holes and tie to itself and throw overhand like a baseball. (underhand never seems to work for some reason, though it is easier on the arm)

Once the grenade body gets back to the ground with the hoist rope over the branch, untie and attach your doublet or other antenna and hoist away.

You can usually find grenade simulator bodies at Army/Navy surplus stores.

I hope that this helps someone. - Mike S.

Tuesday, July 5, 2011

Happy Independence Day to you and your family. Concerning underground tanks for fuel storage, most states require both lining systems and cathodic protection to prevent leakage into the ground and or ground water. I fully agree with the defensive sense, being a veteran of the US Army and most of my time serving in the Infantry, having prepared many a defensive position.   As such for OPSEC, finding a discreet contractor may present a challenge, and of course the local county may get interested, Hopefully not too much. - Grog  

JWR Replies: Cathodic zinc anodes (commonly called "sacrificial zincs") such as these have been mentioned before in SurvivalBlog. They are important to use if you bury metal containers for caching, too!

Your mention of bureaucratic nosiness prompts me to mention that this is just one more reason to move to one of the American Redoubt States. In most of those states, no building permits or inspections are required for anything except septic tank installations, if you live outside of city limits.

That was an interesting article you wrote about the goal of blending in. My amplification of that is to make a goal of not showing up on the aerial and satellite photos that Google and others have on line. I’m in the middle of 10 acres of old growth woods and the satellite view shows the road leading here swallowed up by the over-reaching trees. And delivery vehicles trying to get here usual go right by the drive.  

For ham operators, the method I use to blend in is by use of wire antennas. Through the trees. My long wire antenna is 250 feet long. My doublet is strung as an Inverted V. Details on doing these antennas that perform every bit as good as more expensive beams and towers is The Wireman’s excellent handbook, now in its fifth edition.  

My scanner and VHF/UHF antennas are all on five television masts and push-up mounts on the rear of the house, not visible even from the front of the house. - Vern

JWR Replies: Keep in mind the drawback to having large trees that screen your house from aerial observation in most cases also put your house at risk of forest fires.

Wednesday, June 29, 2011

I believe that the ultimate survival strategy for the ultimate collapse of civilization goes far beyond simply fortifying and stocking a retreat and locking yourself into a potential box canyon, I believe that the last resort for survivors is to develop the skills and knowledge to exist for years, or even for the rest of your life, in the most extreme and remote areas as a hunter-gatherer with nothing in terms of equipment except what you can carry on your back.

So, here I will present part one of my must-haves for total self-sufficiency: self-contained electronic tools that can be run indefinitely on inexpensive photovoltaic panel roll-ups and [hard] panels that can be folded into pocket-sized packets.

All of my power and interface connector cords are broken down into two pieces, with red and black Anderson Power Pole connectors.  That way, I can mate any [matching voltage] device-specific plug to any energy charging plug.  So, for instance, I don't need separate miniUSB to USB, miniUSB to cigarette lighter,  miniUSB to AC-to-DC power cube, and miniUSB to gel cell battery cords.  All I really need is a  particular jack on one end of a cord, and Power Poles on the other. I have a variety of cords for specific devices and for specific power sources, like USB, cigarette lighter, gel-cells, and so on, each ending in the Power Poles.  I simply mate any device-specific power cord to any power supplier cord.  Keep two of each and you have the optimal capability with minimum weight and size.

[JWR Adds: I'm also a committed user and evangelist for Anderson Power Poleconnectors. Keep in mind that the specification for USB is 4.4 to 5.25 Volts, DC. The unit load was specified at 100 mA in USB 2.0, but increased to 150 mA in USB 3.0. To avoid any confusion, I recommend using different color Power Pole connectors for different voltage ranges. For example, you can use an odd color combination for the 15 Amp connectors for the 4.4–5.25 VDC USB voltages and red and black 30 Amp connectors for 11 to 16 VDC (car battery) voltage. Oh, and remember, in-line fuses are inexpensive insurance for your valuable electronic gear.]

Any items in my kit that run off of internal, external, or rechargeable AA or AAA NiMH batteriescan be charged with light, small, relatively inexpensive roll-up or foldable PV panels.  At the very least, the USB Charging 4 Watt Solar Pane should be included (available for about $100 from Ready Made Resources.)  Since it has a USB port, it can be used directly with any device that can charge through USB, and my Power Pole arrangement allows me to mate any of my [4.4–5.25 VDC USB voltage range] devices to the solar panel's USB port. It weighs just over 6 ounces and folds up small enough to put in a pocket.  It puts out a voltage just slightly less than a powered USB port and can charge anything from cell phones to [a pair of] NiMH AA or AAA batteries.  It is also rainproof.  In peak sun, it produces not only enough power to charge batteries, but, simultaneously generate enough power to act as an active power supply directly connected to most devices. This model has been in use for a decade and has proven its reliability.  I carry two of them and, whenever possible, a larger and more powerful roll-up. (I own several variations.)

So, given my simple, but lightweight and efficient power sources, what battery-operated devices do I include as must-haves?

First and foremost, a Kindle ebook reader with wi-fi for my unit, depending on whether you care or not about the screen savers and a homepage banner showing ads, or prefer the artwork screen savers.  Note that the less expensive ad-based Kindle is the same as the other, and that none of the ads show when you are actually reading a book.  My Kindle weighs only 8.5 ounces, can store up to 3,500 books. With the wi-fi turned off, it will run for a month on a charge if you read an hour each day (Two months if you only use it a half-hour a day).  It has a 6" (diagonal) screen and displays pages that are virtually identical to printed material (they refer to this as E Ink). It is only a third of an inch thick and height and width are 4.8" x 7.5". I can easily carry it in a back pocket of my jeans and still have room for my passport and a notebook.    It can let you carry around a massive library of books covering every facet of survival as well as a lifetime worth of books for enjoyment while adding negligible weight and taking up practically no space.

Second, I include my Samsung Charge 4G Android phone (I'm due for an upgrade to one of the anticipated second-gen 4Gs in the fall).  I leave the battery out when not actively using it to be absolutely, positively, belt-and-suspenders sure that I can't be tracked through it.  It can provide a wide number of functions besides phoning (which will be impossible anyway if the power to cell towers go off).   However, it has full GPS capabilities, including maps equivalent to my car-mounted Garmins. BTW, I recommend using GPS in very small doses, whenever necessary, and only while you are on the move.  The GPS satellites will probably be functioning long after the grid goes down, because they are self-powered and probably will not be destroyed by an EMP attack. 

The second major function I use the phone for is that it will accept microSD cards.  I have a number of 32 MB microSD cards that I use to store additional books, as well as music, audio books, and other audio and video entertainment.  The third advantage is that it is capable of acting as a wi-fi hot spot, so I can use it to transfer books from my microSD cards to the Kindle via wi-fi.  This is a 'force multiplier' in that it gives me the ability to carry a very large library of reference and resource books.  The entire package is lighter and smaller than a single paperback book.  If you don' have a GPS-enabled cell phone, then at least get the Garmin eTrex handheld for less than $75. It doesn't let you be traced, since there is no identifying information included in the transmission.  This is a powerful waterproof unit with WAAS (which gives you accuracy to less than 10 feet), but it doesn't have maps - just compass and GPS readings, though it is easily programmed for destinations and waypoints, and leads you to them via the compass and distance-to-travel indicator.  If you want a map, the Garmin Legend H has all-terrain four-color grayscale maps in storage for only $50 more.  Color maps are available in higher-priced models, but IMHO are not worth the extra bucks except when driving on the highway.  Both models are just over 5 ounces with two of my NiMH AA batteries, and are waterproof. I carry a Legend H as a backup to my cell phone GPS.

Next comes my communications gear.   I carry a portable Yaesu FT-817 QRP (low power) transceiver that can handle USB, LSB, AM, CW, VHF, UHF, PSK31 and a number of other operating modes.  It covers every ham band from 160m to 10m in the HF region excepting the newer 30 and 60 meter bands, which are really not necessary (a newer model includes at least the 60m band, and possibly the 30m band if you absolutely, positively  have to have them), as well as covering 6m, 2m, and 70 cm on VHF and UHF FM bands.  It runs on an internal NiMH battery which I upgraded to an after-market NiMH battery with a higher mAh rating and can also be powered by external AA batteries and an available Ni-Cd pack as well as from one of my solar packs.  I also installed a 500 Hz bandwidth Collins filter for CW operation.  It also has an internal keyer that can handle CW speeds from 4 WPM to 60 WPM. (I usually copy about 30 WPM - 35 WPM if I'm working CW regularly).  I carry around two keys. One old navy-style Bencher hand key, and a Kent single-lever paddle key (having first learned Morse in the mid 1960's using hand keys and 'bugs,'  I have never felt comfortable with dual paddle iambic keys, but YMMV).  In extremis, the up and down buttons on the mike can be used to transmit Morse code. The FT-817 has a maximum output of 5 watts, but can also dial that back dramatically.  The ham rule has always been to use enough power to make the QSO - but no more.   Given the right antenna, I've had CW QSOs with hams all over the world - including in Antarctica, as well as several shuttle crews and the International space station using only 500mW output.   You don't need 1,500 W PEP to work the world. Though the lower the power, the more you have to rely on skill, experience, knowledge of propagation characteristics of each band at any given time of day or stage in the sun spot cycle, and antenna-craft.

Today, you can get any grade of ham license with either no Morse requirement or the old novice requirement of 5 WPM (which anybody with an IQ above room temperature should be able to master inside of three weeks if they use the Farnsworth learning technique).  Still, given that Morse is the most efficient means of post-SHTF communications, allowing communication at greater distances, with lower power, and much narrower bandwidth usage that any other mode that will still be operating, it would be of advantage to at least develop 13 to 15 WPM abilities. PSK31 and other digital modes are even better in all respects and are primarily why the ARRL has stopped requiring a trained emergency backup collection of hams with CW skills up to 20 WPM, however, digital modes require a computer and an interface box, and are only usable if you and the people you are trying to contact have similar gear.  Even the smallest laptop is too heavy to cart around in a backpack solely to run a PSK31 program.  Morse will be the best bang for the buck and has the advantage of requiring that anybody monitoring your radio transmissions must be at least as skilled and as fast as you - unlike voice communications that anybody can understand.  For use with other survivalists you are associated with, you might want to decide on an encryption scheme and then encrypt your messages before sending them.  Try to reach the Amateur Extra grade as soon as you can, since only the top grade of license gives you legal rights to operate on any legal ham frequency.  Lower grades have significant restrictions.

Another critical feature of the FT-817 is that it has an expanded frequency receiver that covers both of the major VHF and UHF public safety bands used by police, fire departments, EMTs, etc. as well as AM coverage of the entire civilian and military air bands, and even the commercial FM radio band.

I also have two HTs (handy-talkies or handheld radios) for myself and two matching ones for my wife.  One can fit into a shirt pocket and covers 6m, 2m, and 70cm - along with a wide-frequency receiver capability.  The other is a bit larger and only covers 2m and 70cm, but it does have APRS capabilities.  Both can run on a variety of power sources.  I have a mobile 50w dual-band unit in each car covering the same two bands with dual-frequency mag-mount antennas as close to the ground plane center as I can get them.   All of my handheld and mobile radios are capable of functioning as cross-band repeaters, and, in fact, one of my mobiles was parked at the Red Cross tent at Ground Zero, cross-banding both the police and fire bands so they could communicate despite their very different frequency ranges, for the first month after the attack.   Also, all of my emergency ham transceivers are 'freebanded' to provide two-way coverage of the VHF and UHF public safety bands.  Note that, in order to do this legally, you must have a very good justification.  I have worked as a volunteer communications first responder for 30 years with ARES, RACES, the state Office of Emergency Services (OEM) [in my state] run by the State Police and the American Red Cross, so I can freeband legally as long as I only transmit on public service frequencies in a dire emergency.

I carry two kinds of antennas for the FT-817.  The first is a batch of extremely light-weight homemade dipoles.  I carry two for each band I expect to be using, with one tuned for resonance in the CW portion of a band, and the other tuned for the SSB portion (except for VHF and UHF, which are FM voice - where my dipoles and small vertically polarized 'sticks' are tuned to the middle of the band.) I also have what IMHO is an ingenious modular kit for creating a long-wire antenna on any frequency the 817 supports.  It consists of a number of different length antenna wires, each terminated with a different color of Power Pole connector. I believe they come in 11 or 12 colors, so they can be color-coded.  The shortest one is resonant at 70 cm and all of them plugged together make an antenna resonant on 160m.  Various single wires and combinations of wires cover all of the other bands.  I use the colors to match the configurations to a laminated pocket chart that I created years ago.  It is easy to put them up in the trees if you use a string tied to a rock you can throw, and even easier if you have a slingshot.

When I want a radio scanner with wide reception coverage, I use a Yupiteru MVT-9000.  The Yupi is sometimes referred to as a "DC-to-Daylight" receiver since it receives on a continuous range from 0.1 MHz to 2,000 MHz with no gaps.  This means that, while the radio is legal to buy in every other country of the world, it is illegal in the United States because it does not block the cell phone frequencies. I bought mine when working on a consulting job in Europe and 'forgot' to leave it behind when I returned. Oops! The customs officer was clueless about its capabilities and passed it right through. (BTW, it is a good idea to select an FM radio frequency on each receiver or transceiver before going through US customs or TSA checks.  They will often ask you to turn on the device, and there is nothing more harmless and non-threatening than discovering that it is just a fancy FM radio. 

The Yupi has an external BNC connector and there are literally a thousand different antennas you can use with it, including single and multi-band.  It has everything one can want in a hand-held scanner, except for several recent capabilities: it has no PL/CTCSS and it has no trunk-tracking.  It does support decoding voice inversion, but doesn't have support for Motorola APCO digital trunked systems or any of the analog trunking systems (Motorola type 1, type 2 and type 1/2 hybrid as well as EDACS and LTR).  If continuous unblocked coverage is not important to you, but trunking, CTCSS, and/or digital capabilities are, then I suggest something like the Uniden Bearcat BCD396XT, which covers all analog trunking systems, both 3600 and 9600 baud digital trunk tracking, CTCSS and DCS decode. I use both in different contexts.  Note that the 800 MHz systems were 'rebanded' in 2008, so it is far better to buy this or similar radios produced after the rebanding, so you don't have to modify and reprogram the unit. If there is radio transmission going on anywhere after TSHTF, I truly believe that it is of inestimable value to be able to monitor it.

Proviso: Anybody putting a radio or scanner capable of receiving the VHF and/or UHF public service frequencies in a vehicle should check with the laws in their state (as well as any other state they will be driving through).  Some states have varied restrictions, and at least one (Minnesota) bans them outright.  This is another reason to get a ham license, as hams are licensed by the FCC and are exempt from [some] state regulations.  Keep a copy of your operator's license in your wallet and be prepared for a trip to the police station when you encounter local yokels who are clueless about the Federal communications laws. You might want to keep a copy of the pertinent FCC regulations in your glove compartment as well.

Wednesday, June 22, 2011

The Onion Routing (TOR or Tor) project is one of the best ways to stay anonymous on the web. The project was initially funded by the Navy, but over a few years evolved into a non-profit organization. The goal of the TOR project is twofold: to allow for the anonymous browsing of the internet, and to allow people to connect to the .onion network.

This is a basic illustration of how it works is this. Lets say every internet site you visit is a store front in a basic town. You go in and out of stores in the daylight. People around you, who know how to look, can follow you around. They can see what you are viewing and track your movements. Navigating through Tor is like browsing the web in a dark warehouse. People can see you entering and leaving the warehouse, but what you do in there is untraceable. It is used in many nations where there is no such thing as being anonymous online, such as mainland China.

When I say untraceable I am not really telling the truth. The NSA, Chinese Government, and such have the technology. However, 99.99 percent of people should not have to worry about being tracked by them. If you are, then you have much bigger problems to worry about.

The reason that you can’t be traced is that Tor encrypts every action you make on the web. It is then sent to different routers, which each peel off a layer of the encryption (thus the onion reference). The end result is that no router knows the starting and ending path of the information, or what the information actually is. This is why the Tor system is so powerful.

So that is the first function of the Tor project. What is the other, you ask? Well, my prepping friends, let us take a journey into the under web.

I once saw a statistic that is actually pretty amazing: Only roughly three percent of the Internet is viewable by Google. Remember all those hundreds of millions of search results you get when you search for something? That’s three percent. The rest is know as the deep web or the under web. A large majority of it is boring. For example, anything that requires a password to view or edit is part of the under web. Therefore, your Facebook profile is part of the deep web. A lot of it is also corporate files and such. Much of it is really underwhelming.

There are, however, certain web sites that can only be viewable when using Tor. These are called .onion sites. These are mostly unmoderated and super anonymous pages.

Have you ever heard of those hidden online places where hackers exchange stolen personal identity date? Child porn? Hire assassins? Buy drugs? Communicate sensitive data (governments, Wikileaks, Anonymous (the Hacktivist’s), Lulzsec, et cetera)? Most of these happen on the .onion networks. That’s why the authorities can’t deal with it. Tracking down one person on the .onion network is like trying to search for Osama, much less tracking down the millions upon millions that use it. Many terrorist cells use these networks to communicate. If you want something totally illegal or want to do something totally unethical then you can find it in onionland.

So I am sure you are asking yourself, “How on Earth can this be of any use to me?” Many people use the .onion network to connect to each other. They have ultra secure email, instant messaging, and site hosting. You can create a site on the .onion, and the only people who will ever know it exists are the people you give the address to. One day the .onion, with all its flaws, may be the only way people can safely spread information. This is why China and the citizens having revolutions in MENA use the onionland. There are also many sites that have things you may find in The Anarchist's Cookbook, and other information that might be of value to preppers. [JWR Adds: Be forewarned that despite multiple editing iterations, The Anarchist's Cookbook still includes faulty directions for making nitroglycerine that are extremely dangerous, even if followed word-for-word.]

There is no greater threat to tyranny than the uncontrollable spread of information.

Now, has this intrigued you enough to start using Tor? Good! You can download all you need at the Tor project web site. How do you get access into the onion network? A good place to start is core.onion. From there you can access the hidden wiki, tor directory, and talk.masked. I am not going to tell you how to get there though, because if you can’t find it you probably shouldn’t be there.

Tips for Browsing in Onionland:
Because of the threats of viruses and other nasty things, I would suggest updating your firewall and virus scanner.
To further negate the risk of infection I would suggest downloading a Linux distribution of your choice (my favorite is Ubuntu, and you can dual-boot by downloading Wubi)
Always assume you are less secure than you really are. When in doubt, don’t click on the link.

There is a whole other world down there. It is the wild west of the internet. Even if you never go there, you should know how. One day it may be the only way of getting information in and out of this country. Regards, - N.J.

Saturday, June 18, 2011

A lot of us got the radio bug from a Hallicrafters S-38 series or a Zenith Trans-Oceanic. I have both and still enjoy them, but when I need to tease out an obscure signal my old National HRO usually beats about any other radio in the shack (new or old) hands down.

The S-38 is a good choice since outside of the band-switching arrangement it has the guts of an All-American Five radio. This makes it a lot more repairable, most of the components are "generic", i.e. tubes, capacitors, IF transformers, et cetera.

The only downside to a [transformerless] AC-DC radio is that the tube life is not as long [as with most transformer] AC designs. It is almost always the high voltage heaters (the rectifier and audio output tube) that fail.

One very important thing to keep in mind about the S-38 (or any metal-cased AC-DC radio) is they can be deadly if not properly checked and maintained. Most AC-DC radios use the chassis as a ground return; that means one side of the power line is hard wired to the chassis. In the S-38 the chassis is isolated by rubber grommets, cardboard bottom and back and plastic knobs. Crumbling grommets, a shifted chassis, too long a screw, et cetera can put the case at line voltage -- being at a minimum a nasty shock hazard. This is pretty easily remedied on most radios; Make sure the knobs are all non-conductive, the chassis is still floating in rubber grommets. (Replace them all). The backs and sometimes the bottoms are missing. Make new ones with perforated Masonite (pegboard). JWR Adds: For those who are collectors, some very nice replica back covers and bottoms are available from Retro-Tronics.

Add a 3-wire cord grounded to the case (not the chassis). Failing that, then add polarized plug so that the chassis is always at ground potential (the larger prong of the plug). On wood cased AC-DC radios tape over the screws that hold the chassis to to case. Never use an AC-DC radio that is missing any knobs. Make sure (or have someone who knows how) make sure the chassis is isolated from any metal you can touch.

Other recommendations:

  • Add a [soft start] in-rush suppressor in the power circuit. This lengthens warm-up time but makes the tubes last almost forever.  The resistance of the filaments is rather low when cold and the in-rush current is rather high for a moment, this is why the dial light on these radios is momentarily very bright when turned on stone cold. At this moment the filaments (espescially in the 35 and 50 volt tubes) are under maximum stress. Limiting the in-rush allows for more gradual warm up.
  • I'd add a fuse to both legs of the power line, the 1 amp glass pigtail fuses work nicely in most AC-DC sets. Encase them in vinyl or heat-shrink tubing.
  • Keep spare antenna materials, I lost several antennas during Hurricane Ike: I actually lost them all!
  • Consider using an isolation transformer when operating on AC. These are de rigueur for servicing tube radios.
  • Go to and print out a schematic of your radio and keep it with the radio (inside the case in an envelope if space and safety permit). It'll help you or someone who knows how to fix your radio, down the road.
  • Keep a spare set of tubes. Make sure to test that they all actually work in the set. Most radios will operate sucessfuly with weak tubes except the converter tube. A weak one characterized by reception pooping out as you increase frequency. A really weak one will only operate on the bottom 1/2 of the broadcast band, forget about shortwave! The usual converter tubes (AC-DC) are 12SA7 and 12BE6.

As a side note, I own an example of the greatest AC-DC radio made: a Scott SLRM, it was made for the U.S. Navy during WWII. It is deadly by design. It is AC-DC but was primarily designed for use on the 120 Volt DC common to existing ships of the era. One side of the power line is tied to the case by design. This is okay for a ship with floating or polarized DC power, but deadly elsewhere. Mine has a permanent isolation transformer [, which with this design is a must for safety]. Regards, - "Tired Tubes"

JWR Replies: Thanks for those suggestions, particularly regarding grounding isolation transformers. By coincidence, I have been looking for a Scott SLRM for my family's use here at the ranch. If anyone out there has a spare that is gathering dust, I'm willing to pay the going retail price, or work a trade from the JASBORR inventory, for some goodies of slightly greater value. I'm not looking for gem. I just need a decent SLRM that is working and complete to start with, for restoration. The only real "must" is that the volume potentiometer isn't scratchy. The speaker can be blown, since I can replace that.) The tubes (other than the tuning eye) can be weak. Again, I can replace those.  The capacitors can be original.  I can re-cap it, and replace any resistors that are outside of their value specifications. I'll have who is a wizard with an oscilloscope a friend re-align it.  It can even have a tobacco smoke-stained front, but the dial must be nice and legible.  I'd prefer one with a civilian ID plate, but a Navy ID plate is okay if there is no corrosion.  I'd prefer one that is already set up with an isolation transformer of the appropriate size, but that isn't a must. Does this sound one that somebody out there has available? If so, please e-mail me. Thanks!

Thursday, June 16, 2011

We are located in the Southeastern United States. There are nine families in our "block", with the next neighborhood or community more than two miles away. I refer to it as a block because a major highway runs through it. The only dwellings on the major highway are three houses and one country store. The rest are on a "U" shaped secondary road that starts across from the store on the main highway and ends, back on the main Highway, 1 mile east, at a cross road. We are all contained in one square mile within that "U".

I should give you a little information about the location of our small neighborhood: When I use the term "neighborhood", it’s more like a community. Of the nine dwellings, the closest family unit consists of three houses side by side, (3 of the 4 buildings on the main road) and are kin to each other. Every one of the other houses are approximately 1/4 to 1 mile apart, each dwelling having acreage ranging from 10 to 60 acres. All but the store are accessible through the woods to each other. Surrounding our, "community", is approximately 5,000 acres of public forest land with an old but accessible fire tower lookout on a hill that would be a workable sniper position and place to coordinate and raise an alarm. If anyone ever sees a red flag go up, it means someone is approaching from the North, yellow, South, orange, East, and purple, West. Green is the all clear. Radios are being purchased to supplement the initial flag system.

The only way in or out of what we, as a community, decided to call, "the defensive zone", (which I will detail, later) is by one major highway, running East to West and one secondary road, (the "U" shaped road), which comes to a crossroads at the major highway. This major road leads to two major metropolitan cities. The secondary road leads to a couple of smaller cities. I believe this secondary road is going to be a major strategic checkpoint for keeping out the individuals and mobs that were lucky enough to escape the cities mentioned above, from entering and scavenging our defensive zone. The planning started with myself and and the owner of the local country store and campground. His business relies on the hunters coming in from all over the region. So, as he and I discussed, we already foresee a problem from the "regulars" that come in every year to hunt.

After reading an article in titled, Survival Security Tactics--In All Locations, by Roy K., we discussed organizing a small meeting after store hours to discuss setting up a community wide defensive zone, (if and when the SHTF or TEOTWAWKI), that was going to be not only defensible but prosperous long enough for the country to get back to some form of organization. We already meet at his store on Saturdays for a community watch program. We live so far outof town and and isolated that "Burglary by U-Haul" is already a very real threat. One neighbor had his whole house emptied with a U-Haul backed up to the door. Meanwhile, a roll back trailer was used to pull his entire shed, with 4-wheelers and lawn equipment in it, onto its bed and drive away with it. Another neighbor ¾-mile down the road saw the U-Haul and rollback go by but didn’t think anything of it at the time. Later, the so-called "police investigation" determined that the shed had been dragged onto a roll back and a dual wheel truck had backed up to the door.

We purposely left the children out of the meeting for fear that they would brag to their classmates that we were "playing army" or something to that effect. We pointed a web browser at SurvivalBlog and I started the meeting by reading the entire article aloud. When I was finished, several of the men had taken notes and were asking very relevant questions. What we finally came up with, (after four hours of discussion and re-reading the article), was that we, as a community needed a plan. We decided on ranks, so to speak, and also took up a collection to purchase two way radios for each family and we already have three members with ham radios.

We also decided, based on the article, which house was best defensible by line of sight and distance and how to get everyone to it in case of perimeter collapse. We came up with a plan to "build" a compound zone or safe zone and post guards at each entrance.

One of the hardest things to decide was who we let in, (if anyone) if there is a TEOTWAWKI with a Golden Horde pouring out of the cities. There were some that wanted just their brothers and sisters and their children, to others that wanted their whole extended families and assorted friends to be let in. After a pretty heated discussion about being able to sustain only a certain number of people for a certain amount of time, we decided that if someone’s family came and had something to contribute and were able to feed themselves and their children, (meaning all we would have to provide was security and lodging), would be considered for entrance. Those with nothing, but wanting us to feed, house and protect them because they had not planned ahead would be turned away.

The consensus of the group was that if the family members of those that had to be turned away had a choice to go with them, but that was the bottom line. As it explained in the article, I believe everyone understood that either we all survive together, or we split up and maybe end up dying separately.  Since we all decided to start buying and pooling our canned goods and long term storage foods, would we have enough to share. We were careful to take the time to decide where our food sources were to be stored based on perishable versus non-perishables and concealment. We have all started vegetable gardens and instructed to retain any non-hybrid seeds that we can for storage. The subject of seeds from “store bought” produce was raised. It was explained that in many cases the produce that you buy has been hybridized and the seeds saved from these plants will not germinate or have poor yields. I ordered non-hybrid seeds from The Seed Savers Exchange.

Two neighbors and I have deep wells for fresh water supply, as well as chlorine tablets and Clorox. We worked out, (and are still working out the minor details), a water rationing system based on the number of people in each household and special needs.

We touched a little on pets, but mostly on livestock. Four of the families have chickens, two have horses and a milk cow, and I have chickens, quail, turkey, goats and pasture. Also discussed was the possibility that one or all of us may have to take out what we deem threats to our "own little city”, and agreed that if it had to be done to save the lives of our families and friends, it had to be done. In the end we compared what each of us have now and what we need. We have already started the collecting and storing process, and by the beginning of July, we are going to start practicing setting up the perimeters and guards.

What we have done is create our own “safe zone” or independent town. We have our sons (and a few daughters), cutting out a network of trails to and from each other’s houses. The younger ones, 8-11, are under the impression that they are for paintball games and the older boys know what the trails are actually for and are kind of “supervising”.  Also, the hunters of the group are mapping the game trails and I have built a pistol and rifle range on my forty acres to get together on Sunday afternoons to practice with our primary, "SHTF" weapons, which consist mainly of .308 hunting rifles (at least one of each in every family) and a few 9mm pistols, and one bolt-action .50 BMG. Several others have AR-15, FN-FAL, and SKS semi-auto rifles

I ordered and received topographical maps in just a few minutes from the USGS.  I suggest anyone working on a survival or bug-out plan, get the maps needed for your area or where you intend on bugging out to. They show in detail, elevation, accessible roads, rivers and streams.

The hardest part of the discussion was, if we had any casualties, where were they to be buried. I believe we came to an agreement that they would be laid to rest in an old pre-Civil war graveyard that is almost in the middle of our ”compound”. We decided that if we had to bug-out, everyone was given a laminated map, each with a different route, so that if anyone survived we could rendezvous and regroup.

I suggest that if you and your family have not made a plan, you do so now. Time is running out. If I had not taken the time to read the aforementioned SurvivalBlog article, I would probably still be sitting in from of the television instead of implementing a plan. If nothing else, you will get to know your neighbors a lot better and find the ones that you can trust to be there for you and you for them, when the time comes, and it is coming!

Thanks for the information your blog provides. It is invaluable to those who should, and will practice it. It might just keep you and yours alive.

Wednesday, June 15, 2011

I often have SurvivalBlog readers write to ask me about vacuum tube technology and its robustness in EMP and CME events, and which antique multi-band vacuum tube radios to look for. I'm also asked how to determine which models can be run on both AC and DC power.

To begin, vacuum tubes are inherently "hard" to EMP and CME but not invulnerable. They are also relatively safe from lightning strikes--but again not invulnerable. Modern integrated circuits are at the opposite end of the scale for vulnerability. In essence, the smaller gates in a microcircuit, the greater its vulnerability. In recent years, chip makers have been creating chips with gates smaller than .3 microns. They are very vulnerable! In fact just an inadvertent discharge of static electricity can destroy a chip.

Often, questions from my readers turn to the now legendary Zenith Trans-Oceanic portable radios. Although I love the older tube type Zenith Trans-Oceanics, I must admit that they're not the best choice for preppers. This is because they require two different DC voltages to operate, and they lack a beat frequency oscillator (BFO). Furthermore, since they are now so collectible they are also much higher-priced than many other vacuum tube multi-band radios. Therefore, as much as I love my G500--I think it's one of most handsome radios designed in the 20th Century--I wouldn't recommend it for a serious survivalist. For details on Zenith Trans-Oceanics, see the book Zenith Trans-Oceanic: The Royalty of Radios.

The tube radio that I recommend most highly is the Hallicrafters S-38E. This is a very sturdy four band radio that has broad coverage from 550 KHz on the AM band all the way up to 32 MHz. This model was manufactured from 1956 to 1961. It has several advantages over the Trans-Oceanics:

  1. It requires only one input voltage that can range from 105 to 125 Volts, AC or DC.
  2. It has a proper vernier scale (horizontal) tuning dial. (Which all of the the early Trans-Oceanics lacked.)
  3. It has a separate band spread tuning dial (which all tube type Trans-Oceanics lack.) Band spread tuning makes fine tuning much much easier.
  4. It has a BFO setting. Granted, this is not a modern pitch-adjustable BFO, but the pitch can be adjusted by using the band spread tuner. You will find that it takes just a bit of practice to become accustomed to adjusting the the BFO for either manual Morse or single sideband voice transmissions.
  5. It has a "standby" setting, which temporarily deactivates the receiver so that a separate transmitter can be used side-by-side, without destroying your receiver's circuitry.
  6. It was a very popular model and hence produced in large numbers for several years. This means that spare parts are readily available and the price of used radios is quite reasonable.

One disadvantage is that a S-38E draws more current than a Trans-Oceanic. But at at least it draws less current than a big 9-tube "Boat anchor" receiver with a huge transformer.

Granted, there are many other general coverage vacuum tube receivers available, made by a variety of makers including Drake, National, Heathkit, and Hammarlund. And many of those have some features that are superior to the S-38E. But most of those radios do not have AC-DC flexibility. And most of them are much more expensive and use much harder to find tubes. And, as I mentioned, most of them draw much more current, which is a poor choice if you are going to power a radio from a battery bank. For the money, I think that a restored Hallicrafters S-38E is ideal for preparedness-minded families. There are very few other radios available for under $100 that will fill the same role. And incidentally, at an average auction price of $65, that is very close to the radio's final catalog price of $59.95. Given the ravages of inflation on the U.S. Dollar, I consider these radios a tremendous bargain. (A product that cost $60 in 1960 would cost $455 in 2011 Dollars!)

The All-Americans
There are many other vacuum tube tabletop radios that can operate on both AC and DC that were made for the mass market. These are often referred to as "All-American Five" and "All-Americans Six" radios. (In auction listings, sometime written "AA-5" and "AA6".) These are typical tabletop radios produced in the US and Canada from the 1930s to late 1950s. They can be identified by simply looking in the back of a tube radio set. If you don't see a large transformer, but instead see only five or six vacuum tubes sticking up from the chassis, then odds are that it is an AC and DC compatible radio. But if it has a big transformer, then it is an AC-only radio. (This is just a general rule for identification, so be advised there are some exceptions. For details, see the book The All-American Five Radio: Understanding and Restoring Transformerless Radios of the 1940'S, 50'S, and 60's.)

Many of the All-American Five" and "All-Americans Six" are two banders that can receive both AM and shortwave. But be advised that many of these have shortwave coverage only from 2 to 5 MHz, which is not particularly useful for modern international shortwave listening in the northern hemisphere. Coverage from 5 to 12 MHz is better, and coverage from 5 to 18 MHz is ideal. Also, be advised that very few of these radios incorporated a BFO. This makes them incapable of the modulating continuous wave (CW) and single sideband broadcasts. I suppose that you could use an add-on BFO module, but that would probably be solid-state circuitry, and hence vulnerable to EMP.) Lastly, nearly all of them lack band spread tuning. This makes precise tuning and compensation for drift very difficult.

The best place to find multi-band vacuum tube radios (such as the Hallicrafters S-38E) is on eBay or at your local ham radio swap meet. Unless you have considerable experience with soldering iron, then I'd recommend buying one that has already had all of it's older-style electrolytic capacitors replaced with modern capacitors. The slang term for this procedure is "re-capping." If you buy a tube radio at a garage sale, even if you're told that operates perfectly, don't take it home and just plug it in. Old leaky capacitors have a tendency to go "bang" with the initial high current in-rush of switching on a radio. So I recommend that you immediately take a new "find" to a friend who's an experienced in radio electronics and have it thoroughly checked out. Make sure that it's been recapped and is safe to operate. It also may or may not need to be "realigned". If it is an untouched tube radio, then odds are that at a minimum it will need a new power cord installed and will need to have its electrolytic capacitors replaced, in order for it to be safe to operate.

Running on DC
To operate an All-American Five" and "All-Americans Six" on DC, all you need to do is obtain nine or ten charged 12 volt batteries, and cable them together in series, (connecting positive terminals to negative terminals, in a chain). Make sure to use proper heavy duty brass screw-type battery cable clamps, and 10 gauge or larger cable. (And if you will be drawing more current than operating just one radio, then you will need even heavier gauge cabling!) If fully charged, a nine battery bank will yield around 108 Volts DC. Once the charge on each battery starts to drop below 12 Volts, simply add another battery to the series chain, to boost the combined voltage back above 105 Volts. A bank of 10 typical 12-volt car batteries will suffice, but a bank of 20 6-volt deep cycle (golf cart or marine type ) batteries would be fantastic. Warning: Keep safety in mind whenever working with batteries. The combined current of a DC battery bank is enough to kill an elephant. (BTW, so can the discharge of a high value capacitor--so even a radio that is turned off can zap you if you poke your finger in the wrong place!) Battery acid spills and vapor explosions are also well-documented hazards. Do not attempt to wire a battery bank unless you know what you're doing. If you have any doubts whatsoever, then please consult someone locally who has experience with DC wiring. Any older ham radio operator or even someone that works of electric golf carts will be able to assist you.

Spare Parts
Depending on your radio, the only spare parts that you will need for most vacuum tube radios are a spare main power fuse and a spare set of tubes. Most of these tubes are very reasonably priced. An S38-E, for example, requires one each of these five tubes: 12AV6, 12BE6, 35W4, 50C5, and 12BA6. You can often buy a full set of five on eBay for less than $30, all still in "new old stock" (NOS) condition.

The low-cost tube advantage doesn't apply if you buy a later Zenith Trans-Oceanic, which includes a 1L6 in the tube line-up. (The 1L6 tube is very scarce and expensive--so scarce in fact that some hobbyists have resorted to some elaborate work-arounds.)

The Sunspots are Coming!
We've just gone through more than eight years of horrible shortwave listening because the sunspot numbers were so low. (Good HF propagation depends on the solar wind charging the ionosphere.) This poor shortwave propagation caused a lot of shortwave listeners to give up on the hobby. But we've now passed the unusually long sunspot minimum and are coming back into higher sunspot numbers--and hence better propagation. Hooray!

I strongly recommend that anyone interested in buying shortwave radio equipment buy it soon, before strong interest in the hobby resumes. Once the good propagation resumes, HF ham transceivers and general coverage receivers gear will ratchet up in price. Buy now, while the gear is still inexpensive!

What You Will Need
Here are the basics of what you will need to enjoy shortwave radio listening with an older tube radio:

  • The receiver itself, properly re-capped and aligned.
  • Some antenna cabling
  • A long wire or dipole antenna
  • A ground wire and grounding rod
  • Access to frequency listings and broadcasts schedules

(There are frequency listings available on the Internet, but I recommend getting a recent copy of the World Radio & TV Handbook.)

In an Austere Environment
To operate in an austere (grid down) environment you will also need:

  • A battery bank. (Preferably deep cycle marine batteries) In the event of an extended emergency you will need PV, wind, or micro-hydro power, for re-charging.
  • Battery cabling.
  • Battery maintenance equipment. (Goggles, rubber gloves, distilled water, baking soda, terminal brush, cable tools, et cetera.)
  • An antenna lightning arrestor
  • Spare tubes and fuses
  • Hard copy frequency listings. (Such as the World Radio & TV Handbook or print-outs from Internet web pages.)


The foregoing represents just one approach to shortwave listening in an post-EMP or post-CME world. Plan B might be to simply purchase several compact battery powered compact modern shortwave radios, and keep them all in separate Faraday enclosures. You can break them out sequentially, as needed. Or Plan C might be to got totally "old school" and build crystal radios or one-tube regenerative radios. (Their drawbacks have previously been discussed in SurvivalBlog.)

My only other proviso about buying and restoring vacuum tube radios is that it is an addictive hobby. (As my late father once told me, "If you're going to have an addiction, make it a positive one.") I have accumulated several of these radios, and spend many hours tinkering with them. They are great fun.

Collecting and restoring old shortwave radios represents a great way to teach your children about electronics, electrical safety, batteries, battery chemistry, battery maintenance, circuit theory, antenna theory, antenna construction, radio propagation, and much more. And once you start tuning through the bands, international shortwave listening is a captivating entree to teaching your children about geography, time zones, geopolitics, and the history of the 20th Century. I highly recommend it.

Tuesday, June 14, 2011

This is in response to an earlier letter where a reader asserted that his knowledge as an electronics engineer will be of little use after TEOTWAWKI. He is wrong, we will not abandon all the technology invented over the past 100+ years. Say for example we are hit with the big solar event, several EMPs and most solid state electronics are destroyed. One component that will survive is the vacuum tube. There will still be means to generate electricity here and there that will not be affected, hydroelectric generators will still spin, steam turbines, some of these can be homemade on a small scale. Once you have any electricity you can use vacuum tubes to build all kinds of communication gear. Sure there are some very high priced tubes geared to the high fidelity audio market, but all the old radio and television tubes from yesteryear can be had from free to just a few dollars from various sites and garage sales. You can build a decent sounding audio amplifier with some 6GH8A tubes and a number of different horizontal output tubes for example.

Tubes are easy to design with and very forgiving. The circuits are simple. If you keep on hand a collection of tubes, resistors, capacitors, some various sizes of magnet wire to make your own transformers and coils and old transformers to modify, most laminated (E-I core types) power transformers can be de-laminated and redesigned and rewound by hand if need be, even some old tube radios, the possibilities are endless. Sure you will need some way to solder things together, a fire and a chunk of copper with a handle even works in a pinch as a soldering iron. You just have to think 100 years ago.

An old fan with a modified motor on a pole can make a small amount of electricity from wind, all you need to do is take it apart and put some magnets in the rotor, maybe isolate some windings, this is easier done now with machine tools.

An electronics engineer should start thinking what he needs to have on hand now before the SHTF. Do not discount your knowledge, just think old school, and you will be amazed what you can do. No you can’t make a computer easily but you can really help your community more that you think. As an electronics engineer I love the challenge of fixing anything. Thank you James for all you do and God bless. - Jimmy in California

JWR Replies: I agree! Don't under-rate ingenuity and resourcefulness. Speaking of which, I've posted a YouTube video from France once before in the blog, but it is apropos to repeat the link: Hand-Making Vacuum Tubes. OBTW, tomorrow, I plan to post an article that I penned about 1950s-vintage general coverage receivers that use vacuum tubes.

Sunday, June 5, 2011

I would like to offer a suggestion and a word of caution concerning F.J.B. suggestions for secure and private communications.

The suggestion is the computer media containing the data.  Instead of trying to find a small thumb drive or a thumb drive in some nondescript package, one should look at the MicroSD card.  These generally come with an SD card carrier and SD card writers are inexpensive and small.  Once removed from the carrier, the MicroSD card measures only 11x15x1 mm (.43x..59x.04 inches) and is available in sizes up to 64 GB.  This extremely small gadget can easily be hidden in clothing or elsewhere.

The warning has to do with encoding and decoding book ciphers.  One method used by code-breakers is to look for word frequency using identical cipher text symbols, so the way to beat the code-breakers in this case is to use multiple cipher-text symbols for the intended word.  In the example, the word safe was represented as 2-37-17.  If that word or others were used multiple times in the message, or in different messages for that matter, this could give the code breakers a starting point.  The way around this is to find the same word "safe" someplace else within the key books, so that perhaps 2-73-5 and 3-21-89 also reference the same word.  The apparent randomness of the cipher-text makes it harder to break. - L.V.Z. in Ohio

JWR Replies: I agree with your warning on book codes. Just as with a "one time pad", you should not use the same code sequence twice. If using a "book code", simply draw a line through the word, so that you don't use the same word position code again.

Saturday, June 4, 2011

As an electronics and computer engineer for the past 30 years my personal skill sets are of limited but interesting value after TEOTWAWKI. Given that there may be very limited electricity, and/or the fact that CME/EMP may destroy most electronics devices, the need for these skills may be rare. I feel that these skills will be mostly useless unless you are part of a sustainable group of retreatists that have electricity and devices that use it. I plan to be part of such a group, and so I am planning ahead to make sure that my skills can be applied when required. This will require that I consult with the group on what brands and models of devices will be on hand. With this information I can stock up on spare parts, test equipment, etc. Electronics will fail and will have to be repaired. Comm gear, generators, vehicles, security systems will all need to be maintained and without proper planning even a knowledgeable technician will be unable to accomplish very much.

When I need to repair a device, whatever it is, I need several things:

1.    Schematic diagrams - These are the blueprints on how an electronic device operates. Diagnosing and repairing anything will be difficult without the schematics.

2.    Test equipment. The most basic tool is the VOM (volt-ohm meter). With this tool and the schematics you can identify and fix many problems in consumer electronics.

3.    Spare parts. This is sort of obvious, but you can't fix things without parts.

In my way opinion, the availability of schematics and spare parts should determine what devices you are going to stock in your retreat. State-of-the-art comm gear is great if you have five spares and a dedicated support team to fix them, not so good if you are 40 miles and three years removed from civilization. A device needs to be sustainable by less than factory methods, and in the field, post-TEOTWAWKI, this will near impossible for individuals. For that reason, I lean towards older gear that has survived to this point. I look for gear that has easily obtainable spare parts that can be replaced by hand with common electronics tools. This means discrete components (resistors, transistors, etc)..... no surface-mount components and as few integrated circuits as possible. We have to go back to the 70's and early 80's for this stuff. Most of us will not have the equipment or spare parts needed to repair currently available electronics. The parts are just too small, to specialized. Furthermore, there are no schematics available for a large portion of modern, throw-away electronics.

This is why as an individual, or as a group, planning to support your electronics gear should take time and care. I am planning on buying as near identical and as many as I can find of particular pieces of gear. This will be gear that I can obtain parts and schematics for, NOW. I want as few different models as possible. I want complete spare units, spare parts, and good quality, well-protected schematics. I want these units to provide me with the needed functions, but as few bells and whistles as possible. I want to be able to test, tune, and modify the gear beforehand, and then put it into safe storage until needed. When looking for manuals, schematics, etc., look at sites like for almost any electronic equipment. Ebay is also a great place to get service manuals, schematics, etc.

Knowing how to fix electronic gear, or even being able to attempt to fix it will be a big plus if it's gear that has become important to your daily life. Things like comm gear, battery chargers, solar controllers, generators, etc. While maybe not defining life or death, these devices will be able to help you be safer and more comfortable. Having a member of your group that has these capabilities, will become very important when something is broken. If you decide to take this on yourself, and have never been involved in electronics repair, consider taking a class at a local tech school or college. Whatever source of education you you choose, make sure you will get basic electronics theory to start, and then move to more advanced topics. A great place to start learning about electronics is watching this collection of online tutorials. Be sure that you get the principles of transistor theory down, since this is the type of circuitry we will be most likely to be able to repair. More modern equipment is still based on transistor circuits, but the transistors themselves are more often than not part of an integrated circuit that is more specialized, harder to find, and harder to replace. Once you become a bit more acquainted with the theories of electronic circuits I would also suggest that you play around with some ham radio equipment. Attend some local group meetings, get to know the old timers, ask questions, and get some gear to experiment with. Ham radio guys are some of the most savvy electronics guys around, and they are generally very pleasant and generous with time and knowledge.

Consider getting a n amateur radio ("ham") license. There are plenty of useful, practical ham projects you can build, either from individually sourced parts or from the many companies that offer kits. Start with a simple receiver, since you can listen for signals from other hams. After that, build a matching transmitter and antenna. Once you get that accomplished you have made great strides in your skills. Along the way you will learn about power supplies, amplifiers, etc. Soon the mysteries of how things work will be distant memory. Much of the theory can be applied to other gear that has electronics as part of the larger functionality, such as a generator. The skill to fix a down generator or battery charger will be without a price.

When learning to repair electronic devices, test equipment such as multi-meters, oscilloscopes, signal generators, etc. are needed to troubleshoot, and then you need tools like soldering irons to effect repairs. Start with simple repair jobs like replacing cords, broken wires and then tackle more intricate work as your skill level increases. Replacing discreet electronic components is fairly easy if you have decent vision and good tools. You must remove faulty components before you install new ones, and that usually involves heating a solder join on a circuit board with a soldering iron, and then removing the molten solder from the component leads with a 'solder-sucker'. A solder sucker is a hand-cocked vacuum device that has a spring-loaded plunger that is used to create a small vacuum at the tip of a tube when the plunger is released. The vacuum removes the heated solder and leaves the component leads free to be removed. Here's a great video to show you how its done. installing the new component is easy, just place the leads of the new component through the circuit board holes, quickly heat the lead with the solder iron and apply solder to the point where the lead goes through the board. Clip any excess leads from the component and you are finished. When soldering some components like small signal transistors, you might to use a heat sink to keep the device from getting too hot during soldering. Us a small alligator clip attached to the untrimmed component leads during soldering. This will allow the alligator clip to dissipate some of the heat from your soldering iron.

As far as electronics go, with some sense of power availability, a properly planned retreat need not be "roughing-it". Conserving power may indeed be required, but there could be instances where the preferred method of cooking something is with a microwave. Perhaps an electric clock, radios (news and music, not comm), maybe a record player. Whatever the device, consider looking for gear that is not digital, has no digital displays, no keypads, etc. Older microwaves had a timer and a start button... very easy to repair or bypass, and less suspect to failure from EMP or lightning. I would prefer to equip my retreat with all of the devices I use now, just older, or at least less sophisticated models that would be easier to keep running. I look for these at thrift stores, yard sales, swap meets, eBay, and Craigslist. If the price is right, and there are more than one, I buy several since the best spare parts source is a complete spare unit. Not only that, a working unit can be a very good tool for troubleshooting a failed unit. Now, before the SHTF is the time to test, repair, and modify your gear.

Once you have gained some knowledge and are familiar with electronic gear, start looking for some to put into inventory. Go to eBay and look for an older radio transceiver for CB or ham bands, then try and find the schematics and/or service manuals for it. For this type of gear it can often be had as a part of a collection known as "Sam's Photofacts". These were published as service guides for electronics repairmen, and will contain most everything you will need to repair and tune your radio. If you can't find the schematics, consider a different piece of gear. Things like refrigerators, AC units, microwaves and electric ovens will often have schematics attached to the inside of the housing or chassis. For things like battery chargers, generators, etc, schematics may be hard to find. As soon as you buy a piece of gear, start hunting for the schematics, service manuals, and any operators manuals. Contact the manufacturer or distributor and ask for them, if they are available most often they will sell or just give them to you. Look on the companies web site, often the docs you are looking for will be available for download. Once you have your documents, make copies of them and store them in two separate, well-protected places.

While looking for gear to purchase, don't overlook gear that is not functional. The easiest gear to repair is often gear that will not power on. This can often be traced to a bad power cord, switch, or fuse. When you are at a flea market, thrift store, garage sale, etc., and see a non-functional piece of equipment, you can usually get it for a very low price. Take your time and look for obvious problems such as cords or fuses. Ask the seller if they know how the unit behaves. I the correct power is available, ask to plug it in. I once bought a very nice television that would not power on for $1 at a yard sale! It turned out to be a bad connection on the back of the set where the power cord attached. Very cheap prices can be worth the gamble, and if you can't fix it, there may be parts you can salvage for other gear. If all else fails, you can throw the equipment away and have only lost a very small investment, and you may have learned something in the process. Don't be afraid to open things up and take a look around! Often you can spot a loose wire, or a bad component just by looking. Bad components often become discolored or burnt, and some bad capacitors are often swollen or burst open. These are easy to spot and should be fairly easy to replace with some patience and some practice.

For spare parts, look at the parts list and/or schematics. Try and find replacement parts for transistors, diodes, and tubes. When an exact part number replacement is not available look for a parts substitution from ECG, NTE, or a similar company. It's probably not worth trying to stock spares for resistors and capacitors, but instead stock up on these in small bulk assortments. Resistors and capacitors are available in large assortments of common values. If a replacement is needed and no exact replacement is handy you can often just get close, or combine two or more components to get the required value. Other spare parts you may want to consider are things like microphones, power connectors, antenna, and fuses. (Unless you just have to, don't operate your gear without the correct fuses!)

Above all, remember that most electronics devices are happy and safe when they are dry and have the correct power supply voltages applied. If you keep them dry and don't drop them, stomp on them, or shoot them they will keep working. To that end, store and operate your gear in dry environments, and make sure you have thought to provide the proper input power for them. Whenever possible, try and buy equipment that uses a common supply voltage such as 120 VAC or 12 VDC (at least here in the US). In coming articles I intend to discuss how to build small power supply systems that can be switched or adjusted to provide different supply voltages to several different pieces of gear at the same time, from a common input power source. I also have articles planned for antenna design and construction, and an article for passively reducing your transmitter output to limit the effective range and your RF visibility.

Friday, June 3, 2011

After reading the recent SurvivalBlog article on “Keeping Your Communications Private” I went on eBay to see an endless variety of Flash drives that are very small and very camouflaged as to what they are. My wife and I will be going on a cruise later in the year and one of the cruise line’s suggestion is a flash drive to store copies of important documents.   I already do this for my BOB but I wanted something that we could carry that does not look like a flash drive. There were several options available at varying prices. I settled on purchasing a 2GB storage device that looks like a gift card/credit card and two that look like a leather wristbands. Naturally we will encrypt the information and put what ever programs might be needed to view the files, such as Open Office Portable and some sort of .pdf reader.   I read your post daily and enjoy them very much.   Thanks, - C.C. in East Texas

I am a QuickBooks consultant and bookkeeper. In this capacity,  I frequently need to transport a client's data files (In addition to my own records). I became concerned about the possibility of identity theft and my own liability. The elements of employee information contained in the typical data file is all the thief requires to create havoc.

For some years I used password protected SanDisk USB flash drives only to discover that the encryption/decryption required the host CPU and was vulnerable to hacking. (Later a team discovered that one didn't even need to hack the decrypt password but that's another story).

After more searching I found the Ironkey Personal. The entire device is encased in epoxy inside a sturdy metal shell. This makes it Mil Spec + waterproof and tamper proof as well as (if capped and not plugged into a port) EMP resistant. Encryption is achieved via an onboard chip which will self destruct (Mr. Phelps) after 10 unsuccessful password entries. This leaves the contents forever scrambled beyond any reasonable recovery. Many other features. I store  QuickBooks and Quicken data files on the device and run the applications on a machine addressing the files directly on the IronKey. As a result when I log off and detach the device the current files are securely stored on the IronKey with no trace on the client machine.

Check it out. It is seriously secure. - W.D.

Thursday, June 2, 2011

In this age of continuing disregard for an individual’s privacy, it can be difficult to keep your communications private. Warrant-less phone taps, postal service mail tracking, RF scanners,  and random roadside searches will appear fairly tame once the strip-searches start at the mall. Of course, this is their goal but even non-government snoopers are out there scanning your ID, listening to your phone calls, and trying to hack into your email. Going somewhere? Who knows your schedule? Did someone overhear your plans? How can you know?

What has happened to our right to privacy? Many people today are so beaten by the system that they have clearly given up. I have heard some people comment that they have “nothing to hide”, and sometimes even welcome a search to prove it. They “don’t mind” giving up their rights. “Go ahead and listen to my phone calls. I have nothing to hide.” They sometimes question why you wouldn’t be willing to give up your rights. They will also most likely be the first ones in line for the free government shower program, too.

News, current events, family issues, reports of local happenings, detailed instructions, requests for aid; all these things and more may one day be kept from being reported by main stream methods.  Getting a message through several hands and ultimately delivered to your intended recipient will require trust and perhaps some old school methods. Some of these methods are discussed here, but I welcome comments and any ideas others may have.

Thumb Drives

On the high-tech side (from a low-tech guy) of privacy I have seen several products I think offer a higher level of security. Ironkey makes a flash memory "thumb" drive that near self destructs when someone other than intended tries to gain access to the info it holds. “The encryption chip self-destructs if an invasive attack is detected”.  Super Talent makes a flash drive dubbed the "Pico" that is so small it could be hidden almost anywhere on most anything.  The smallest flash drive could be hidden on a person or in a coat or even be delivered by homing pigeon. I have also seen a working, cigarette lighter/thumb drive that conjures up images of  trench coat-wearing strangers meeting at a train station in eastern Europe.  

Thumb drives can be used to relay private messages in several ways. The info can be encoded and transferred from laptop to laptop to its end user, or  the drive can be encrypted and delivered to the end user. They can be used as a “cyber dead-drop” by hiding and fixing them in relatively public places for multiple users to upload/download info to or from. A thumb drive set in mortar into a brick wall where someone with a laptop could conceivably plug-in, download the info, and continue on their way would be one such “cyber dead drop“.  All the time the thumb drive remains fixed in the wall. The internet has several very creative examples of thumb drive dead drops posted on Youtube. The greatest concern with using a thumb drive for private communications at dead drops would be infections from the “unknown” user.
The giveaway and ultimate end to all dead drops is “noticed activity” by an outsider. This would give the outsider the opportunity to download a virus to the thumb drive dead drop, effectively damaging everyone else

Hard Wired Field Phones

Anyone who has ever seen a surplus catalog knows what a military field telephone is. They are still available from many sources at reasonable prices. These phones were designed for military field operations and used between fixed or encamped bases. They were considered to be more secure than a regular phone system since the hard wire was point-to-point rather than through a switchboard where “others” might listen in. This is still the case. Your phone conversations, whether cellular or land-line-wired (or digital fiber optic), are readily listened to and easily monitored without your knowledge. Radio transmissions can be monitored as well. Having a secure phone from point-to-point is an excellent means to keep your communications private.

These field phones run off a dynamo and a battery and are also compatible with the old style Stromberg Carlson phones you find in antique shops. They will also work with fencing as the transmission wire! Few would suspect you had a private line to your neighbor or friends house if you used the existing fence wire or even just ran the phone wire in the fence. City dwellers have been know to run the direct phone wire through the sewer pipes as well. Some of these phones work with up to two miles of wire. We have several phones placed around the property at cabin locations to call guests to dinner or help take out the trash.

Dead Drops

Through the years, dead drops have been used with mixed results. The ultimate end to a specific dead drop comes when locals notice activity. With this in mind, a more remote dead drop might last longer.

Usually a sign is left for another to notice and know that there is something of interest at the dead drop. The sign could be a chalk mark on a post, an Irish flag flying in a garden, a potted plant moved to the other side of a porch or any number of unremarkable things commonly unnoticed.  The dead drop itself could be a hole in a tree, a hollowed out slat in a park bench, a cavity behind a loose brick in a warehouse or any other uncommonly known hiding place. It could also be a remote drop location such as a shallow hole dug 10 steps off a highway mile marker post. Some have used a 5 gallon pail with a screw top Gamma Seal Lid as a buried dead drop. Some are hidden in plain view in the middle of town and others are out on lonely roads.

Dead drops can be used for delivering messages or objects. They can also be used as a collective cache location for supplies. An excellent book that demonstrated the use of dead drops in difficult times is Treblinka by Chil Rajchman. In the book, several like-minded people knew of the dead drop’s location and borrowed items, as needed, from the dead drop, returning them clean, immediately after the use. In this way, a large group of people can gain the use of a very limited amount of tools, supplies or resources.

A series of dead drops can also be used to deliver messages and items great distances.

Coded Messages

Many books can be written about codes, ciphers and secret messages. Today, even with modern technology and a Captain Midnight Secret Decoder Ring some codes will never be broken. A relatively safe code system for private messages is one that uses a common book or books as a “key”. Make a list of five of your favorite books and then go out and buy two of each of them. Be sure the two-of-each are the same printing and edition. Double check them by randomly opening pages and seeing that the second book matches the first exactly. Number the books 1 to 5 on the inside of the back cover and give your friend one of the sets.  Boxed sets of books work well, too.

Hopefully all the words you expect to use in your message are contained within the 5 books you picked. Some of you may have to pick more technical books to get all the words you want included.

The message you send will look like a series of numbers that relate to the number of the book (1 through 5), the page the word is on, and the number of the word on that page.

Example: I find the word “safe” in book 2, page 37, and then I count the words on that page and find that “safe” is the 17th word on that page. The code would read: 2,37,17 for the word “safe”.  

This type of code system makes for short and to the point messages but certainly private communication between only those who have the key books.
The great thing about this code system is that everyone has books and you can use books by anyone you choose; Steven King, Tom Clancy or even James Wesley, Rawles.

[JWR Adds: To minimize the chance of having a book code broken, it is best to buy two copies of some obscure "remainder" novel from the bargain table at Barnes & Noble--not a best-selling book, or any book that is associate with an"cause"!]

Coded messages like this can also be sent by any method you choose including radio and phone after the SHTF.

This type of code system can also be employed by Mutual Assistance Groups (MAGs) when communication privacy is of utmost importance.

Keeping your communications private will prove to be more and more difficult as bureaucrats look for new ways to use the new and intrusive technology that continues to develop. Older, low-tech methods of communication may have to be used when privacy is your biggest concern.

A secure communications network is impossible without trustworthy and like-minded people. The greatest tool in private communication is a network of trustworthy people. Finding and developing such a network is not an easy task and will become much more difficult to do after an economic, political, or societal collapse. Whom do you trust?

Tuesday, May 31, 2011

This is a review of considerations for civilian dress for basic self defense in most areas. Be advised some of these suggestions may be illegal where you live, follow all laws when dressing defensively.

The goal of this article is to re-think basic aspects of normal street clothes and minimize any possible negative aspects of normal street clothes for purposes of self defense.

An important consideration to this task is understanding your own personal Threat Matrix.  A Threat Matrix is the likely risks you personally have to face in your day to day life.  Are you an ordinary citizen in a middle income neighborhood?  Are you a working man or women in a rougher part of town?  A high profile business or media personality?  You will all have slightly different most likely threatening scenarios and you need to plan your wardrobe (notice the beginning of the word, it says war!) accordingly.  With the knowledge that a violent incident is likely to be launched within two seconds time, you need to build up a plan of action from that first second onwards that gives you the highest probability of survival.

A related development in this discussion in the marketplace of products catering to those interested in self-defense is the commercialization of “combat sports,” there has been a slew of clothing and other products marketed to fans of sports like “mixed martial arts.” These products have features such as short pants with special seams and moisture-wicking material designed to enhance comfort while performing these activities.   Like most “fadish” fashion accessories, most of these products have more bark then bite and brands like Tap Out and Bad Boy cater to a certain demographic that James Wesley, Rawles would surely refer to in jest as “mall ninjas.”  

Full disclaimer, the author trains in “mixed martial arts” and can wholeheartedly recommend a previous Survival Blog post on the subject.

This article is focused on non-sport clothing and gear for everyday carry.  What my fellow martial artists and I use to train and sweat in at the gym doesn’t correspond to what we would like to dress in every day.

Let's start from the bottom:

1) Socks.  Some combat veterans would argue that comfortable socks are your second most important clothing (ask your local Vietnam vet!).  These days short sports socks designed to wick moisture away are a good bet. Keeping your feet comfortable and dry aids in minimizing distractions or possible discomfort.  For those of us “very good” at cooling our bodies down with sweat black socks tend to keep the best color for the longest period of time.

2) Wear gel foot insoles in your shoes.  Gel insoles are not just for grandpa, they aid in protecting your feet and joints when walking or running long distances and can cushion the impact in the event of needing to make a large jump.  Be sure they do not slip excessively in the shoes you wear while running.

3) Shoes.  There are tons of options available for shoes but in light of needs for self-defense, I suggest the lightest non-boot steel toed shoes you can find.  Not only does this protect your foot from heavy objects, it makes a formidable self defense tool capable of stopping the largest of attackers with a minimum of effort.

4) Wear pants that provide as much leg range of motion as possible. God knows I love skinny jeans but I can't kick or knee strike in those for the life of me.  Make sure the hips have a wide range of motion. Optional pants are BDU style such as made by Blackhawk that have extra pockets, built-in tourniquets for each leg, and ultra secure waist and pockets.  Non-camouflage versions of these pants are to be preferred over military style pants in the interests of attracting the least amount of attention from onlookers in your day to day activities.

5) Just as important as your pants is your belt.  I recommend trainer or rappelling capable belts made out of strong nylon material with metal belt buckles.  I find it highly unlikely that you may have to use the belt for rappelling purposes, however if you are trained in how to safely use it the functionality is there and in an emergency the belt can be removed and the heavy metal buckles can be used as a self-defense weapon.

6) Belt mounted horizontal knife sheaf.  In this wear a legal sized foldable knife with a quick release button.  Knives with a slight serrated edge are to be preferred over simply straight knives. Depending on the type of area that you live you may want to get a carbon steel blade over a stainless steel blade.  With a magnesium based fire tool, carbon steel blades can make sparks to light kindling whereas a stainless steel blade cannot.  There are compelling reasons to consider a fixed-blade knife for this purpose, just be aware that state and local laws for the length of the blade can vary considerably or in some draconian places be outlawed completely.  

7) Keychain tools.  A bare minimum of keychain tools is a) a multitool, b) an LED flashlight.  Others may wish to add a "rape whistle."  These whistles are not just suitable in signifying an emergency, they can also initiate a signal to action or get someone's attention. A Kubotan pen or even more devious since it is not normally considered capable of being used as a weapon, the ubiquitous sharpie pen marker is made with a hard and indestructible plastic that would suit this purpose well.

8) Shirts / Hoodies.  Some of the best new technology include shirts that are "slash proof" against knives and other sharp objects. Although these products mainly protect against a slashing motion and not a stabbing attack, the level of protection this offers is better then nothing and can be instrumental in saving your life in a life and death situation. Look at for products.  I am also fond of the Condor hoodie jacket with multiple arm pockets, rear back pockets, and moisture resistant material.

9) Jacket's with lots of pockets.  The more stuff you can carry on your self without a backpack the better. This will help help you carry other items such as a) ear plugs, essential for hearing protection in a CCW or firearm situation, b) comfort items such as a power bar, eye drops, lip balm, c) Swedish fire starters, d) larger flashlight such as a Surefire Defender with the ability to temporarily blind or hurt assailants, e) a few condoms wouldn't be a bad idea, especially since they have outdoor survival potential for holding water and are highly elastic. I also like having a few essential first aid items on my person at all times.  This includes a few Tylenol or Ibuprofen, sterile gloves, antibiotic ointment, and gauze. 

10) Gloves.  Protecting your hands is extremely important.  I don’t know about you but I can only watch newsreels of WWII or Vietnam combat troops without any hand protection whatsoever with trepidation!  Slash, fire, and cut resistant gloves are essential for the modern day war fighter and those concerned with personal safety.  Consider motorcycle or Wiley gloves with plastic or carbon knuckle protectors to give your punch the extra oomph.

11) Large frame shock proof sunglasses.  Protecting your eyes in a violent situation is not optional.  When I was assaulted last year by hoodlums they started it with a mace attack to my eyes.  Wearing eye protection allowed me to continue to see and react to the situation. The brand military users seem to prefer to protect their eyes from IED blasts are by Wiley.  I wore those when I was attacked too.

12) Hat.  A good hat protects your eyes from the glare of the sun and can deflect strikes to the head.  I suggest styles a) help you blend into your local area such as sport team hats, b) aid in inconspicuously camouflaging you in the local environment.  To be inconspicuous might mean they are not in an obvious military style camouflage pattern but olive green, black, or coyote tan.

As mentioned earlier, dressing for self defense means being inconspicuous about it.  When I see someone I don’t know wearing a Gracie Jiu-Jitsu or Muay Thai branded t-shirt, advertising to the world what they likely train in, I shake my head in disbelief at the bad OPSEC.  Although some would argue wearing a "Tae Kwon Do Champion" T-shirt might dissuade would be attackers from an assault the truth is all too often just the opposite of such an assumption.  An example of this is if you have ever attended a Halloween party where the kids (or adults, it's a thin line these days!) dress as a karate kid or ninja they are certain to be messed with by someone who thinks they are bigger or badder then the Karate Kid.  

This concludes my article on "rethinking" how to use everyday clothing to help you rather then hamper you, for self-defense.

Tuesday, May 24, 2011

Jim --
Thanks for all that you do and the many able contributors to your site.  This evening, Sunday, 05/22/2011, I am listening to the "live audio feed" of the Jasper County and Joplin, Missouri, law enforcement scanner traffic.  As I am listening, the various agencies are dealing with the aftermath of a deadly tornado that hit Joplin.  As a former police officer I have been through this sort of event. However, listening to their radio traffic is eye-opening, even for me.  I am getting a new perspective on many of the nuances of dealing with a catastrophe of this sort.  They are dealing with gas leaks, trapped individuals, medical emergencies, numerous deceased victims and numbers of newly homeless folks. 

By the way, I am very impressed with the officers and emergency responders that I am listening to.  My hat is off to them.  Your readers may be too late to listen to these events in Missouri that are unfolding but many of them might like to listen in on the next disaster.  Believe me, just listening will help them consolidate survival plans of their own.  Once people from around the country hear of some local disaster, they can go to and see if they can locate a nearby emergency services agency whose radio traffic is available as a "live audio feed" and listen in. - S. in Kansas

Wednesday, May 11, 2011

After reading several articles on EMP in the form of a CME/solar flare, my understanding is that we would have hours or even days in which to prepare for such an event. Although I imagine that a massive CME would still cause damage to our electrical grid, I would also think that many homes could be disconnected from the grid and electrical equipment shielded in metal containers before the CME reached us. Any thoughts?

JWR Replies: Yes, there will be 12+ hours of warning, but do not depend entirely on the mass media. At times, they seem clueless about space science. (And thus they have a habit of either under-reporting or over-reporting events.) So be sure sign up for free solar flare alerts from the Australian Space Weather Agency.

As I've previously mentioned in SurvivalBlog: Any radios and other modern electronics with microcircuits that you don't use on a daily basis should be stored in Faraday enclosures. (Wrap them in plastic bags and put them in a galvanized trash can with a tight-fitting lid.)

Immediately after you get warning of a big solar flare, disconnect all of your home electronics from both grid power and antennas. And, as your storage volume permits, also store those in Faraday cans/boxes, until after the solar storm subsides.

Sunday, May 8, 2011

Last week my city was taken by surprise by a terrible windstorm.  There were some weather warnings but nothing prepared residents for what would come.  Winds reached 110 km per hour and the damage to property was extensive.  Several people lost their lives due to flying debris and downed power lines.  While some were without power for only a couple of hours, others were without for up to a week.  Although we got our power back after 48 hours, we still suffered sporadic outages for two more days.

It was with a completely different attitude that I met this storm.  Before I began prepping, I would have been woefully unprepared and getting through the ordeal would have meant getting in my car and driving somewhere to stay with someone who was unaffected.  Of course, how I would have found that elusive place would have meant driving until I saw lights on, since our phones and internet didn’t work either.  This time I looked at it as a “dry run” for something bigger.

It was really interesting to “test” our preps and see where improvements were needed.  We only started preparing a few months ago but have thrown ourselves into it wholeheartedly.  Here is what we did and what we learned:

Candles: We had a great supply of candles laid in. Unfortunately, they were all over the house in various places. If you can't find them in the dark, they aren't very useful.  Now I've placed candles in every decorative holder in the house and stored the extras all in one easily accessible place. I've stashed a box of matches in every room as well, protected from dampness in Ziploc bags.

Food: We have tons of it and most of it does not need electricity for safe storage. Unfortunately, most of it does require cooking and we had not yet purchased a method for doing so. Now I've purchased a little hibachi that can use charcoal or a mix of wood and charcoal. I've also begun to purchase more stuff that can be eaten immediately: peanut butter, crackers, pudding cups, canned fruit, etc. Also, we learned baked beans from a can aren't horrible at room temperature but soup is disgusting at room temperature. I ended up purchasing two meals out in the one small area of town that was not affected. We would have remained far safer if we had stayed at home, because the streets were perilous with falling trees and downed power lines.  Those who died all passed away when they were away from home.

Refrigerated items: We did not open our deep freeze the entire time the power was out so things in there fared perfectly. Most of the things in the refrigerator had to be thrown out, though. Luckily there wasn't a lot: a little bit of milk, some leftovers, half a head of cabbage and some sautéed mushrooms. Next time, we will concentrate on the items in the fridge first. Things from the fridge could have been moved to a cooler and stored with the ice from the freezer to have lasted longer.

Water: We had water, even though we ran out of hot water pretty quickly. I was pleased that we had stored a lot of water in the attic, as some places in town had no water.  I still plan to continue increasing our stored water on a weekly basis.

The Unexpected: Something I was totally unprepared for was a quick emergency repair.  Our kitchen window imploded in the high wind and my makeshift cardboard repair was not the sturdiest. I'm going to get some good duct tape and some plywood in various sizes for that type of repair. If it had been a winter blizzard, the broken window would have been disastrous.

Neighbours:  We checked on our elderly neighbours several times and were able to bring them something to eat and make sure they had everything they needed.  We also gave them some candles, holders and matches. Next time it would be nice to be able to offer them a hot meal.

Entertainment:  Our enormous piles of books certainly came in handy, as did our supply of board games and card games.  My youngest child (10) is not as much of a reader as my oldest daughter (15) and I, so we had to listen to “I’m bored” about 10,041 more times than I would have preferred.  I found some interesting picture books and some craft books at a yard sale that I’ve hidden away to be brought out at a later time for the novelty value.  I’ve also organized her things in a way that it will be easier to find something to do when there is minimal light.

Communication:  A true family disaster was narrowly averted.  My youngest was home from school with a sore throat and a fever.  The high winds howling around the house and the tree that fell outside terrified her.  Suddenly the power went out and I was at work.  My power at work did not go out at the same time, so I was unaware of what had happened.  The phone lines at the house went down also.  My daughter panicked and decided to walk to my workplace.  It is very close to home, but the weather was far too treacherous for a child to be out walking around.  She stopped at a convenience store and the kind woman there would not allow her to continue her trek.  She was able to get her a ride to my workplace and all was well. My oldest daughter gets bussed to school in a different city.  I had no communication with her all day.  This situation definitely brought to the forefront the need to prepare my children and make a plan to reunite in the event of some type of catastrophe.  I stressed to them both the importance of staying put if they are at home, and the importance of getting home if they are away.  We’ve now planned routes home for them so I would know where to begin looking for them if something happened.  I also bought a rotary phone that does not require electricity at the Goodwill store.  We’ve planned “safe places” in case they cannot get home.  I realized the importance of knowing where to look for the girls.

Security:  Fortunately, there was no need for increased security during this storm and subsequent power outage.  We were careful to keep the door locked and the blinds pulled in the evening.  I explained to the girls that there was no point in advertising that we were better prepared with lighting than most.  I did begin to give more thought to a world in which the police are not a phone call away, however. Because of strict gun-control laws here in Canada, we have no firearms.  It makes me feel very vulnerable, as I grew up in a household were guns were part of the interior decor. It’s not a situation I can change so in the interest of making the best of my situation, I have attempted to do my best to provide us with security and protection. We do have bear spray, which is basically mace for bears (sold at hunting and camping stores).  I’ve invested in a few more cans of this to stash around the house.  As well, the girls and I discussed regular household items that could make useful weapons in a crunch.  I’ve applied to take the required class to be able to own guns here and my oldest daughter plans to attend with me.  I’ve also done some research to discover that small air guns like BB guns are readily available and inexpensive.  Although they are not at all powerful, they are better than nothing and might even serve as a deterrent, here in a place where most people are very unfamiliar with firearms.  Finally, I’m going to install a new frame around my front door to allow it to withstand an attempt to burst in.  While it isn’t foolproof, a much more concentrated effort would be required to break through the door.

My kids think I am slightly less crazy now, after seeing the value of the preparations that we had in place.  We had talked a lot about preparing after the horrible situation in Japan and after hearing recently from our family members back in Arkansas, who were flooded into their homes for over a week.  After our brief experience, the girls are applying the lessons we learned.  When shopping, they excitedly point out things that would not require cooking.  They also look at second-hand shopping in a whole different way, thinking of the usefulness of an item in a world without power.  The episode has increased their critical thinking and problem solving skills, while also heightening their awareness of how things can change in an instant.

Our little disaster was nothing in comparison to the issues going on in the Southeastern US, or Japan, but it was eye-opening. I think we will be far better prepared the next time around. We will be able to stay safely at home and off the perilous streets. We have been able to identify many of our weak points on this trial run. The difference between us and the other people going through this?  We will use this experience to fill in all of the gaps that we discovered in our preparations.  I have a list of things that we must acquire as quickly as possible and a list of things that would just be nice to have.  This experience has deepened my determination to care for my children no matter what life throws at us.

Saturday, April 30, 2011

When the cell phone network is down, telephones expend energy constantly searching for a connection. This can increase your battery drain. If you are in a situation where you know the network is not functioning, I recommend you set your smart phone to "Airplane Mode". This disables all radio communication functions of your phone and allows it to act as a hand held computer thus no longer wasting power trying to contact a network that is not functioning. - Mike in Kentucky


Dear Jim:
Being a techie/having worked in a cell store, I enjoyed Kelly's article. What I would like to add in the plethora of apps presented is a (usually) free PDF viewer. Some have searchable features, but the survival-based resources you can find in PDFs is astounding. All the Army Field Manuals, tips on canning, old household encyclopedias, gardening advice, etc.

And do no disregard phones without a micro SD card. It is quite easy to transfer files to a smart phone without one. If you have a smaller internal memory, you might have to do with less games and music and more stuff that saves your bacon! - Jim S.

Thursday, April 28, 2011

When preparing for any large-scale emergency or disaster scenario our initial tendency is to seek out the most basic necessities for survival: food, water, shelter. Those serious about survival expand these necessities to include protection, first-aid, mobility, etc. I believe one of the most important tools to include in any survival plan is a smart phone capable of offline card storage.  

In my profession, I am attached to my smart phone. I depend upon it to work as much as my Leatherman while backpacking. I also know that during a large-scale emergency or a TEOTWAWKI scenario, a cell phone for the purpose of calling might be completely ineffective. Cell towers, satellites, and the Internet require huge amounts of manpower and infrastructure to maintain. However, if these go down your phone can still be used as a wealth of knowledge that can literally save your life.

The items I recommend are based purely on my own experiences, purchased with my own resources. I have field-tested my gear in several environments, most challenging a six-month stint in Glacier National Park. There are hundreds of different configurations to make this work within scope of your budget and technical knowledge.

Items Required:

1) A smart phone capable of SD or similar card storage. This means a phone in which you can store data offline and access at any point, regardless of cellular coverage. I purchased an HTC EVO about six months ago, but there are several similar phones at any price range. My cell phone carrier limited my options but you do not need a carrier to make this effective.

2) A mobile battery charger and battery pack. I use the Tekkeon TekCharge Mobile Power and Battery Charger. It’s inexpensive, easy to use and easy to store. Again, there are several comparable brands out there. I like Tekkeon because it includes an LED charge display.

3) Rechargeable batteries. I’ve had the best performance using Sanyo Eneloop AA batteries. These low self-discharge NiMH cells are advertised as holding 85% of the charge with no ‘memory effect’ when recharging. In my experience this is accurate.

4) Solar panel charger, with USB port. Here is where doing your research is most effective. There are several brands on the market that advertise as capable of powering cell-phones. While solar panels aren’t created equally, you are generally looking for ones that have the most surface area, mobility, and durability. I have tested several models, but a company called Goal Zero has given me the best results. I was able to purchase the Nomad 7 solar panel for less than $80.

All of these items are for the intended purpose of keeping your phone running when the power no longer flows. I find that charging batteries rather than charging a cell-phone directly is more effective and offers more versatility. The Tekkeon TekCharge allows you to charge your phone with AA batteries.

The real survival information comes by way of Apps, or applications. Almost all are free on an Android phone, and can be transferred from a PC at home to your phone. This allows you to download Apps without having a cell-phone carrier. There are literally thousands of Apps that could be useful in an emergency situation. These are ones I have personally used:

Apps usually download to your phone’s internal memory by default. Because of this, the first app you should download is called “App 2 SD” or an equivalent. What this does is transfer any downloaded App to your SD card for permanent storage. SD Cards can be interchanged and offer much more space than the phones built in memory. You can load up several SD cards worth of information and put them into your phone when needed, or keep them as backups.

Useful Apps
So what kinds of survival apps are out there? The answer is almost infinite to your situation. I will break them down into what I think are key areas for survival.

The “All-in-One’s”
An Application I draw on time and time again is called “U.S. Army Survival Guide” and it is exactly what it sounds like. This App contains the entire Army survival guide. It includes illustrations and diagrams and is broken up into 23 chapters including a full glossary and appendix. It offers basic to mid-level survival tips, ranging from Shelter construction and trapping, to starting a fire and how to stay hidden. It’s always better to know this information off-hand but as a reference, this is the app you want.

Another infinite possibility app is “Google Books”. This allows you to purchase and store an e-book on almost any subject you can think off. A quick search for survival books netted me hundreds of results. What this offers is the ability to download almost any book that you might already own and to draw on it when needed, or even just to learn more techniques when the time comes. Lugging around half a dozen books can be taxing on both space and energy, especially if survival requires being mobile. Beyond survival purposes this is a great way to keep your mind off any situation you might be in.  E-Books are a great way to utilize multiple SD Cards. With the almost infinite library of information at your fingertips, you can store thousands of books and guides.

An e-book might be too much information to quickly draw upon. For this reason I also use an app called “WikiPock” that can download specific Wikipedia entries that can be viewed at a later time. You can be as specific or generic with this information as you want to be. I have several entries ranging from hot wiring a vehicle to greenhouse gardening. As phone storage improves I wouldn’t be surprised if you could soon download the entire English language Wikipedia to your phone. An uncompressed ‘wiki dump’ is about 27 gigs - compressed comes in at about 6 gigs.

There are about a dozen or so free and proven off-line map applications. What this offers is the ability to store and view maps from anywhere in the world without data coverage. The basic principal is that with a little common knowledge of navigation you can find your way. I use an app called “MapDroyd”. I was able to download a vector map of the entire United States at any detail – there are maps for almost any country. A physical map is still going to be your most efficient way to find where you are. But, with these Apps you aren’t limited by size and scope.

Keep in mind this isn’t a topography map. There is an app called “BackCountry Navigator” for topography but costs about $10. Also, without GPS or cell-tower connection you won’t be able to automatically pinpoint your location – this is why basic navigating skills are just as important.

Some offline maps offer tools such as address searching or point A to point B directions. Feel free to experiment with different apps to find the right fit.

Like the other apps, this area of survival has a lot of options to choose from. The Army Survival Guide App also has an entire section devoted to first aid and medicinal plants. For my purposes I use an app called “iTriage”. It has a number of tools to choose from, but is most effectively used as a way to diagnose symptoms. A good guide or reference book is still your best bet for getting detailed information and instructions – both of which can be found with Google Books.

Tools & Miscellaneous
KnotsGuide  - A knot tying reference App with color photos, step-by-step instructions, and recommended usage for each knot. Can’t live without this.

ElectroDroid – Especially useful for TEOTWAWKI scenarios, this App is a great way to learn how electricity and circuitry works, and how to get it working.

Scanner Radio – This App requires a data connection, but allows you to listen to the dispatch radio of almost any city in the country. Get direct information before hearing about it on the news.

Flashlight – By no means a replacement for a sturdy flashlight, but this App is a good backup or tent light. It utilizes the ‘camera flash’ led on most phones when taking pictures.

Google Translate – Need to speak to someone in a different language, or read the warning label on a foreign-made package? This app allows you to type or speak almost any language and translates it to text or speech, especially useful if traveling.

Camera or Video – Your phone’s basic camera or video function is incredibly versatile. It is a way to remember where you started a trail, or to reference a certain plant or building. The ability to keep photographic record is invaluable.

Games – Surviving is not just about keeping your wits, it’s also about maintaining your spirits and fighting boredom. Games are an easy way to take a break from the situation you might be in. It’s not going to get you out of it physically, but mentally it might make a difference.

The Survival Phone in Use:
Last year I spent six months in Glacier National Park. It’s one of the most beautiful parks in the country and is abundant with natural resources during the summer months. Because I knew I would be there for some time I had downloaded dozens of local trail maps and guides to the SD card.

When I got to the park and needed to recharge my first set of AAs I realized I want to be moving during the daylight, even stopping for a few hours can severely hamper any momentum you might have. Because of this, I rigged up a few ways to best power my survival phone:

The Goal Zero solar panel I purchased comes with some standard tips for getting the most juice out of it. But you don’t always have the time to stay in one place and wait for the sun. The pouch that the panels sit in can be contoured around the top of my backpack. I used a bit of bungee cord to secure it in place. I then ran the USB charging cable through a spare hole in my pack that was originally intended for water bladder tubing. This cable continually charged my AAs with the Tekkeon pack as I moved. When resting I just angled the pack toward the sun for the most direct sunlight. I now had a way to charge AA batteries while on the move.

The phone didn’t always make an appearance while hiking. I usually referred to the physical map folded in my pocket for getting a quick bearing. However, once setup in camp I was able to pour through all of the books and information stored on the SD card and relate it practically to my surroundings. I sought out to find edible berries and plants, comparing them directly to the color photo on my phone. I readjusted which trails I would be taking based on the detail I could see on my phone that I could never get with a physical map. If emergency had struck or I needed to diagnose some symptoms I would be able to. I was also able to read some excellent novels for pure entertainment sake.

A common myth is that any electronic device is useless or too fragile in these types of environments. I kept my phone in a waterproof bag zipped inside of an interior pouch. I own an aftermarket hard shell case, which completely protected the device. I have since picked up a couple Pelican cases that are nearly indestructible for both your phone and SD cards.

I would have been fine without my phone, but I have gone backpacking for many years. If it was a survival scenario that I didn’t have time to prepare for, then my phone would be incredibly valuable.

Most people keep their phone on or near them at all times, so you don’t have to waste valuable time getting it together. Unless you have the funds, it is unreasonable to keep a backup phone, but backup SD cards, batteries, and solar panels are fairly inexpensive. Keep your batteries and solar charger in your grab bag and you’ll be set if the time comes.

It’s important to note that a survival phone should just be used in conjunction with basic survival tools and supplies.  It will never take the place of common knowledge and practice. But, if you are unsure of what you should do or how you should do something – it might end up saving your life. The Apps and products I listed are a drop in the bucket compared to what is out there, and every week technology is improving.

James Wesley:
I fly radio-controlled (RC) aircraft, and the Switchblade is a definite possibility.

As you can tell from the video, there is a lot of computer generated "help" going on there, but the concept is solid, the technology to do this is already readily available and has been for some time. It's just a matter of time until somebody completes the package.

The problem is, for an aircraft that small, the maximum payload I could see might be around a pound, maybe slightly less. But a pound of C-4 could put a distinct "dent" in your day!

Lately, the FAA has been coming down hard on the RC modeling hobby. With things like the above going on, and jet RC aircraft approaching the 400 MPH mark, they have concerns. They are now starting to call our models "unmanned aerial vehicles" (UAVs). They tell us that around June of this year, they will make public a new set of rules that we must comply with regarding our hobby. - Pat S.

JWR Replies: As a bit of background, I started writing about potential terrorist use of RC aircraft and other technologies more than 20 years ago. (See my two-part feature article "High Technology Terrorism" in Defense Electronics magazine, January 1990, p.74.) I further outlined UAVs and the threat posed by their misuse by terrorists, back in 2006. Specifically, I was concerned with the threat of UAV-borne Improvised Explosive Devices. (FWIW, I coined the acronym UAVIED in December, 2006.)

This innovation represents a serious terrorist threat, folks. The technology is available off the shelf. In another few years it may make outdoor public venues quite unpopular with politicians. I must add that it is sad to see RC modeling enthusiasts pay some sort of regulatory price for what are just potential misdeeds.

Closing throught: The threat of UAVIEDs is just one more reason not to live in a big city!

Sunday, April 24, 2011

Many of our family and friends have teased us about my husband's and my desire to live as independently and as far away from others as we possibly can. They have often scoffed at our (as one relative called it) “end of the world pantry”. These are of course the same family and friends that love to vacation at our place. The very same that called immediately after 9/11 and asked if the violence and terror reached near their homes could they come and stay with us. These same people have begun calling in the days since the massive earthquake and tsunami in Japan and are asking what they can do, or should do to prepare for a possible earthquake or other natural disaster in their area. The laughing and teasing has stopped and the listening has started, but we fear as with the 9/11 attacks, as soon as the around the clock media coverage dies down, so will the listening.

There are a good many people reading this that are like my husband and I once were. You are dreaming of the day that you can afford to move to your ideal place, but not quite there yet. We spent 14 years dreaming and planning, but almost no time at all actually preparing for the life we now live. We read many books on homesteading and wilderness living. We attended every outdoor type show we could find. We talked about living in the woods and wore out our copy of the Lehman’s catalog and Abigail Gehring's "Back to Basics" book. However we didn’t do much actual learning and practicing of the skills we need to live where we now do. In that respect, we were not much different from our unprepared and panic-stricken family and friends.

Our home is located seven miles from a very small town of about (to quote a recent local graduate, from a graduating class of 12 students) "400 people and 10,000 cows". It is primarily farmland, campgrounds and hiking trails. To get to the place we have called home for 14 years now, you go through the small town, past the last campground and park at a pullout on the county road. If the weather is conducive (it is often not) and the snowmobile is running well (it is often not) then we can snowmobile in the two miles to our home. Much of the time we walk. The trek is two miles with a gain of about 1,000 feet in elevation. There is no groomed trail, we have had to climb over downed trees, walk around mudslides and hike through chest deep snow. We have come face to face with cougar, bear, and elk on this trail. Perhaps scariest of all, we have several times run in to illiterate hunters and mushroom pickers as well as quite a few looky-loos that just want to see “the weird survivalist people” that live up the hill. (The use of the term “illiterate” is justified as these poor folks cannot read the numerous "No Trespassing" signs, nor do they have the capacity to understand gates and chains.)

It doesn’t matter if it is raining, or below zero, or the ice is so thick that there is no way for our crampons to dig in as we attempt to slide uphill, that steep trail is still the only way home. In the non- snow time, which is about 4-5 months a year here, we can drive our old one ton pickup in and out for our larger deliveries. That is if the road is not washed out and if the creek can be safely crossed and if our old truck can handle the switchbacks and steep trail and if it is not too muddy and isn’t too rutted from when it was muddy. Our snow free days are about two months behind those of the valley located only 8 miles down the mountain. We have often hiked out in two feet of snow, and reached the valley to play softball on a completely snow free, green field in 60 degree weather, even though that is less than 10 miles from our snow covered home.

Our water comes from a spring and is gravity fed to our home. Our septic is also gravity operated, so no power for us is no problem. Our only source of heat is wood and that is also often how we heat water and cook. We do have limited power, but we really don’t use it much except for refrigeration and freezers. We homeschooled our children and amazingly as adults they are all intelligent human beings capable of working hard and making a living. We live in a very remote home and we like it that way.

The same friends and family that used to scoff but now ask how they can live as we do seem more panicked than prepared. So many of these otherwise intelligent people don’t seem to have the slightest idea what it takes to live in the wilderness, or even to live in a smaller community on a little farm. They have absolutely no idea how to survive for more than about 24 hours should a disaster of any kind befall them where they currently live. If you are as we once were, dreamers, then perhaps some of our “should have” list could be helpful to you. Even if you currently live in a cramped apartment in the city, or small home in the suburbs, there are many things you can be learning and practicing right now to help you when you do make the leap to the wilderness. Even if you plan on staying in the city or suburbs and riding out whatever storm may come your way, get prepared now and don’t end up like so many of the people we know. Be ready instead of reckless.

I cannot stress this one enough. While model types may look great in a business suit or fancy evening dress, stick thin will most likely not cut it in the woods, even less likely to cut it is the couch potato.  It has taken more strength and stamina than we ever thought we had in us to live where we live. We could have saved some valuable time once here, not too mention exhaustion and blisters, if we had been in better shape. What one wants when living a simpler (ha!) life is lean muscle and lots of stamina. This requires real healthy eating and strength training. Joining an expensive gym is not required, and in fact could be a major waste of money. Instead, walk everywhere you can. After work strap on a backpack with weight in it and walk, uphill whenever possible. If you do not live in an area conducive to walking, then get an inexpensive used treadmill off Craig’s List or your local want ads. Slowly increase the weight in your backpack until you can easily carry at least 1/3 your body weight. Do push-ups and squats and lunges as often as possible.

My husband recently ventured into the valley only 10 miles away from our home, but almost 1,500 feet in elevation lower than our home. While he was gone we had a freak snowstorm that dumped over 4 feet of powder in less than 24 hours. If we were skiing, 2 feet of powder would have been awesome, or snowmobiling in say 1 foot of new powder we would have had a great time. However walking in 4 feet of powder is nearly impossible. It took 36 hours total and three separate attempts for my husband to get back home. He was able on the second day to get the snowmobile about ½ way up the hill but that was only after taking numerous runs at the very steep hill. Then he walked up the rest of the way in chest deep snow as I walked down to help break a trail. I had on our large snowshoes, he, unfortunately, was caught off guard and had to walk in his hiking boots without snowshoes. It took two full hours for me to walk about ½ of a mile down, and the same amount of time for him to walk about ½ mile up. It was exhausting and very difficult. Although the snowshoes prevented me from sinking all the way down in the snow, I was still sinking to about thigh high. Since I couldn’t get my snowshoes above the top of the snow, each step I took I was lifting all the snow that fell in on top of my snowshoes. It was kind of like walking in hip deep water with 20 lb. ankle weights on. My husband was walking uphill without snowshoes and literally pushing snow with his chest. Once we met up it was another hour until we were back in the house. Even though both of us were physically spent there were still animals to tend, fires to build, wood to be brought in and food to cook. We can’t have pizza delivered to our house! At 50 and in good physical shape and used to this type of extreme exertion we were nearly done in. Are you in the kind of shape that could handle this level of exercise? If there were an EMP or other disaster that prevented you from driving to your bug-out place, could you walk there? Are you capable of chasing an elk for 5 miles and then after finally shooting it, gutting it and quartering it could you carry it back to your camp or home? You can and should be getting into real physical shape right now while you are waiting to get to your ideal spot.

As for eating, there is an excellent book titled “Nourishing Traditions”, by Sally Fallon. This book has been a literal lifesaver for us. We used to live the “low fat, soy protein, low salt” type diet and what we got for it was hormonal imbalances, extra fat, and poor health. Now believe it or not we eat lots of animal protein, veggies and fruits and healthy fats – like eggs and milk products and olive oil and nuts. We are by no means puritans when it comes to our diet, but we are living proof that every little bit helps. After following the outlines in this book, we are now at healthy weights and have (for the first time in a long time) healthy cholesterol levels, and healthy blood pressure. We are at real healthy weights, not some ridiculous insurance company’s idea of healthy weight. Although overweight according to the charts, our fat to muscle ratio is terrific, better than when we were at our “ideal”. We also have only been sick with the flu once in the past 16 years. Unfortunately it was the H1N1 virus, which we believe we picked up on a trip to the city about a week before we came down with it. Other than gallstones (a result of rapid weight loss) and the removal of the offensive gallbladder, we have had no serious health problems at all. Most of our medical issues have been accidents with the snowmobile, chainsaw or chopping wood (all due to our own stupidity) or falls on the ice or post-holing into deep, rotten snow. When we first moved here, in spite of the fact that we had hiked and backpacked often, it still took me about 90 minutes to hike up to our house in good weather. Now on a packed trail I can hike up here in about 20 minutes with a loaded backpack and still have energy once I am home. The overall health benefits from being in shape and eating well are invaluable in the wilderness.


Many places in the woods or desert areas do not have electricity or cell reception. Many people are also addicted (and I mean that in the literal sense!) to their computers, iPhones, iPods, iPads, televisions, DVDs and gaming systems. Not only will many of these things not work if there were an EMP or extreme disaster, but many areas do not have access for making these things work right now. In spite of an ugly cell tower blocking our otherwise beautiful view of the top of the mountain we live on, cell phones don’t work here. In fact, to get cell reception you have to climb up the hill behind our house, or go to the valley where cell phones work in a few choice places. There is no high-speed Internet hook-up either. We are lucky to be hooked up through our dial-up service at 26 kbps – that is on a good day, it can be as slow as 9 kbps. Those television commercials that claim you can have high speed internet no matter where you live, don’t often apply to extremely remote places. Even though high speed is available only a few miles down the mountain from us, we cannot get it here. That translates to no videos, no Skype, next to impossible to download pictures attached to e-mails. We cannot play games on our computer, except for solitaire and a few other card games. No chat rooms or Facebook, no Twittering, basically we can e-mail text only, and view text only sites, or sites that do have pictures instead for us will have boxes with little red “X’s” in them where the pictures should be. All this is contingent on the phones actually being up and running, which in the last 16 years has been about ¾ of the time. We have had visitors that nearly go stir crazy without constant input and instantaneous feedback of their (mostly, but admittedly not always) narcissistic “social sites”. While we are on the subject, no one has 200 “friends”! You may know 200 people, but these are not your “friends” America! These are simply, for the most part, other people that are so wrapped up in themselves they also believe that other people actually care when they took a bath or where they ate dinner. Obviously it can have some huge benefits, such as people being able to contac