As with firearms, all too often Survivalists/Militia folks have a hard time separating what they need from what they want, or try to cover way too many bases, resulting in cutting off the nose in spite of the face. Communications are no different. Do you think the guy in the picture is effective with all this? (I know it’s meant to be a joke, but we all know THAT guy.)
For those who’ve been in the game a while, a few questions always seem to come up among new folks, along with the most common answer:
- How much range will I get with this? Well, that depends.
- I like the looks of this one radio- Can I do everything I want to do with this? Well, that depends.
- Once I buy this, is it all I’ll ever need? Well…that depends.
I get it. We’re all human, this stuff can get expensive in a hurry, and like most of y’all reading there’s little disposable income every month. After all, time is short, and getting shorter, and there’s more to building a resilient (or as resilient as possible) infrastructure than just communications.
Taking the Group Approach
Lone wolves die; they’ve been cast from the fold for a variety of reasons- they’re old, sick, or challenged authority and lost. As pack hunters, and humans are as well, the loner cannot last long. If you’ve not at least on some level networked with other like-minded folk, you’re woefully behind, Shirley. Each person brings a skill to the table, and the more versatile the skillset, the better. This does not however mean anyone is specialized, because after all we know that’s for insects. As the signal guy, or at least learning to be the signal guy, the first mission is recognizing what the individual requirements are and build your way up to regional and further. Once done, get your folks together at your meetings/training sessions/beerfests and go over what those are. Communications needs are different for just the group of Survivalists trying to make it through unpleasant times versus the Militia group planning to work in the Light Infantry paradigm. A resilient community must be established before anyone thinks about writing a Patrol OPORD. That being said, in this sequence:
- Take out a map and plot where each of you live. The first requirement is communications between group members at their locations. Figure out how far the distance between your points are, and identify what may work best for your needs. This includes what equipment is required, what the minimum power levels are to maintain communications, and what possible alternates exist if need be. Hopefully your group is within a half hour of each other, possibly allowing use of Line of Sight communications without the use of a repeater. The person at the highest point should serve as net control or the primary relay. If you’re extremely close, you may get away with running license-free stuff, although I don’t recommend it as your sole means to communicate. Check this post out from a while ago.
- Standardize your equipment. This is a critical requirement for a couple of reasons. First, if everyone is running the same piece of equipment, it becomes a known quantity. For radios, everyone over time becomes familiar with all of the basic controls and know their functions. They’ll know and recognize when it’s malfunctioning, and repairing equipment off of one set standard is pretty simple. With HTs, battery commonality is an issue. Being able to build a common charger rack and stocking up on extra batteries is smart, and also enables you to stock caches simpler than if the group is using 12 different types of stuff. Most of this is the same for weapons and ammo.
- Figure out what you need to maximize your capability. When establishing a relay network, as the designated signal guy, you now become the net control or at least you’re teaching the guy on the high ground how to fill that role. Signals come in from group members, and signals go out from you. Ideally,they’ll want Yagi antennas pointed towards net control, with you having a omni-directional antenna such as a 292 groundplane or a J-pole. Doing this, your group will minimize it’s signature using directional communications, but most importantly you’ll efficiently transmit, allowing for lower power consumption. If you’re new, QRP can have a steep but rewarding learning curve. Running kit in the field is also very different than doing it in the shack, and doing it in a tactical environment, more akin to SOTA activations, is nothing like the annual ARRL Field Day. Like any other skill, to be most effective you have to get out and do it to remain proficient.
- Get on the air. Your group should hold practice nets every so often, it’s the only way you’ll know if your equipment works. Things often happen without you knowing it; feedlines crack, water gets in them, switches go bad, etc. If you don’t want to draw attention to yourself, do like every other normal person does and call it “My XXXX local simplex net”.
- Identify Personnel Roles. Not everyone needs a radio on a patrol, but should be proficient in its use. Not everyone needs to patrol either, but should be able to stand in the gap if need be. You serve a purpose inside your group, and your gear does too. If you’re looking to be in the field as an RTO, you need to study up on QRP, read about the options out there, make a selection and get to work. If that doesn’t interest you, and in the meantime you’re interested in just being a Ham till the good ‘ol bad days get here, obtaining a 100w set will be more your flavor, along with a setup more suited to a TOC or BDOC. Just know…should the grid become more 3rd worldish, we’ll all be running QRP.
It’s logical to first address why you’re justifying the expense of the equipment before you jump in with both feet, especially if you’re on a budget like most of us. But understand that cheap gear usually always gets expensive down the road, so buying a name brand for something you’re depending upon is pretty important. Taking a shortcut and settling for license-free solutions is also a bad idea- it limits options and teaches nothing. (it’s license free, after all…so just think about why that might be.) In following the aforementioned steps, you and your group will greater be able to recognize your needs and begin to build a procurement list from that. Signal is but one part of the equation, albeit a critical one, and most of the same principles can be applied to almost all of your other equipment.
It’s time to get organized, it’s time to get serious.