Over the weekend I had a great opportunity to meet some kind and very generous folks at the 10th NC PATCON. Among the broad topics demonstrated and discussed, a few items of interest stood out in my mind as needing more attention from a Survivalist paradigm rather than the usual Small Unit Patrolling concepts. The reason for this is rather patently clear- from placing the needs of your community first, which defense is certainly a part but only one part, a large number of folks will be highly concerned with day to day sustainment activities rather than roving about looking for an adversary.
The Survivalist paradigm differs from the militant one in that capabilities are viewed from the simplicity and flexibility standpoint, rather than worrying about who’s listening in and keeping everything hush-hush. If you listen around, you’ll notice in rural areas fire and first responder communications are normally in the clear and police frequently moving to some type of P25 based system. This is because latter has a arguably sensitive nature and the former has a 100% reliability requirement. So where are we going with this?
As discussed, a need for local communications with your neighbors independent of infrastructure is pretty darned important. So what were the solutions presented?
First, check out AmRRON’s CH3 Project and gather a couple pointers. CB channel 3 (26.985 mHz), MURS channel 3 (151.940mHz), and FRS Channel 3 (462.6125 mHz). None of those require a license. All of those are easily found in the wild, meaning there’s lots of radios that operate on those frequencies. The radios that utilize those frequencies are also normally very easy to use as well. This is important because setting up a community wireless or radio-based communications plan will require little training to get up and running and won’t intimidate or scare anyone off. The goal here is getting as many folks near you on the air as possible reliably – in a long term interruption of service this is critical.
Well, a governing body (any governing entity) is only legitimate when it provides for the needs of the people. Once it fails to do that repeatedly, that confidence erodes. The same goes for you. A tight knit community that effectively communicates and aids one another is a successful one. This doesn’t have to be some goofy hypothetical scenario- look at the Cajun Navy example in Louisiana. The flood response in SC last year. The relief effort in Joplin MO. The list could go on and on, but the best help comes not from waiting for FEMA and feel good speeches by clean and comfy politicians, but from your own neighbors. And once you apply this principle to projected fun times ahead, communications become pretty important. Implementing and practicing something now makes doing it later much easier and infinitely more successful, and playing radio can be pretty fun with folks in your area.
But…wait a second…I though we had to worry about direction finding, interception, counterintelligence and all that stuff?
It’s not that you don’t. In a tactical sense, those are all very real concerns. But there’s also a pretty high value on having so much chatter it literally cannot be processed- ie overloading a system. If everyone in a community is talking most of the day, messages can rather easily be passed using local slang that would go completely unheard. From the analyst’s perspective, even a good one will get burned out from routine traffic and ignore the mundane stuff. For you that benefit is twofold; it’s a human factor to security, but it also, through communicating regularly with people you know personally, becomes sources of real time information (known in many locales as gossip) with a large and nearly instant bona fide confidence.
This is not anything new. LTC Les Grau, in one of his many dissertations on Chechnya, indicated that many villages equipped their people with as many radios as possible to as many people as possible thereby getting as many reporting eyes on a target as possible. As the photo suggests, think of it as an old party line, and sorta the same logic as the ‘camera in a cop’s face’ phenomenon going on these days, or really social media itself for that matter. In South Africa rural farmers established a VHF radio net to alert plantation owners of impending communist guerrilla attacks from the ANC. The idea is still around, much more for a mutual aid purpose these days.
In both cases the operators, from being in a small localized structure, knew each others voices over the air. Not only that, but they know when something is wrong, because you know a bit about that person. It’s these human factors that cannot be ‘learned’ once whatever downturn in the current social status happens. To be effective it needs to be put in place and practiced regularly now.
A lot has been written about the cheap chicom radios, particularly the Baofeng. There’s folks who worship at its altar as some sort of God-sent miracle of technology and others, myself included, who very realistically have been telling you you might want to invest in some better gear. But the reality is that they’re out there en masse, in use in real time, and have literally every accessory imaginable available for it. Review what I previously wrote on maximizing their use, not forgetting that they are what they are- a $25-ish radio.
All that being said, they are simple, they are cheap enough to not break anyone’s wallet, and it has a decent enough receiver to multi task as a NOAA receiver and scanner. Its also good for testing new antenna designs that might otherwise be risky for higher end radios in regards to SWR. (And yes, SWR matters on ALL radios, it’s a part of physics and its critical to efficiency. 1:1 means 100% of your power is ‘getting out’, 2:1 means 50%, 3:1 means 33%, etc, and the power not going out comes back into your radio, causing problems and eventual equipment failure. So yeah, it matters, no matter what.) The bottom line is that while FAR from ideal, they do work, and they’re increasingly being found everywhere. There’s even a Packet TNC out there compatible to it for APRS, should you get more advanced.
I wouldn’t use these for snooping and pooping in the woods. The stupid flashlight on top and the ridiculously poor build quality kill it in my opinion. But to hand to an elderly neighbor or the farmer at the other end of the loop to be able to call you if lines are down, sure. To hand out to new folks to get them on the air and build some social capital, sure. For everyday use playing on repeaters, sure. It’s far from being an ideal Survivalist radio (the Yaesu VX-7R is…) but know that it’s no miracle wonder kit, it’s not high quality, it’s a $25 radio and performs like one. But if that’s the chair you’ve got when the music stops, then that’s what you’re sitting in.
Don’t discount the value contained in simple CB radios either. As the sun cycle makes 11m not as much fun as it used to be, it’s popularity is fading a bit, but it’s still very much a viable option. The migrant worker community around here certainly hasn’t had a problem with it. On most channels most of the day you can hear lots of chatter en espanol, limiting it’s utility in my opinion (in my area at least…ymmv) but it’s a good demonstration of community radio party lines in practice serving a community.
Speaking of party lines, one of the attendees to the PATCON brought along a really interesting project– an actual off grid, solar powered closed phone set. But, ain’t that what the TA-312 is? Yes. Except these look like normal landline phones you’ll find in every home. The TA-312s I have stick out like sore thumbs. This is important because social camouflage and plausible deniability is critical to guard your infrastructure. From a door kicker’s perspective, I would very quickly overlook the landline, because well, it’s a landline. Using common phone line found everywhere, they’ve successfully created not only a normal wall phone but field phones as well, along with a simple tone generator (which works very well as a CW keyer over the line too…). It’s something I’m highly impressed with and see a lot of potential at the community level. The best part of it all, it’s solar powered and you control it.
Get to Building
The bottom line of all of this is to make use of what you have, what is practical for everyone concerned to get on the air with, and DOING IT! The underlying message here in case you missed it is the party line- building a community communications infrastructure. This stuff is great from a hypothetical standpoint, but without action, is just a fun suggestion. If that’s accomplished with a solid mobile base unit and weekly check in net, a handful of Baofengs or midland FRS radios, or tin cans and string, get it going. This stuff is important.
I’d like to thank Brock, Tom and everyone attending this year’s PATCON. I had a lot of fun and had some great BBQ (especially the banana pudding…it’s kryptonite). The house was beautiful and the event was full of Patriot camaraderie- the world, at least for last Saturday, made sense. I’m going to be at the next one come hell or high water, and I’d like for y’all to as well. No matter who ‘the will of the people’ pick to skipper this Titanic, get-togethers like these are critically important and are going to be even morso in the near future.