A reader, Lucas, posted a question that has crossed many of our minds. What do you intend to do if, or when, needy families or individuals come to you for help? As Lucas puts it, do you take them in or turn them away?
What if my own family were stranded somewhere with no hope of getting home? Would we have to resign ourselves to being part of the early die-off or might there be a way to increase our chances of survival? I think I might have the answer to that question.
Imagine that the S has indeed hit the fan, several weeks have gone by, and your family has adjusted to this new reality. You’re thankful for all the preparedness steps you took and keep a very low profile in your town.
One day you see a family approaching your front door. Through a peep-hole, you spot a dad, a mom, and two teenagers. Your first instinct is to fire a warning shot, but something tells you to go out and hear their story. Here is what you learn.
Refugee Dad was a former executive with an insurance company and made quite a good living at one time. Refugee Mom had been a legal secretary but became a stay-at-home mom once her two children were born. She kept herself busy with various charities in their hometown and was active in Junior League. Their teenage daughter had been on track to receive a scholarship to a prestigious university based on her soccer skills, and her brother showed some real promise in his favorite sports, skateboarding and snowboarding. The family seems healthy and has lived an active lifestyle.
While talking with this family and hearing their tales of difficulty, you spot a second family approaching, again, a dad, a mom, and two teenagers. You’re already out in the open, obviously your home is occupied, so you have no choice but to talk with them as well. They have quite a different story to tell.
This second Refugee Dad is a plumber and an apprentice gunsmith. Although the family is stranded far from home, they don’t seem too much worse for the wear, and you learn that they have always enjoyed roughing it in the wilderness. In fact, they are all expert marksmen and have some formidable hunting and fishing skills. Mom is an RN and a certified Master Gardener. he two teens were both good students and were active in 4-H. Mom and Dad have volunteered with the American Red Cross for the past ten years and taken every CERT class their community offered.
Which family will you take in? Which will you turn away?
In the case of the first family, they had been living the typical American lifestyle. That’s no criticism, but neither had there ever been much of a preparedness mindset. In a true SHTF scenario, this family brings no value to the table, so to speak. I might be willing to provide a few provisions, but they would add four more mouths to feed and not much else. Harsh, but true.
On the other hand, the second refugee family would definitely be welcome. Are you kidding? What a package! A nurse, master gardener, 4-H members, and a gunsmith to boot? Wow! I’d share my buckets of wheat with them any day!
These examples, and the questions I’ve posed, illustrate the importance of moving past the buying mode of preparedness and into the areas of skills and knowledge. Often, these come free of charge.
Even the best and hardest working families can be hit with long-term unemployment and financial hardships. This makes it difficult to purchase extra food and all the other supplies you may need, but that doesn’t mean you have to accept your fate as die-off victims. Seek out free training, volunteer to work alongside a master of a particularly valuable skill. Be purposeful when choosing your kids’ activities, sports, and hobbies and how your family spends its free time.
If you do ever find yourself in the unfamiliar role of a homeless refugee, your bank of skills and knowledge may open doors to you and your family that would otherwise remain closed. It’s worth investing the time and effort.
Are communications a part of your SHTF plan? Not every prepper considers how heavily our society relies on digital technology to obtain news and to keep in touch with loved ones. Losing touch with the goings-on of the world is a situation that any preparedness-minded individual never wants to be in. Having good communication equipment, such as a HAM radio, and knowing how to use it can put the fears of being in the dark about recent news and the whereabouts of family members to rest and keep you in the loop.
Learn how to communicate after chaos has hit and the Internet (possibly the entire power grid) is down and you want to know what’s going on. The main modes of communication we are choosing to focus on are freeband and HAM radios. These two options are electronic, but they can run on minimal energy input, whether in the form of solar power or battery power.
Here are some key terms used in this article:
CW: Constant Wave Mode. This is the radio mode that is used to send Morse code.
RTTY: RTTY (radioteletype) is a way of sending text files via the radio to others. To do this, create a text document using any word processor, then save the file in .txt format.
SSTV: SSTV (Slow Scan TV) is a bit of a misnomer. It’s more like sending and receiving a fax. You would send a .jpg or .bmp file.
Now we’re going to talk about how to transform a Freeband radio (which can be a 10 meter converted rig or an HF Ham radio) into a simple modem through which you can send text messages or images. These are some of the things you’re going to need to get started experimenting with radio facsimiles and packet radio transmissions:
After you’ve installed HamFax, you can run the application, choose a photo that you want to send, and in the tool-bar, you will click transmit, transmit to file. Hamfax will have a set of questions for you to answer to set up the transmission to best fit the hardware.
Now, let’s get into packet radio. Packet radio uses the CW mode and is faster, more practical, and more intelligible than other modes. Like the old HAMs say, when nothing else can get out, CW will get through. This process uses a faster audio transmission and translates text. The packet is a text file of your choosing.
To test your receiving capabilities, most Slow Scan TV pictures can be found on the 20 meter band, beginning around 14 Mhz. Just scan up the bands until you hear the sound of fax machines on the air waves and you’re there. With either software booted and the radio’s audio output (also known as external speaker jack) connected to your computer’s microphone input, you can begin receiving faxes/photos or text files. All this can be done with 12 volts of DC solar power!
This simple option is the first thing we need to consider when we look at rebuilding electronic communications after the SHTF. Imagine a valuable tool like the Internet, available to anyone who can pick up and translate a radio transmission. Imagine if that independent link to the rest of the world could be a fountain for knowledge.
This may only be simple communications technology just the basics. The important fact is that the information to be published through that bandwidth will be free and uncensored. This will remind us and motivate us to keep working together to improve this technology as we keep it free.
We own a used Grundig Yacht Boy 400 World Receiver and recommend it highly. These were made in the 1990s, but are still state-of-the-art . The CCI radio company sells a clone of this model today. Good used Grundigs can be found on Ebay in the $50 to $100 range. The YB400 has some great features:
We consider it the best AM portable receiver made. At night we can listen Coast to Coast A.M. on stations from Los Angeles, San Antonio, Omaha, Denver, and even Detroit and Chicago at times, all sounding clear from here in New Mexico.
Our Yacht Boy 400 receives from 55 Kilohertz through 30 Megahertz, covering the entire HF (high frequency) band. In a time of crisis, shortwave may be the only radio signal out there. It may come in real handy when we can’t depend on the Internet to know what is going on.
WWV is the international time standard hack that can be found on the following shortwave frequencies:
WWV continuously transmits official U.S. Government frequency and time signals on 2.5, 5, 10, 15 and 20 MHz.
This radio station also allows you to check space weather as well as satellite environment (interference). We can use these frequencies to gauge the effect of solar activities on our radio communications. WWV has a very strong signal. For most, it will be received as a strong S 8 to 10 signal strength, but in the event of adverse solar activities, even these stations can become covered up with static and noise. So if you are trying to receive a certain station and are having difficulties, check WWV to see if their signal is coming though clearly, or if it is covered up with static.
Family Radio Service (FRS) and Business Radio Service (BRS) are the frequencies for the common walkie-talkies you see. They often say that they have an 8 mile range. However, most of these radios have a hard time transmitting further than 2 miles. Not everyone lives in a laboratory environment. The 8 mile range estimates take into account line of sight factors only. If you can see the other party that you are trying to communicate with, you can talk to them. We don’t live in a flat world without a horizon and without trees, buildings, mountains, etc. Because of this, these radios are overrated and can only be used for close-up communications (typically less than 3 miles at best). They certainly can be useful if your community uses them in a small area (40 acres or less).
The Business Radio Service does include base radios, which have more power than family radios. You can add an external antenna on a mast high above the ground to stretch their range up to 10 miles.
A pocket scanner, such as the I-Com IC-R5, is a handy radio to own. The I-Com IC-R5 is available in US models and overseas models. The FCC gave the I-COM company a license to sell this receiver in the U.S. only if certain frequencies were blocked out. With this in mind, the best place to buy one is on Ebay. There are sellers on Ebay from other countries such as Japan who sell unblocked IC-R5’s and IC-R7’s. These ebay listings will be explicit. It will say it is a Japanese model and does not have any blocked frequencies. The IC-R5 can scan from 30 kilocycles to 1400 megahertz (1.4 Gigahertz). Within these frequencies are a few things you may find interesting to listen to. Here are some of the stations you can listen to that are on hard to find frequencies:
FBI Tactical 167.400 fm
FEMA 138.400 fm
FEMA 138.5750 fm
FEMA 139.9500 fm
FEMA 155.340 fm
Army Civil Disturbances 34.9000 ssb
FEMA 130.0500 fm
FEMA 139.1000 fm
FEMA 138.2250 fm
FEMA 139.4500 fm
FEMA 140.0250 fm
Fed. Disater Network 170.2000 fm
Border Patrol 163.6750 fm
Border Patrol 163.7250 fm
Border Patrol 163.7750 fm
BP 164.1150 fm
BP 165.8500 fm
BP 165.9250 fm
Natl. Emerg. Weather Svc (news) 173.1875 fm
News 167.9750 fm
News 169.8750 fm
News 167.9250 fm
Fed. Disaster Net 170.2000 fm
FEMA 5.210 ssb
FEMA 10.493750 ssb
FEMA 4.7250 ssb
FEMA 139.350 fm
FEMA 143.0250 fm
FEMA 143.2500 fm
FEMA 167.9750 fm
BLM 169.6500 fm
Forest Svc. 170.5250 fm
Omaha SAC 11.17500 ssb
NORAD 13.2000 ssb
NORAD 15.0150 ssb
Omaha SAC 4.7250 ssb
NORAD 6.7400 ssb
Air Force Bomber EAM 4.743750 ssb
EAMS 6.71250 ssb
EAMS 6.7400 ssb
EAMS 8.993750 ssb
EAMS 11.1750 ssb
EAMS 13.2000 ssb
EAMS 15.0150 ssb
NORAD 228.6000 fm
NORAD 228.9000 fm
FEMA 5.2100 ssb
FEMA 16.9500 ssb
Fed. Emerg. Task Force 165.23750 fm
Task Force 169.4500 fm
FBI Tactical 167.21250 fm
Want to find frequencies near you? Check out this website.
Emergency Action Messages (EAM) are the encoded radio traffic between NORAD (North American Aerospace Defense Command) and SAC (Strategic Air Command) with the nuclear bomber fleet, like in the movie, “Fail Safe.”
With Fusion Centers operating, the radio traffic is mostly digitized and scrambled. You may notice that when they are working together, the scanner’s frequencies will all seem to light up at the same time. In this event, you will notice your local sheriff/state police/ local cops/ FEMA/DHS/Border Patrol/FBI, etc., all going encrypted and all talking at once.
With the right equipment, a group of people can create a a radio Round Robin. This is when a group of people has a specific place on the radio to meet on a regular basis. For example, let’s say there are 6 people in your round robin and you all decide to meet on Saturday mornings on CB channel 40, 27.405 Mhtz, LSB, lower side band (or CW for RTTY), and exchange news with each other. In an emergency, perhaps if phone lines and/or the internet is down, this will be a way to communicate with your loved ones. It will also be a way to transmit and receive information about emergency conditions in each person’s part of town or the country.
The Multi-Use Radio Service (MURS) is better than FRS/GMRS for family and neighborhood emergency communications and does not require a license.
More information on emergency communications is available at the Arlington (VA) Radio Public Service Club web site at http://www.w4ava.org
©1998-2015 Arlington County Virginia RACES, Inc.
I currently have a couple of radio scanners and feel that at least in the early stages of major civil disruptions or natural disaster they can be very useful. You can listen to local fire, EMS, police, and other sources and gather information on what it happening around you in real time. In rapidly changing situations, this can be very helpful. Imagine a wildfire, listening to the firefighters in real time can let you know if the fire is approaching your location well before an evacuation notice is announced. If there are riots in you’re area, radio scanners can let you know what areas to avoid.
Radio scanners are readily available and are not very expensive. Some people say they are not worth the money because many of the police frequencies are being encrypted. While this is true in some areas, there are many areas in which a large part of police broadcasts are still in plain language. In addition to monitoring the police, a scanner covers many other frequencies. Information can be gathered from fire, ambulance services, public utilities, VHF and UHF ham radios, GMRS, FRS and MURS.
Most scanners will scan frequencies between 30 MHz and 900 MHz. Some scanners will scan up to or beyond 1200 MHz. There will be some gaps in coverage due to FCC regulations and Federal laws that don’t allow eavesdropping on certain frequencies. This includes the frequencies used by cell phones. Occasionally you will encounter older radio scanners that will cover these frequencies, but be aware that it is a Federal crime to listen in to these frequencies or convert a scanner to monitor them.
If you decide to purchase a scanner, or just need more information you will want to look at the website RadioReference. Finding the frequencies that you want to monitor in your area is always a bit of a challenge. Here are several tips to help you: check the internet for police and fire frequencies in your area, find a local radio club they always have good information, or talk to a friend who works for a public safety agency.
If you own a smart phone you basically own a police scanner too. By downloading a police scanner app like PoliceStream, and 5-0 Radio Police Scanner, you can turn your phone into a scanner. There are also sites on the internet that let you listen to police radios in other areas. Suppose there is a riot in Los Angeles, and you are worried about family of friends, you can listen to their traffic.
While I understand it is legal to own radio scanners in all 50 states, it is my understanding that in at least five states Indiana, Florida, Kentucky, Minnesota, and New York, it is a crime to use a mobile one. You need to check your local laws because these laws vary from state to state.
Radio scanners can be a good source of information, but you need to get used to listening to them before you have to. There is a learning curve.
When using only verbal communication over a radio line, which may or may not be crystal clear, it’s very important to utilize some standard practices so you avoid any miscommunication. One step to take immediately is to learn the 24-hour military time system. That way, there is no guessing as to whether 8:00 is a.m. or p.m. This could be vitally important when arranging to meet someone or to know how close a family member is to arriving home.
This is based on 24 hours and is a method of keeping time that runs from midnight to midnight and is divided into 24 one hour periods.
With the 24 hour clock there are no two “four o’clocks” in the military as there is with civilian time. For instance, the civilian 4:00 AM is equal to 0400 military, and 4:00 PM is equal to 1600. A couple more examples of civilian to military time is if local time is 9:27 AM, the local military time would be 0927, and it would be spoken as “Zero nine twenty seven.” If the local time was 7:36 PM, the local military time would be 1936, and it would be spoken as “Nineteen thirty six.”
The reason for this is that the military can’t take a chance on miscommunication when they are planning operations. A misunderstanding that results in a 12-hour mistake can get people killed. Any veteran will tell you that it is easy to learn and is less confusing. In an emergency in which you have to communicate with others either directly or by radio you can’t afford mistakes. Take a few minutes to memorize this chart and then convert your digital clocks to a 24-hour system so you become very familiar with this way of communicating time.
It is helpful also to know how to “voice” these figures over the radio, as doing so in a standardized manner is an aid to clear communications when reception is less than ideal.
When replying to a request for a “radio check”, use plain language:
LOUD AND CLEAR means, Excellent copy with no noise
GOOD READABLE means, Good copy, with slight noise
FAIR READABLE means, OCCASIONAL FILLS are needed
WEAK READABLE means, FREQUENT FILLS are needed
WEAK UNREADABLE means, RELAY REQUIRED.
Voicing 24-Hour Time Examples:
12:45 a.m. zero zero four five hours
12:00 noon one two zero zero hours
11:45 p.m. two three four five hours
12:00 midnight two four zero zero hours
1:30 a.m. zero one three zero hours
Voicing number groups, examples:
10 becomes one zero
75 becomes seven five
100 becomes one zero zero
5800 becomes five eight zero zero
11000 becomes one one thousand
121.5 MHz becomes one two one decimal five Megahertz
$0.75 becomes currency, seven five cents
$17.25 becomes dollars, one seven decimal two five”
If you are in any doubt, always repeat the information. Also, you may want to take the time to learn the phonetic alphabet.
I just finished reading an article about FEMA and the Federal Government telling people in areas without power to go to the internet or TV to get disaster information. Our society has become so dependent on social media, cell phones, and TV that we don’t know how to function without them. I am not suggesting that we go back to smoke signals or ultra-expensive ham gear but just a good reliable portable radio and an old-fashioned landline phone.
For years, I lived in an area where power outages occurred every year. One of the things that we kept working was an older landline phone that did not require an outside power source. In other words, it gets its power from the phone line not from being plugged in. This eliminates all cordless phones. On many occasions, these landline phones were working long after the power went down. You can find these older phones in garage sales for next to nothing.
The other thing that you need is a good reliable portable radio, preferably with its own power source (solar or crank up) and NOAA compliant. The Kaito Voyager KA500 is an excellent example of what a good emergency readio should be. I have found the Kaito to be very reliable.
Today I am sitting here listening to my emergency radio. After trying several brands, the one I own is the Kaito Voyager KA500. This a perfect radio for everyday use, emergencies, and disasters, and it comes with all the features that you need in any emergency situation.
Right now the radio is running off solar power. The radio has several alternate power sources: solar, hand crank, batteries, USB cable, a built-in rechargeable battery pack and an AC adaptor. I have never put batteries in the radio. I’ve had it for years and have always run it off solar. The solar works well during the day, and it charges the built-in battery for nights. I have tried the hand crank on a few occasions and found it easy to use.
Other features include an adjustable solar panel. The solar panel tilts so that it can get the most energy during the day. The bottom of the solar panel is a 5 LED reading lamp that you can use in poorly lit conditions. On the end of the radio there is a LED that can be used as a flashlight or can be a red flashing emergency signal.
The radio bands include AM, FM, two shortwave bands, and seven weather bands. The radio is NOAA (National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration) equipped. This means that the radio can be set to the weather band for your area and when set on NOAA alert, it will remain on standby. If a weather warning is given for a storm or tornado, the radio will come off standby and sound an alert. This can save your life by giving you the earliest possible warning.
The radio comes with a bag of adaptors so that you can also use it to charge your cell phone.
The following are the specifications from the Kaito Electronics website.
6 Ways to power up the Kaito
I have had this radio for several years and have been very happy with it. The alternate power features and the NOAA weather alerts could save your life. I recommend it.
We are all spoiled by the fact that we carry a small communication device in our pockets, the cell phone. When I was young, these were still dreams of science fiction writers. Today, I carry one with me everywhere and probably depend on it too much. I am still not quite up to date with most people; I haven’t gone to a smartphone yet, but maybe one of these days. During many different situations, cell phones work well for emergency communications.
If it is an EMP attack or a situation in which the government shuts down the cell phone system, you will have to go with your backup plan — perhaps walkie-talkies or ham radios in a Faraday container. However, in the meantime, the cell phone is very handy, and almost everyone has one.
A few years back we had a major wildland fire in our area that destroyed over 60 homes. Several members of our church live in the area and we wanted to check on them, but the phone system was jammed. We discovered that even when the lines were jammed, text messages were going through. We were able to reach everyone successfully by texting. A phone call is 460,000% larger than one text message!
One of the problems with cell phones is that they need to be charged. So how do you charge one in an emergency? I carry an external battery charger, like this one, in my kit. This allows me one extra charge in an emergency. Now, this works well with my old phone, but it may not provide enough power for some of the newer smart phones. However, there are a variety of different size power banks that will meet your needs. I ordered an extra one from today that provides 6000 amh of power and will charge smartphones and tablets. Perhaps by the time you read this, even more powerful battery packs will be on the market.
Many of these devices can be charged from a Goal Zero or equivalent solar panel in an emergency. The new solar powered flashlight from Hybridlight has a connection so that you can charge your phone from it and still have 2 ½ hours of light left. I have one of these flashlights and love it. I can recommend them.
Cell phones may be your best solution for emergency communications in many types of emergencies because it only takes a split second for a text message to get through.
A lot of preppers are talking about Ham radio as a communications system during and after an SHTF event. The ability to listen and even talk with people vast distances away in real time is powerful tool.
For a very long time I’ve wanted to get an Amateur Radio license (“Ham”). For one reason or another I never undertook the study and the test. Until now. I have just passed my Technician’s license exam! (as of writing this) While it will still be a couple of weeks before I get my official station call sign, I’m very excited and already preparing for the next step of licensing. In this article I will walk you through the details of exactly how to get your first Ham radio license. It isn’t a hard process but can be a bit confusing and I didn’t find any one source that clearly listed it all.
Amateur “Ham” radio is considered to have started when Guglielmo Marconi sent the first wireless transmission across the Atlantic in 1901 from his self-made radio station on Cape Cod. Every year a memorial event is still held at that location on the Cap). The U.S. government issued the first amateur radio license in 1912. At the time, Ham radio was just using Morse Code, but by the 1920’s voice was added.
After World War 2 Ham radio grew even more popular resulting in the formation of the FCC (Federal Communications Commission) to regulate the ever-growing demand for radio frequencies between commercial, news, government and amateur radio users. In 1961 the first ham radio satellite named OSCAR-1 (Orbiting Satellite Carrying Amateur Radio) was launched, and by the 1970’s a system of repeater transmitters began to dot the landscape. In the 1980’s and 1990’s data transmission via ham radio also become popular.
Today, internet, GPS, and even VoIP (Voice Over Internet Protocol) is possible. As much as ham radio is for personal non-commercial use, Hams have also played a vital role in disaster communications assisting government and other rescue/relief efforts. Amateur Radio Emergency Services (ARES) and Radio Amateur Civil Emergency Services (RACES) are two of the organizations that assist in disasters.
Several organizations have been formed to help promote amateur radio and help people get licensed. The American Radio Relay League (ARRL) is the best known, and there are hundreds if not thousands of local ham radio clubs all over the country and the world. Even though it’s called “amateur” radio, there’s nothing amateur about it. The only requirement is that you can’t be paid for your radio use nor transmit (or re-transmit) commercial broadcasts . Otherwise, the licensing and regulations, technology, science, and capabilities are nearly the same as any commercial radio station.
There are few restrictions on who can be licensed as a ham by the FCC. You have to be an American citizen (there are provisions for resident aliens), and you have to have a functioning ability with the English language as that’s what the licensing exams are given in and is the common language used on the radio worldwide. Other than that, nothing else! No age restriction, no background check, no experience or education requirement, etc. Realistically however, you will have a much easier time of understanding the material and the technology if you already have some minimal measure of knowledge related to hobby-level electronics and circuits. Also, if you have been a CB radio enthusiast at some point in life that will help too (although Ham and CB are more different than similar, a topic for another article). Last, brush up on your basic High School level Algebra!
At the time of this writing, the FCC issues 3 levels/classes of amateur radio licenses (from initial to highest):
People who hold unexpired older classes of license are still valid and have been grand-fathered into the privileges surrounding one of these new 3 classes.
Basically, the fundamental differences between the classes is the range of bands and frequencies you are allowed to use and the power levels you are allowed to transmit at:
There are good color diagrams online you can print that visualize the bands and frequency privileges for each level of licensing that make it much easier to understand the differences. All classes will definitely get you on the air and give you a good ranges of popular frequencies in the common communications modes:
You can even try to communicate with the International Space Station! (There is an amateur station onboard the ISS and licensed astronauts do monitor it from time to time, depending on the crew.)
The main licensing difference is that as you move up the scale of licenses, the range of HF frequencies and bands available for use increases greatly. Also, you are expected to know more electrical circuit construction and operation, antenna design, and band/frequency details. The exams become more technical and mathematical. Most hams seem to try for at least the General level. The Extra level is as much about learning more and most complete access privileges (as well as for bragging rights).
As of writing this, each licensing exam for each category consists as follows:
This part is pretty simple. Study the material, pass the exam, and get on the radio, but the devil is in the details.
There is no single source for licensing exam study materials. Many places publish study manuals for the exams. I used the one published by the ARRL itself (available from their website, Amazon, and many ham clubs). The book includes all the material, is well organized (I think), and it has a pool of exam questions for practice (including a CD-ROM version). But there are other publishers of study guides, including a Dummies book. These books are self-study and you take the exam when you feel you are ready for it.
There are also several online sources for information, including practice exams and online self-study. I especially recommend the online sample exams if you haven’t used the ARRL preparation book. Most ham radio clubs offer classes leading up to the exam. Often the class is free though you pay for the study materials. Also, some libraries and community colleges offer a study class usually for a fee. I am very comfortable doing self-study but the choice is yours. I also attended some classes and was able to see examples and demonstrations of various ham devices, technologies, and procedures you don’t get form self-study. Which is best all depends on you.
Back when I was a youngster amateur radio operators were required to learn Morse Code, as well as other technical information. The licensing exam including being able to understand a message sent in Morse. As you moved up the licensing classes, you were expected to grow in Morse proficiency.
I’m not sure exactly when it happened, but some years ago the FCC created a new class of ham license that didn’t require knowing Morse, and beginning in February, 2007, the FCC no longer requires Morse Code for any of the three classes of amateur licensing. Many good long distance contacts can be made using Morse Code at low power levels. So while Morse is no longer a requirement it’s a very good idea to learn it!
There are several software packages that will convert Morse into alphanumeric characters on a screen, and will allow you to type a message on a keyboard then convert it to Morse for transmission. While this is good technology, my recommendation is that you learn it the “old fashioned way” of DAH’s and DIT’s too. At some point in life, you may not have access to a computer and need to send or receive a Morse code message!
There are many books and programs as well as websites (often free) to help you learn.
The exam itself is multiple choice questions, and there’s a very interesting aspect of this examination process: You actually get to see all the questions you might be asked in advance!
As of writing this article, the questions pool for the Technician license consists of 394 multiple choice questions covering a wide range of what they call “sub-elements” including Electrical Principles, Electrical Components, Operating Modes, Radio Waves, Station Equipment, FCC Regulations, Safety, etc.
The exam selects a certain number of questions randomly from these sub=elements. The exam is given on paper so each copy of the exam contains a different set of random questions. You could try to just memorize the answers to the question, but you would just be cheating yourself. While the questions and answers on the exam will be what you practiced with, they may change the order of the answers. Besides, you will need to know the material to be an effective ham operator.
The General and Extra license exams work the same way but with different sub-elements.
When you feel you’re ready to take the licensing exam, you have to find where and when it’s being given. In the past, examinees had to go to an FCC office to take the exam. Fortunately, today the exam is given locally often at several locations around your area. Throughout the country there are Volunteer Examiner Coordinator (VEC) groups. These groups are approved by the FCC to train and certify local Volunteer Examiners (VE) – fellow ham operators of either General or Extra license class – to administer the licensing exams.
If you are taking a study course at a ham club, chances are the club has at least one VE who will administer the exam at the end of the course, but you aren’t required to be part of a club to take the exam or even if you are you can take the exam anywhere. The easiest way I think to find out where and when exams are given is to go to the ARRL website and under Licensing, Education & Training click on the link for Find An Exam Session. There you can search by location and/or date range for where exams are given (usually every month).
When you do find a location for taking the exam, I suggest contacting the VE (most VE’s can be contacted via email) listed to confirm:
Be sure to arrive on time! The exam will be graded right there when you are done.
Taking the exam is a pretty straightforward process. Check with the VE to see if you need anything else, but in most cases all you need to bring to the exam is:
To point #2, some people have privacy concerns and not without good reason. Before you take the exam you can go to the FCC’s Universal Licensing System (ULS) web site and register there (the ARRL website has a guide to registration). Once registered you will be mailed your Federal Registration Number (FRN). You can use your FRN instead of your social security number for the exam and all other documents and forms related to your amateur radio license. The ULS also allows you to maintain your licenses such as change your address and renewing your licenses. This pre-registration is optional however. If you choose not to register, the FCC will issue you a FRN when your license is issued.
To point #5, as of writing this the exam fee is $15 per session. That means you can take as many exams at the one session you want for that fee. So you could take the Technician exam more than once the same day if you don’t pass the first time. Or, you can take the Technician exam then go on for the General exam too at the same time if you feel up to it.
Congratulations you passed! Presuming this was your first exam for the Technician license, your question is, Now what?
Your VE will help you fill out two important forms (or they may fill it all out themselves, depends on the people). First is the ARRL’s Certificate of Successful Completion of Examination. This is basically a receipt confirming you took and passed the exam indicated. This document is important because if there should be a problem issuing your license (rare but happens) you have one year from the date of passing the exam to get it resolved and your license issued before you have to retake the exam. Keep this certificate for your records.
Next, you will complete the NCVEC Quick-Form 605 Application For Amateur Operation/Primary Station License. This form is not an official FFC form! Do not mail it to the FCC! The form is from the National Conference of Volunteer Examiner Coordinators (NCVEC) and is what the VEC uses to enter your information into the FCC system. (NOTE: You may be asked to fill out this form before taking the test instead).
After the VEC has processed the form, the FCC will mail your license that contains your official radio call sign that must be used for all communications. It will also have your FRN if you haven’t applied for one already as described above. Your license is valid for 10 years and as long as you renew it in time (before expiration or within 2 years grace after it expires) you never have to retake the exam so be sure to renew it!
One of the nice aspects of the licensing process is that it is not out to “get you”. If you don’t pass the exam, you can usually retake the exam right away! You’ll get a different version of the exam with a new set of questions taken from the pool of questions and you can try again and so on.
You only have to wait until your name appears in the FCC’s ULS database. This means that the FCC has issued your call sign. You can check the call sign database from the ULS website.
Once you see your name and call sign on the database, you can get on the air before actually receiving your license in the mail. The official time frame is up to 15 days from when you take the test for your call sign to appear in the database, but it can be sooner. Mine was only 6 days. Just remember that being licensed for ham radio doesn’t mean being qualified for all aspects! Some things still have to be learned and will come over time, but that’s for another article.
Your call sign is unique among all ham operators in the world! Each nation has different letters and formats so learning those will help you quickly identify where someone is located. Hams enjoy contacting people far away so there’s little desire to be anonymous, and anonymity is against FCC rules. For a license issued in the U.S. your call sign will start with a K, N, or W followed by a single digit number and two or three letters. (Extra licensees may have a little different format, too detailed to go into here).
Call signs are assigned by availability of the letter/number combinations in your licensing region (there are 10 regions in the U.S.). So the rules for U.S. call sign formats aren’t set in stone but are usually true. You can request a “vanity” (select your own) call sign but there is no guarantee you’ll get it if someone else already is using it (either by their request or just random assignment). There is an additional fee for requesting a vanity call sign, whether you get it or not, and you will need the actual FCC 605 form to file for your license. It’s up to you if you want to try for it.
Ham radio is more involved than CB, FRS and other fixed-channel radio services, but with that involvement comes more options and opportunities. The wide variety of equipment and possibilities makes getting your first license a permit to learn more and develop. As a prepper, before undertaking a ham license decide what you really want to achieve and if ham radio is the best way to do it. But in general, amateur radio is fascinating and very enjoyable!
All it takes is one really good-sized crisis and suddenly individuals are left without the means to call home and say, “I’m okay.” Whether it’s a weather disaster, riots, a terrorist attack or a governmental crack-down, access to the internet, cell phone service, radio and telephone landlines can be quickly and rather easily disrupted.
Here in America we’ve seen just how quickly a violent windstorm, wildfires, or hurricane can shut off our communication. No, you won’t have to resort to using smoke signals! In fact, most of these non-traditional methods are rather hi-tech. Check them out.
1. Do you have a solar/battery powered emergency radio? If it can be powered up with a hand crank, so much the better. Some units include lights and even a compass. Check out WeatherRadioStore for this type of unit.
2. Two-way radios are an attractive option because of their low cost. Some models even boast a 30 mile range. In reality, even the highest quality radios will rarely have more than a two mile range. However, these radios can come in handy when electricity is out because they operate on VHF and UHF signals, and if you live on a large homestead, these are hard to beat and require no expense to operate.
3. Breaker, breaker! What’s yer 20? It might sound like a really bad line in a country-western song, or a line in a bad country-western song, but a Citizens’ Band (CB) radio is a low-cost form of communication that is free to operate and doesn’t require a license. Depending on your location, the range of a CB radio might be as much as ten to twenty miles. Check out your local Craigslist or even Freecycle to find one in your price range.
4. Feeling hi-tech with your cool, trendy iPhone? Did you know you can install an app on your iPhone or iPod Touch that will give you access to police, sheriff, Coast Guard, and fire department scanners? Although this requires cell phone availability, you’ll be right on top of the latest developments in a crisis. Visit Edgerift.com to learn more.
5. A satellite phone may be your best bet when you absolutely, positively have to get in touch with someone, and there’s no other way. A ‘sat phone’ works everywhere, except indoors. These babies sell for several hundred dollars each, but are often the only reliable communication in areas hit by an extensive disaster or in a region with virtually no phone coverage of any kind.
6. Very often, people outside your area will have more up-to-date knowledge of your situation than you will. With a shortwave radio, you can reach thousands of shortwave radio stations around the world. People operating these stations will likely have internet access even if you don’t. Radio Shack has a rather dry but informative Q&A on their website.
7. People networks. Just as many churches have “prayer chains”, “information chains” can be organized among friends, relatives, and neighbors. Choose an out-of-state individual who will serve as a contact point for everyone and keep track of timely, vital news so everyone stays informed. This is called a communication hub.
8. Amateur radio licenses aren’t just for nerds anymore! I was surprised to find out how many women have, or are getting, their HAM operators license. You don’t need the tall radio tower in your front yard, and it’s possible to pick up basic equipment at a nominal price. In a catastrophe, Amateur Radio operators may be the first to begin broadcasting, and in a worst case scenario, they may be utilized for getting information both in and out of an area when nothing else can.
Have a Plan A, B, and C for communicating if and when an emergency situation arises. Make sure each family member knows who to contact and how to contact them. Have at least one alternative way to receive information and one alternative way to communicate outside your area.
Sometimes we overlook communication back-ups in our hurry to stock up on food, water, and other tangibles. It’s hard to imagine the rising level of panic that occurs when your family members and other loved ones cannot be reached by phone, and you have no idea where they are or if they’re alive. This aspect of preparedness should be addressed by every family.
As you go about crafting your disaster response plans, consider adding a communication hub to the equation. The idea is to have a central person who family and friends can contact to keep abreast of developments and get messages to one another.
The person chosen to be a communication hub should live outside of your own immediate area. You want this person to be outside the area likely to be affected by “your” disaster. This way, there is someone who can easily send and receive calls and text messages, as well as surf the ‘Net and gather information about what is happening in your area.
In this day and age where just about everyone carries a cell phone strapped to their hip, it might seem unlikely that hitting number 3 on your speed dial won’t work. However, there are many possible reasons why family members may not be able to reach one another by phone or otherwise in the aftermath of a disaster.
It could be that cell signals are spotty at best. Perhaps your son or daughter didn’t charge their phone last night and the battery is now dead. Whatever the reason for the inability to quickly reach them, we preppers should always plan for contingencies.
Having a designated communication hub provides a way for separated family members to communicate with one another, letting folks know they are okay and where they are located. This way, when Mom, frantic because she’s stuck in traffic outside the city and can’t reach her kids on their phones, Aunt Sally can let her know that Joey and Heather, using their school laptops, have both sent e-mails saying they are still at school and will stay there until Mom arrives.
Aunt Sally can also go online and update Mom on the latest information available about the disaster, such as authorities are closing off certain freeway exit ramps. This allows Mom to plan ahead and get off the freeway before reaching those exits, using surface streets to bypass the traffic snarls.
Meanwhile, Aunt Sally is also trying to reach Dad to let him know what is going on, letting Mom concentrate on just getting to the school without needing to be hitting redial over and over at the same time she’s negotiating what has suddenly become rush hour from Hell.
Talk to your extended family members or other loved ones about becoming your disaster communication hub. Be sure to reciprocate as well.
Smart phones aren’t called “smart” for no reason! There are multiple phone apps that can alert loved ones to your status. Red Cross’s disaster apps have a feature that, with a single click, can send an “I’m safe” message.
Similar apps to check out: