Communications Basics – Amateur Radio
It is a proven fact that when any type of disaster strikes the first thing that is needed is a solid communications network to make recovery efforts flow well. The fiascos of the past, such as Hurricane Katrina, have proven that one disaster can turn into multiple disasters very quickly when communications is thwarted or unavailable.
Communications is typically utilized by authorities to maintain command and control under emergency conditions. As we have seen when communications systems fail, or are not used properly, people die unnecessarily. When communications systems work as planned then the recovery efforts reduce the loss of life and enable responders to aid those in need in a timely and humane way.
Most of us have not been through any type of major disaster. Most of us are still preparing for disasters such as an economic collapse, Martial law, some type of epidemic, flooding, tornadoes, snow and ice storms, heat waves, and the list goes on. Regardless of the situation we are faced with communications enables us to “connect” with family members, neighbors, and others with resources that can provide aid should the need arise.
Now, let’s get to the heart of the matter. Taking care of ourselves and our families should be our primary goals. We are facing unprecedented changes in the United States today and the direction this nation is taking is not a healthy one. Being able to communicate with other like-minded individuals, groups, and communities will be of paramount importance.
Over the last 36-years I’ve looked at numerous types of communications platforms and the best that we have available to us is amateur radio. Each day new “hams” join our ranks as Technicians, Generals, or Extra class licensees. By taking a test which is offered by Volunteer Examiners (VEs) at numerous locations around the country individuals are then able to “get on the air” and benefit from what amateur radio has to offer.
The higher the class of license one can obtain the better. What I’m ultimately getting to is this – there are modes of operation and frequency allocations that would benefit the person involved in emergency preparation by having the higher class of license. The modes of operation will be discussed in future articles. For now, just understand that having maximum access to frequencies and other communications capabilities makes one just that much more prepared for emergency situations that arise.
The ability for individuals, families, and groups to be able to communicate over longer distances will be critical. While there is a place for Citizen Band (CB) radio capabilities, it is inefficient and has a short range. The Family Radio Service (FRS), General Mobile Radio Service (GMRS), and other commercial-type systems also deal with range limitations and the availability of good equipment generally. This is not to say that they don’t have their place in emergency situations because they do. However, they generally have many more limitations than does amateur radio.
Therefore, let me recommend that any person reading this article obtain their amateur radio (ham) license as soon as possible and acquire Very High Frequency/Ultra High Frequency (VHF/UHF) radios as well as High Frequency (HF) radios. Develop a plan and budget in order to obtain these radios. Determine your needs and acquire the equipment that fits those needs.
Amateur radio operators have the ability to talk locally via simplex which is radio-to-radio, on duplex which is through a repeater system, and by utilizing an Internet Radio Linking Project (IRLP) system can talk around the country or the world easily with a handheld radio. By utilizing HF capabilities one can talk locally and around the world on a radio-to-radio basis.
With all the radio capabilities let me focus on our need to communicate locally and regionally. As individuals concerned about preparing for any event that can disrupt our lives, it is important to know that we will have little impact on what may happen in another state or region. For us, having immediate knowledge of what is happening on our block, community, county, and state will be critical to us. Once we have intelligence gathered on those levels we can then explore what situations are occurring in other parts of the country and add that to our base of information. I cannot emphasize enough the need to be able to communicate locally with like-minded individuals as there is safety in numbers. Using amateur radio with pre-coordinated frequencies will be very important. In fact, individuals need to practice using their equipment and talking on the radios as much as possible. Also, every ham operator should have some sort of emergency power source (batteries, solar generator, and gas powered generator) in case there is no grid power available.
Finally, understand that every radio has its vulnerabilities. Amateur radios are no exception. An electromagnetic pulse, or EMP, will kill just about anything electronic. That’s why we cache extra radios in Faraday cages so that they will not be affected by such a burst of energy. I will have more on that in later articles. Just understand that having the ability to communicate is priceless to anyone dealing with an emergency situation. Not knowing what is going on can be devastating to say the least.
For a list of locations to take your amateur radio license test(s) go to:
For sites to take practice exams go to:
Matt Moody is a former Sergeant in the United States Marine Corps and a former Army Signal Officer. He has been a licensed amateur radio operator (Amateur Extra Class) for 36 years. He has been a Platoon Sergeant and a Platoon Leader/Team Leader. He was involved in numerous air assault operations in the late 70s and in Special Operations in the 80s. He was a member of the Marine Corps Base 29 Palms Shooting Team (’77-’79), shot in numerous Division Matches, and is sniper qualified. Matt is also a graduate of the rigorous Marine Corps Mountain Warfare Training Center and the Marine Corps Escape and Evasion (E&E) Course. Matt holds an AAS degree in Special Studies (Military Science) from Ricks College and a BS in Criminal Justice from Utah Valley University. He is a former Supervisor with the Department of Homeland Security (DHS) where he was assigned to the Salt Lake City and New York City (JFK) airports. He enjoys teaching emergency preparedness and communications courses to individual and groups. Matt presently serves as the Chief Security Officer (CSO) for a private company.