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Using Ham Radio and other communications equipment in Emergency Disaster Survival Situations and Information Blackouts
by N4UJW

A scenario that could happen! Are you prepared?

You and your family have rented a small cabin in a beautiful tree covered area situated high up on one side of a mountain range far from most civilization. An ideal spot to get away from it all.
You have been here before and this is your favorite place for vacation with the family.You have planned to be here for one week. The nearest highly populated area is about 50 miles away and on most nights you can see the lights reflecting off of the cloud layers in an erie milky glow on the horizon. Other smaller city light clusters can be seen in the distance in many directions off to the horizon in the darkness.
On this particular night you are outside sitting on the steps of the cabin long after sundown looking towards the city lights reflecting of the cloud layers in the sky and enjoying the cool mountain air with the stars overhead and then suddenly..... the glow from the lights disappears as if it was switched off.... and then almost instantly, your cabin lights flicker and go off. Suddenly you and your family are in the dark!

"What happened?" you say to yourself as you get up and you hear the wife yelling at you from inside the cabin that the lights are out.... which you already know. "Yes, I  know."... you reply..."Get the flashlight and round up the kids...I'm trying to figure out what just happened!"

You stare back in the direction of where the light reflections from the clouds should be...still nothing except dark sky with a few stars twinkling high above. No other city lights are visible in any direction and you can faintly here dogs barking from far away. You hear faint noises of what sounds like sirens in the far distance but too far off to hear well.

You now realize that there must have been a massive power outage and it is wide spread.....you have no way of knowing what happened.

Your wife has just tried to call her mother who lives in that far off city on your cell phone which always has a good signal every time it was used from the cabin before. "No signal"... she reports back to you! She then tries the land line that is furnished with the cabin..."No dial tone!" She says with an excited voice.

All commercial AC power appears down! Cell phones and landlines don't work now where you are. You remember the portable AM/FM radio you brought along to listen to the local ball games...you turn it on using another flashlight for light and you find that your favorite 24 hour station is OFF THE AIR! Nothing but noise where the station should be on the dial. "This is so wierd...this has never happened before!" "What is going on?" you think to yourself. "I've got to find out!" You then walk over to the car and try the radio on it...you hear nothing but faint far off stations that won't be any help to you to find local news.

You have concluded that there has been a major unknown disaster or event that created the power blackout over a huge area and not only are you "in the dark" power wise, you have no way to find out who, what, when, where or how it all happened. Well you say, "I will just rely on the local police or other authorities for information using my battery powered radio scanner!" You listen and listen to all of your local public service frequencies that should be coming from the small city about 20 miles out just below the mountain range in the valley and you hear nothing but silence except for some noise on all channels you have programmed into the scanner.
"This is crazy you say to yourself!" You've got to find out what happened! You know the police station has backup power but they are off the air! Why are they off? "They shoud'nt be off." You can't get answers and you begin to think of the worst. "This is terrible, no way to find out what happened and for how long it will last!"

As you look at the shadows cast on the window shade from your young son using a flashlight, you then look back out into the darkness for other "lights" on the horizon that you remember seeing on previous trips to the cabin at night...total blackness except for some stars and one or two very faint lights way off in the distance.

As you stand there looking out into the erie blackness, you wonder what happened as your family asks questions that you can not answer! You are cut off from the outside world with the blanket of darkness and suddenly you realize that you and your family are on your own........for how long,....... you may never know without outside communications!
End of scenario!

Editors note: In the scenario in the "fiction" above, the family was totally in the dark as far as getting the information they needed. Why was that? Because they were not prepared! The odds of something like this happening to YOU are 50/50. It either will happen or it won't! They may have told some of their family or friends that they would be on that mountain side for a week and exactly where their location was, but in the scenario, their friends and family are most likely in the same situation and so are their neighbors who were not prepared!

If you are like most folks in your area using the scenario above, you were not prepared to be able to get that, much needed and possibly life saving information, unless you have a way to communicate with the outside world that you know will work! You are suddenly isolated and on your own like a tiny speck of sand on an island beach touching the dark ocean!

So how can you communicate with and get answers from the outside world when all else seems to fail?
Ham radio may be just the life line you are looking for.

HAM Radio

Ham Radio will play a key role in your efforts to be prepared for situations like in the scenario above. If you are thrust into a situation like this, knowledge is king. The ability to know who, what, when, where, etc about what is going on around you will be extremely important in just about any survival, emergency or other "event" situation you might find yourself in. Having this "information" knowledge will give you and your family a good head start in how you will deal with it. Ham radio works when all else fails!

If I have your interest now then what kinds of Communications Equipment should you need when cell phones, land lines, AM/FM radio, local public services and TV are down?

A good plan must include some type of emergency communications equipment. The ability to send and receive information in a disaster or other situation like this is vital to being able to understand your situation, how it will effect you and how you will be able to deal with it for yourself and your family will all depend on IF you can get the information over radio that you will need! Remember when the commercial power is down, so are you unless you are prepared.

What are some of the choices of types of communication devices?

1. Ham Radio---your number one choice!

The answer is that there really is only one major way to go, and that is to invest in some good quality ham radio equipment and be properly licensed to use it. Ham radio equipment is much more powerful and versatile than most any other type of device out there and with the proper knowledge of how to set up and operate it, you CAN get a signal out and find the information and answers to your questions! Ham radio has millions of frequencies from which to choose. The much higher power ability enables you to "reach out" much further and with walkie talkie type radios, you can use ham radio repeaters which increase your "range" drastically. Your ability to send and receive valuable information using the ham radio bands will far out way any "survival" type radio hyped by any company! Don't believe that you can get long distances (20 miles or more) as they advertise.

2. CB radio---Not your best choice and won't work except in some instances...very limited range, usually only a few miles and there may be chaos on every channel from untrained "radio operators"! You will also hear language that the family won't approve of, especially the kids.
CB radios require no license and anyone can use one, but that is the problem with them. Lack of training in communications. If you have one in your home, you will need backup power for it or use it from your vehicle.

3. FRS walkie-talkies---These can be used for very short range communications out to a couple of miles to keep in touch with family but for long range, not useful. These are very low powered battery operated transceivers and don't believe the advertising hype of 20 miles or more. The frequencies also are on a shared basis. They operate much like CB radios but are useless for much over a couple of miles in most situations over flat terrain and not much use in or around high rise buildings due to their very low power and frequencies that they operate on.

4. Scanner radios - This is a receive only option that allows you to listen in on the public service agencies like police, fire, rescue, highway patrol, etc.  Assuming that they are not "down" in an information blackout due to a major event, and that you are within range of their transmitters, then you may be able to hear information that you otherwise would not know. There are many scanner radios on the market that will serve this purpose in all price ranges and you may want to look into getting one as a backup. They are available as hand held (walkie talkie style) or desktop models and most can be used in your vehicle.

Why choose HAM Radio instead of other methods of radio communications?

As the writer of this article, I've been a licensed HAM RADIO OPERATOR and shortwave listener since early childhood and I've talked to people from around the globe with radios that operate on just the power of a 100 watt light bulb or LESS and using very simple hand made antennas. I have the technical ability to get my simple ham radio station ON THE AIR from just about anywhere in the world. How can I do this? Simple, because I have training, technical ability and the experience.  In a "SHTF" situation, having the training and ability to communicate with other ham radio operators like myself with such a small amount of power and simple to operate equipment is going to be extremely important. I know that I can get a signal out when all else fails!

When the power grids go down during a disaster and cell phones systems are overloaded to the point of being useless, (and they will and have been down for days), it's usually HAM Radio operators who become the only people communicating. In most major disasters such as hurricane Katrina, tornados, and major power blackouts, just to mention a few situations, the early responders (police, fire, rescue, etc), all relied on HAM Radio Operators to relay information out of the disaster area to other areas that needed vital information in order to help the victims. Ham radio operators and their equipment, which can be easily setup in most any area within minutes rather than hours or days, play a vital roll in search and rescue efforts and emergency message reporting and relays to public service agencies such as police and fire departments. Many lives have been saved using trained ham radio operators and their equipment. Many public service departments have already learned of the major importance of having trained ham radio operators at their disposal. The National Weather Service relies on trained ham radio operators as weather spotters all over the U.S. reporting to them over ham radio bands when major severe weather events are in progress. They are the trained eyes and ears for the National Weather Service when they can not get this life saving information from their technology! Trained "hams" know that their equipment will work when all else fails! 

The FCC Requires You To be Licensed! Why you need to be Licensed?

I often have people email me asking if they really need to go through the hassle and training of becoming a licensed Amateur Radio Operator (HAM). Some people argue that during a SHTF situation having a License is totally useless. While this may be true in emergencies, the knowledge and technical ability that you'll obtain while studying to get your license is well worth the time and the effort. Can you imagine attempting to fly an airplane without the training and passing an exam to prove you can? You would fail upon take off even if you could figure out how to get it started! Getting that license shows that you have learned what it takes to communicate with other trained radio operators.

In the United States, no license of any kind is required in a LIFE AND DEATH situation to use any radio transmitter to get life saving aid. But in any other "situation" you must be licensed to use ham radio equipment. If you are not trained then you simply have to hope that you know how to operate it regardless of where you find it. Trained ham radio operators have a much better understanding or radio operations and the chance of getting it to work is far greater than the average public. 

Operating a ham radio station requires skills and lots of technical information and ability, rules, regulations, operating procedures and much more....it is NOT CB radio and not "plug and play" like many other hobbies. Ham radio is sanctioned and regulated by the FCC and is used worldwide as backup communications for many public service agencies using trained radio operators that know how to put a radio station on the air with minimum time and materials.

In studying for a ham radio license, you will learn the basics of how to operate your radio, how it operates, which frequencies and bands are useful during different times of day and why. You will know how to use your radio equipment during an emergency and how to build many different types of basic antennas from common supplies and materials you have laying around or you can buy cheaply usually locally.
Studying for the required license test and going through the process of learning all that is needed is the only way to ensure that you will have the ability to get that much needed information that you and your family may need that is passed back and forth over the ham radio waves. In times of disasters, ham radio operators are ALWAYS on the air getting and relaying that much needed information that you may need.

You will be far better off learning these skills and having the knowledge required to set up a ham radio station instead of haphazardly trying to figure how to use your radio during an emergency situation. Would you know how to pick up a simple walkie talkie type ham radio transceiver and communicate with others nearby you or in the next nearby city or community? Would you know how to set up the required antenna for a particular ham radio band? Would you know which bands are good in daytime and at night? I thought not. You need the training and and technical skills and be able to prove them by passing a ham radio exam! If you don't do this, you are NOT prepared and the important information you seek is most likely not yours to find, at least on ham radio you will most lilkely fine that needed information..... when all else fails! Simple as that.

If you have ever been in an "information blackout" for long periods of time and are serious about trying to find a better way to get that information, I strongly suggest that you look into becoming a HAM Radio Operator if you are not already one of us. Don't wait until you are in the dark in an information "blackout"and you need answers. You and your family may have no other option except ham radio! Are you prepared?

See this link for more information about how to become a ham radio operator and how to get the required study materials! You and your family and community will be glad you did! It's really easier than you think!

If you have more questions than answers about how to get into ham radio, please contact me at
   n4ujw AT hamuniverse.com. (remove the AT and add @ in its place and close spaces)

Additional Survival in Emergencies Reading:
Family Survival Guide in Emergencies! What will you need?
Important information to help you and your family survive in emergency situations! Will you be prepared?



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