OPSEC Communications

Hello Everybody, Frank here.

It’s the weekend and we had a great rain last night. Now the freshly tilled garden would be just the place for making mud angels. For you Yankee types, some of you would still be calling these snow angels, but here in the south we actually call it mud wrestling.  See, we have a problem here with communication. Some of you think snow tires and some of us think mud tires.

This previously driven article is about communications. It’s titled OPSEC which means operational security. This article is five years old, but the information is still the same today. We NEED to be able to communicate with our neighbors. No, it’s not the kind of communication that you say you can’t have with your teenage kids, you know, ‘we just can’t communicate’. The type of communications mentioned here is the life and death type, where you NEED to be able to talk to the person down the road.

The first picture down below is of Nunam Iqua, Alaska. Fern and I used to live there, it is located at the mouth of the Yukon River on the Bering Sea. For you curious types, the zip code is 99666. Google maps will take you right there. 

The article is about radios. This is not so much about ham radio, actually, it’s not about ham radio at all. It’s about the across-the-counter type of radios. But, ham radio is a good idea, it vastly expands your options. If you are of the level that you find reading Frank and Fern enjoyable, then you should have no difficulty with the first two levels of amateur radio testing for licensing. Ham radio can be very, very expensive, or it can be quite inexpensive. It’s kind of like flying a remote controlled airplane, now days commonly called drones. I didn’t realize some of those drones are as big as a jet, a big jet. But I’m drifting here. 

Something to remember. Anything that is said on a radio can be heard by someone else. I used to teach my teachers, if you don’t want someone to read something, then don’t write it. Same applies to radio. Anything you say can be heard by that drone flying in the air. Think about it.

Hope you enjoy the article. Have a great day. And get ready. It’s very near.

We’ll talk more later, Frank

Originally published January 4, 2014

Nunam Iqua, Alaska

Once upon a time, there were two people that lived in far bush Alaska that could see dark clouds on the horizon. These two people, knowing what dark clouds meant, started to prepare for a serious storm. As the clouds got closer, and the sky darkened, these two adventurous souls packed up all their gear and relocated to a somewhat safer location. Even though these people escaped this particular storm, the storms followed them to their new location. And the storms have continued to grow bigger and bigger and bigger.

Okee-dokee everybody, back to reality. My first experience with radio communication in the modern world we live in now, was with two little walkie-talkie radios. Fern and I were leaving Alaska and we were going to drive to southeast Oklahoma. Through a large portion of this trip there is no cell phone service. Since we were traveling in two separate vehicles, each pulling a U-Haul trailer, I bought a couple of the above mentioned handheld walkie talkies from Cabela’s. And that’s how this radio story started. That was five years ago, and here we are today.

I knew nothing about rechargeable batteries. I didn’t know that you could recharge batteries while you’re driving down the road. So we used eight alkaline batteries a day. You see, Fern and I are an odd couple. We actually like each other and enjoy talking to each other, so the radios came in real handy. So, after our little trip, which took eleven days, I discovered the benefits of rechargeable batteries.

110/12VDC charger

So, when we got here, we put the radios away for a while. I’m not sure exactly when or how or why, but we started using them again around our little farm here. And like many things in life, I had to experience a large learning curve. Well, we started using the little radios again and learned

about rechargeable batteries. I decided I wanted extra radios. I went online, found a couple, and not paying attention, realized they did not use a AA battery. But, instead these new radios used a AAA battery. This was not my plan, but I didn’t have the knowledge to know the difference. So, now I need AA and AAA rechargeable batteries. Well, this system worked out okay. I found a place online to buy batteries that I like. And I still use this same place, by the way. So, now I have a hand full of radios, two different types of batteries and the system is working pretty good. But the three AAA batteries will not stay charged near as long as four AA batteries. 

So, I decided to buy more radios. That’s when I started using the Midland GXT1000 and 1050. They are the same radio, one is black the other is camo. I got lucky when I bought this little radio, because it did something I didn’t know it 

would do. It comes with a rechargeable battery pack, which looks just like three AA’s put together. But it says it will take four AA’s, and it will. If you take the cover off and take the battery pack out, you will see that there is an extra slot for a fourth battery. The cool part is, these four AA rechargeable batteries, will also charge in the charging cradle that the radio came with. Here’s where I got lucky. Midland makes a bunch of radios that look just like this, that have the same set up with the same battery pack, but the other ones will not recharge the four rechargeable AA batteries while in the cradle. As the learning curve increased here, it was obvious that not all of these radios charge the same way. So, a bonus feature, because later on I bought some other Midland radios that looked identical, but I could not charge the four AA rechargeable batteries in the cradle. So much for that issue.

I know these little radios are advertised a certain mileage. But that is under perfect conditions. So, remember, these radios are line of sight, and if you need more information about how the radios operate and their properties, go to Frank’s Radio Communications page. These are good radios, high quality and they work well, and they did the job we needed around the farm.

I’m still, at this time, not into ham radio. I tried to get some of my friends and neighbors to get some of these little radios so we could keep in touch. No one was interested in this form of communication, and years later, they’re still not interested. That pretty much took care of the home issue. Now I wanted to be able to reach my wife by radio 30 miles away. Bigger 

issue. We tried CB radios with SSB and due to the properties of the CB radio, it just would not work. I live in hill country with small mountains. So one day, looking at a retail radio site, I noticed a programmable commercial radio. Did a little bit more research and realized that these radios would broadcast on the same frequency as my little walkie talkies. That is when I started to realize about different frequencies. You see, a CB radio is around 27 MHz. My little walkie talkies are around

460 MHz. These new little commercial radios are handheld and they would broadcast on the VHF band which includes most local police, fire and ambulance. It was also good on the ham radio frequencies, which at that time, I cared nothing about. All the ones I just mentioned, police, fire and ham, are in the VHF range, that’s around 140-155 MHz. But these little radios would also work for GMRS, which is my little walkie talkie, at around 460 MHz, which is UHF. There is also another free public band called MURS, which is around 150 MHz. So, I tried these little handheld commercial radios and they worked great on this frequency. Some of these activities mentioned here, some folks will tell you that you cannot use a commercial radio for, and they are right. But as long as you are not bothering anybody, most people don’t care. Also, remember that in an emergency, anyone can use any frequency if no other means is available. 
So, I put a couple of these little commercial radios, remember, these are handhelds, in our cars running legal power, and could talk to my wife most of her way to work. I dug out my old Radio Shack power supply, I put up an outside antenna, and used one of these little radios to talk to my wife all the way to work. The antenna outside of my house is what made the difference.

Okay. That’s where we were. So using a handheld radio, with an outside antenna at my house, I can now talk to my wife in her car. Shortly after this stage, I got my ham radio license, and we’ve made other changes since

then. But what I’m getting at here is, if you want to have communications, and you do not have a ham radio license, it is available. A small power supply, just about any transmitting and receiving radio, the proper antenna and you can talk to your buddy a good ways down the road, even with your little walkie talkie that does duck calls. That little gizmo thingy that your kid is out playing in the yard with, is probably a GMRS radio. Now, you cannot take a GMRS radio and attach it to an external antenna, you just can’t do it. But you can, with a handheld commercial radio, and it’s not difficult. Now don’t think you’re going to take one of these little handhelds and increase the power to 500 watts like some CBer’s do. They’re just not intended for that use.

But, that CB radio that you have out in your truck, is good for other purposes. All it is, is just a ham radio around 27 MHz, or in the ham world, called 11 meter, that will transmit line of sight. But it will also, when the atmosphere is right, transmit very long distances by bouncing off of the atmosphere. Read the other posts for more information on that. So, you have a CB radio, you can talk to your buddy down the road. If you have a GMRS radio, you can talk to your buddy down the road. Someday, you’re going to want to talk to your buddy down the road, because your cell phone and your telephone may not work. Some people say, “Hog wash! We’re always going to have electricity and telephones.” Yep, and the Titanic was floating just fine, until it hit that iceberg. 

Okay. Some little tips here. OPSEC. That translates into operational security. Anything you say on a radio can be heard by someone else. Let me say that again. Anything you say on a radio can be heard by somebody else. Any point where you transmit from can be located. Ham radio operators have a game where they try to locate a certain transmitter. The military and other government agencies also have that ability. So don’t think you can’t be found. If you’ve read some of my other posts, I emphasize, don’t be stupid.

Okay. Don’t use people names on the radio, because somebody is listening. Develop real simple little codes about locations and where you are. Teach other family members to do the same thing. Well, you say, “How are they going to know what channel I’m broadcasting on?” Anybody with a scanner that has these programmed will know exactly what frequency you’re broadcasting on. You ask, “How will they know where I’m located?” It’s called electronic triangulation. So, don’t kid yourself, that you’re smarter than the government, because some of those folks are very, very good at what they do.

So, if you’ve got a bunch of guys you go to church with, and you all have those little GMRS radios, one day at church, set up a time and see if everybody can talk to each other. Just practice and see if you can talk.

Also try it with CB radios, too. Then if you can communicate, set up a time to do it in an emergency. You say, “Well you talked about the power being off and I don’t want to use batteries.” Well, then don’t. Get you a couple of rechargeable batteries. And you say, “Well, fool. If the power is off, how am I going to recharge them?” Get you a teeny, weeny solar panel and check out this link. It will give you a lot more detail.

I use my little radios everyday. My wife gets this strange kick out of feeding farm animals. I don’t need to understand why, but she does. And we stay in contact. We make sure we have contact before she walks out the door. We make sure the batteries are charged. Give it some long term thought. Plan ahead, test your equipment. If you choose to advance to the ham radio hobby, then you will understand a whole lot more about what you are doing right now, and a different radio world will open up.

But if you choose not to, you can still communicate. And if you just want to listen, get you a scanner and a shortwave radio, and there are few things that you will not be able to listen to. The scanner is for local and the shortwave is for long distance. Because you might want to know when there is a forest fire coming your direction. It can also tell you from the National Weather Service, when a tornado is coming. And if you listen to the local ham radio weather clubs, using weather spotters, they will also tell you where the tornado is and what direction it’s traveling. Then you may hear when they’re loading up people into buses a mile or two down the road from you. By the way, don’t get on the bus.

When you see those big black clouds come rolling in, then you need to be able to communicate. It will be too late to find your radio and see if you have any batteries. It will be too late to set up a system of communication. It will be too late. Folks those dark clouds are gathering. Pay attention.

We’ll talk more later. 73, Frank

12 thoughts on “OPSEC Communications

  1. Hi, CW. There could be a sharp drop in population and it could happen in a matter of a couple of weeks. There are many ways to communicate via radio. Gently ask around and see what people use in your area.For example. Jeepers, folks that play off road in Jeeps, on the east coast use a lot of CB radios, on the west coast a lot of VHF radios. If you notice an antenna on a vehicle besides the normal factory antennas, if the comfort level is right, ask the person what they use. Easy way to find out. Then plan accordingly.Take care, Frank

  2. Given the fact that I don't know many who think like I do, I'm not so sure there will be many neighbors left to communicate with after any catastrophic event. Starvation does take it's toll! Most don't want to participate in any meaningful conversations now. I do truly believe that having the radios and ability to communicate should be much more important to all. Thank you so much for the reposting of very useful information.CW

  3. Hi, Pete. Good information. You're right about UHF/VHF, they are much easier to track than HF signals. The ham guys have a game they call fox hunt. They will set up a station somewhere and let it broadcast intermittently, and the teams go out and try to locate it. In 1970 when I was in the Army, we used the triangulation technique. Listening from different locations, measuring the signal strength back the direction it came from, and where the lines crossed, was the location of the transmitted signal.They do this today with cell phone towers. It can also crudely be done even if there is just one cell phone tower in the area. Folks need to think about that before they use their cell phone for an unacceptable activity.You're absolutely right about HF, high frequency. It is much harder to trace the signal if it is bouncing off the atmosphere. A technique I use is called NVIS, near vertical incident skywave. You shoot your signal almost straight up and it bounces back off the ionosphere almost straight down. On the military vehicles that you see with the antennas folded down, approximately 16' long and horizontal, this is the reason why, it broadcasts the signal up instead of out. NVIS is extremely difficult to track it's source. It's good for about, give or take, a 300 mile radius. It's real good in hilly and mountainous areas.On chargers. I have converted all of my battery chargers to 12V. Also, my computer charging cable works off of 12V. It looks just like the regular charger, except it has a cigar type plug for a 12V system. I purchased it on Amazon and it works great. I also convert my 12V to 5V USB. Lots of pieces of equipment use USB now days.As long as we have gasoline and an automobile that works, we have a 12V charging system. When you run out of gasoline, make sure your windows are up and you have a nice little greenhouse.Any other ideas you have, please let us know, we are all in this together. A whole lot of people think we might be using these techniques real soon.73, Frank

  4. Hi, Leigh. We all start at the beginning. Oftentimes, I will pick a subject I know nothing about. With a little research and some study, I can normally get myself the basics.Look around through Frank's Radio Communications. If you have the time pick an article once every couple of days and read it. This radio thing is not difficult, some basic safety factors and a little bit of knowledge and you'll be listening and talking soon.If you can, read the comments, some folks ask questions there. It may be the same question you have.Take care, and thank you. Frank

  5. OPSEC rule of thumb: If your radios are in the VHF/UHF ranges, you're transmitting line-of-sight, which means \”the authorities\” can follow your signal right back to you. HF transmissions involve a \”ground wave\” signal path and a \”Sky wave\” signal path.The sky wave bounces off the atmosphere for several \”hops\” while the ground wave, well, it follows the ground. This makes it harder for those folks that are \”there to help you\” to find you. This is also why, on HF, you may be able to talk to someone three thousand miles from you, but not to someone thirty miles from you. Have you ever seen the military talking on their walkie-talkies and wondered why the antennas on the radios were so long? That's because those are HF walkie-talkies. They don't want to be found either… by the enemy! Even those ISIS devils know that much!Charging: Anyone concerned with the possibility of a long-term grid-down scenario should have an inverter in their kit. With one of these, you can hook up to a 12V battery and charge things that require the ubiquitous \”wall wart\” AC adapter. I keep several different sizes of these. The smaller the inverter, the less battery draw. Of course, the smaller the inverter, the less output as well. You can't run an HF radio on a 400-watt inverter. Then again, you don't need a 2000-watt inverter to charge a laptop! Better yet; opt for radios, etc that will charge on 12VDC outright! And remember, folks; if you have a running vehicle, you have the means to recharge not only the radios, etc, but those 12V deep cycle batteries as well.

  6. Frank, this is really well written, and perfect for someone like me with no radio experience. It gives me an idea of types of radios and what's possible with them. It helps to start with at least a little useful knowledge!

  7. Vickie, that must be a horrifying situation. I cannot even imagine what that must be like.About radios. Ask your local fire department or emergency management if they use analog or digital radios. If they use analog a simple scanner is all that is needed to listen. If they use digital, you can still listen, but it's a little more complicated listening to a trunked digital system. Your local emergency coordinator should be able to provide you with this information including frequencies and who to listen to for the information you desire. All counties have an emergency coordinator. Call your local police, sheriff or fire department and they can tell you who the local emergency coordinator is. The departments just mentioned, might be able to provide you with the information that you need or want.Your local ham radio group might come in handy here also. Most of those guys are real helpful, most of the time. Most of them. Your local emergency coordinator is probably a ham radio operator.Keep me up to date if you can. There is a whole lot of stuff you can do with radios. As mentioned in other comments, read some of the links in this article and always be smart and safe.As far as recharging D cells, I have recharged D cells for a few days in a row and they never did totally recharge. I have switched almost everything to use AA. Just my personal preference. Instead of the big flashlights with three D cells, I use smaller flashlights with two AA. There are many other battery options that work just as well. This is just the one that I like. I've also switched all of my lanterns to AA.Good luck on your venture. Frank

  8. Hi, Mary. It does take time to prioritize things. Food and shelter should come first, and that takes time.Communications. A battery operated AM/FM radio is s good place to start. Depending on what your local authorities use, a simple scanner is very handy. If they use digital radios it gets more complicated. A shortwave radio also comes in handy for long distance listening. You notice I've only talked about listening so far.Read some of the articles under Frank's Radio Communications, it'll give you a good start. In this article there are a number of links, check them out. Transmitting a signal is more difficult than receiving one, but it's easy enough to do. A walkie-talkie is a very good place to start.Remember, practice, practice, practice. And don't forget, anything you say can be heard by somebody. A radio is a tool, use it wisely. Do a little research and if you have questions, ask. I assure you, whatever you do, someone else has done before you and there is no need to invent the wheel twice. Like the rechargeable batteries I learned about on our drive down from Alaska. Listen. I have my scanners on all day. I rarely talk on the radio. Listen. Frank

  9. Grammy, it's always good to have a plan and it's never too late to start. If I may, pick a frequency, let's say, pick a channel. Channel 22. Let the radio sit there all day and see how much traffic there is. If it's real busy, try a different channel and just listen. When you find one with the least amount of traffic, talk to your neighbors about using that channel as the one you communicate on.For ID purposes, numbers work well. Take your initials, first, middle and last, look at your telephone and see what they are. That's your number. Or, use any nickname or handle that you choose. Avoid giving personal data over the radio, because anyone with a scanner or another radio similar to yours, can hear what your saying. Depending on the radio, some radios you can leave in the charger while you are receiving, and that's receive only. DO NOT TRANSMIT WITH THE RADIO IN THE CHARGER.Good for you. Experiment. Play. But keep your information private. Don't tell someone that you're going to the grocery store and that you'll be gone all afternoon. Not a wise thing to do.Good luck, and good for you. Frank

  10. We have two solar powered battery chargers that work great! It charges the AAA and AA batteries in a day, but the C and D cells take two days, which is why we have two chargers! We are off grid, and these really come in handy. We recently lived through the Camp Fire here in Butte County, California, and were evacuated for 11 days. CalFire and our Butte County websites tried to keep us up to date, but most of the information we could get was still a day or two behind. We were able to follow a \”heat map\” done through the national weather service that showed where the fire was actually located, and at one point we could see that the fire was directly accross the canyon from us! We were so scared that our the house we were building was going to be toast! Then, about two days later we found out that the heat signature was not the fire, but controlled back-fires! I guess we would have saved our jangled nerves a bit if we had a radio with the fire/sheriff/emergency feeds! Lesson learned, and we will be purchasing one soon, hopefully before the next fire season starts! Thank you for all your wisdom, Frank.

  11. I remember reading your blogs about communication methods from your earlier years. I really didn't pay that much attention; we were concentrating on other priorities at the time: finding a workable homestead, learning new skills, stocking up on supplies bit by bit, etc. Now that we've progressed a bit, stocked up a bit, gotten our homestead (but still shaping, improving, learning the soil, etc) it's time to get serious about communication. Like you and Fern, we have walkie talkies but obviously that just won't cut it in a long term, grid down world. Thanks for the reminder to improve our communication skills; we plan to start slowly and work up from there. Further down the road, it may well be the lifeline needed for maintaining a civilized society.

  12. You have motivated me. I’m going to get those two handheld radios I bought a year or so ago and use them. We have three or four walkie talkies, and son/next door neighbor has two or three radios that he uses in his business for communication with equipment operators. We need to get a plan before it’s needed. Thanks.

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