Ham Radio and Emergencies, A Great Combination


Communications are largely a forgotten area in survival; that is, until an emergency comes. Then we all wish we had some means of communicating with others. I say it’s forgotten, because being able to get the news and weather is just not as high a priority as having enough water to drink and food to eat. But then once the disaster hits, we all want to find out what’s going on and let our families know that we’re okay.

If you’ve ever read William Forstchen’s book, “One Second After,” one of the first things that stand out is that once the power went out, nobody had any idea of what had happened. If it hadn’t been for the main character’s prior military service, in which he had studied and written about EMP, the town would have gone on for who knows how long, without being sure of what happened.

The reason why nobody had any idea what had happened was that communications were down. Their cell phones, radios, televisions, home phones and internet were all instantly cut off. The information age came to a sudden end, leaving everyone in the dark as to what had happened.

Granted, an EMP isn’t the only risk we face, but considering the current state of affairs in North Korea, we might very well be looking at the events of that book coming to pass. If they do, we’ll all be just as much in the dark as they were in that college town. None of us will know what happened, how our families are, or even if the United States of America still existed as a political entity. We wouldn’t even know if we were the only ones still alive.

While that lack of knowledge probably wouldn’t affect our short-term survival needs, it would affect our long-term ones. More than anything, that knowledge would give us some idea of how long the crisis might last and whether we could expect any aid to help us survive.

Going back to One Second After, we find that one of the first things they worked to restore, as a community, was some sort of communications. That was necessary for their mutual defense, as well as coordinating a number of other activities. They ultimately ended with two forms of communications they were using; telephone (through an old-fashioned switchboard) and via Ham Radio.

There’s a good reason why the author chose to include Ham Radio as one of their primary forms of communications. That’s because ever since the early 1900s, the Amateur Radio network, what is commonly referred to as Ham Radio, has been one of the most reliable forms of worldwide communications there ever was.

Collins Radio Company, now known as Rockwell Collins, got its start because of the ability and reliability of Ham Radio operators. When Admiral Byrd made his famous trek into Antarctica in 1828 to 1830, it was Arthur Collins, the founder of Collins Radio Company, who was able to maintain contact with him. The Navy had lost all contact, but thanks to Collins, they were able to receive his reports. Shortly afterwards, the Navy contracted Collins to make radio equipment for their use. Had it not been for Collins and his company, the Navy would have had much more trouble maintaining contact with their fleet operations in the Pacific.

Ham Radio operators have a long history of stepping in to fill the breach when disasters happen. Somehow, they always seem to be able to keep their equipment up and running, even when all the normal means of communications are down. I fully expect that regardless of the disasters that might face us in the future, we can expect to find Ham Radio operators there to assist, providing communications and information when nobody else can.

So how can we make use of this network of Amateur Radio operators in our survival planning?

First of all, you have to decide if you want to get a Ham Radio license yourself or not. You don’t need a license to listen in on their radio chatter, but you do need one to transmit. Since Ham Radio operators are self-policing, don’t expect them to look kindly upon you trying to talk on their network, even in an emergency, if you don’t have a license.

But even without a license, being able to listen in on Ham Radio is an excellent source of news. While most Ham Radio operators simply talk back and forth with each other, there are others who have actual radio shows, especially news shows. During a time of national crisis, those people will probably be the best source of information as to what is happening.

All you need to have, in order to take advantage of that service is a shortwave radio. Ham Radio operators have several different frequency ranges that they operate over, but the best for listening in on would be the 10 meter band (28.300 – 28.500 MHz) and above 50 MHz.

If you want to be able to have two-way communications; which would allow you to find out what happened to your family, talk to the members of your survival team and ask questions of people in other parts of the country, you’ll want to be able to talk over the Ham Radio network.

Talking is a bit more complicated, but only a bit. Since the FCC has eliminated the requirement for knowing Morse Code to get a license, the test is much easier. All you have to do is correctly answer a 35 question test and you can get your Technician’s License. That will allow you to communicate on a local, domestic level.

Successfully completing a second 35 question test will gain you the General License. That will increase the number of bands you can communicate over, as well as allow you to participate in international communications. In the event of a nationwide catastrophe, such as an EMP, the best information about what is going on will probably come from other countries.

Any major efforts in reconstruction and consolidation, in the wake of that sort of nationwide catastrophe will probably involve communications over the Ham Radio network. So getting your license and buying a Ham Radio transceiver will put you in the loop as to whatever is happening, helping you to become part of any efforts to put our country back together again.

Featured Image by Tom 7, CC

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