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Any radio in an emergency myth

Two Way radio in a zombie apocalypse

Radio communication has long been considered to be an essential tool for preppers in emergency situations. However, there are many myths and misconceptions surrounding the use of radios in an emergency, with many preppers assuming that they can use a radio without any license or experience. This article will examine the myths and realities of using radios in an emergency and provide preppers with the necessary resources to ensure they are adequately prepared.

The Emergency Radio Myth

Many preppers mistakenly assume that they can use any radio in an emergency without a license or experience. This is incorrect. To use a radio in an emergency, the user must understand the legal, technical, and operational aspects of radio communications. As a ham radio operator, I participated in a drill with a county agency that involved untrained personnel that do not normally use radios. Their communication plan was to use FRS radios, which were unfortunately distributed without channel coordination. Despite there being only 22 channels, everyone was randomly changing channels in search of the rest of the group. This caused a communication disaster, and the ham operators had to step in to relay the communications.

Prepping Without a License

Prepping without a license is not recommended as it is illegal in most countries to operate a radio without one. Waiting for an emergency to use a radio is flawed because the operator won’t have the opportunity to legally test and learn about it. Asking questions like “what frequency do I use?”, “how do I connect to a repeater?”, or “why can’t anyone hear me?” during an emergency is not ideal. Most radios are more complex than FRS radios, which seem complicated to an untrained user, and understanding them requires more than just reading the manual once. Practice is essential.

The Disadvantage of Untrained Radio Use

Using a radio without proper training and experience can make it difficult, if not impossible, to contact other radio users in an emergency. Unlicensed users’ radio transmissions will not be properly identified and may be ignored by licensed users. Additionally, untrained users may struggle to identify and use the correct frequencies, causing confusion and interference in emergencies. Issues such as background noise can cause people to speak too loudly into the mic, causing over-modulation and distorting the voice received at the other end.

The Reality of Radio Usage in Emergencies

In reality, using a radio in an emergency does require a basic understanding of radio communications. However, for those who are willing to put in the time and effort, it is possible to become proficient in the use of radio equipment and be able to effectively communicate in an emergency. There is chaos in an emergency, things are broken, and people are confused. You can’t count on infrastructur working, and Murphy’s law will be in full force. The ability to identify communication problems and work around them will likely be important.

A radio sitting in a box

Preppers often assume they can buy a radio and neglect it until an emergency. However, this is unwise; radios require regular testing and maintenance to ensure they work when needed. Additionally, practicing with the radio regularly improves proficiency and increases the chances of successfully making contact during emergencies.

Contacts in an emergency – People to talk to

To use a radio effectively in an emergency, it is crucial to have a list of contacts to call. These contacts should include family members and other radio users nearby. Additionally, ensure that these contacts are aware of the user’s radio frequency to facilitate communications. In emergencies, it is probable that you will require communication with individuals outside your immediate group for supplies or assistance.

Experience needed for Radio Use

Preppers should understand the technical aspects of radio communications, including radio theory, antenna types, frequencies, modulation techniques, and optimal radio adjustment. Basic troubleshooting and repair skills for antennas, power supplies, and radios are also important in case of malfunction. Experience in problem-solving and identifying solutions is highly valuable. RF safety precautions should be taken with radios, as some can cause RF burns and transmit energy in unintended directions if not set up correctly. Even equipment powered by 12v supplies can pose a risk of high voltage arcs.

Radio Communication in Emergencies

During emergencies, it is crucial to acknowledge the unreliability and difficulty of establishing radio communications. Additionally, users must consider the impact of factors like terrain, atmospheric conditions, and man-made structures on radio transmission.

Preparing for Emergency communications

When preparing for emergency communications, it is crucial to have a well-defined plan that includes a list of frequencies and contacts, along with a checklist of necessary equipment and supplies. Additionally, regular practice using the radio is essential to master its operation and confirm its functionality for potential emergencies. Most emergency communications fail to operate when needed because they are ignored until the emergency batteries are dead or generators don’t start.

Radio compatibility – ‘The Walking Dead

Many preppers are under the misconception that any type of radio is compatible and can communicate with any other radio. This is simply not true, as radios must be correctly adjusted and tuned in order to communicate with another radio. Furthermore, certain radios may not be compatible with one another due to different protocols or different frequencies. The TV show ‘The Walking Dead’ often portrays characters grabbing a radio they found and contacting someone they lost. This has become somewhat of a joke among people that know radios. The reality is that there is a very wide spectrum of radio frequencies and types. No particular radio does it all. An FRS radio may communicate with a GMRS radio, but neither will communicate with a CB. An aircraft radio does not communicate with a marine VHF radio. A digital radio may communicate with an analog radio, but the reverse is not necessarily true. A business radio does not communicate with a police radio. Each radio has a designed frequency space, modulation type, and encoding. None of them communicate with your cell phone, at least not directly without some infrastructure. The most versatile radios are the ham radios, but short of a ‘zombie apocalypse’ they are not legal to use outside of ham bands.

Tracking illegal transmitters

Another myth is that radios used without a license are untraceable. This is simply not true, as many radio transmissions can be tracked by the authorities, ham radio operators, and commercial radio technicians. Therefore, it is important for preppers to be aware of the legal requirements for radio usage and to make sure that their transmissions are not in violation of any laws. It is often said that the FCC won’t do anything, and while it is true that they don’t solve as many problems as we would like, there are still enforcement actions which are very expensive. Even if the FCC does not take the time to track something, there are others who will track and report to the FCC if you are causing a problem, or even just using the radio for the fun of it. Recently this was posted regarding a California operator getting a $24,000 fine

Setting up Communications is easy

For some people, it is an absolute yes. For many there are a host of issues that they had never considered. Obstructions in the path of the signal. The parameters to access a repeater. Even the basics of a message. There are many things I have seen happen that when you see it, sitting in your living room might seem obvious. In the field, faced with situations you haven’t dealt with, and with a radio you have not used before, they are not so obvious and become insurmountable problems.

Things I have actually seen happen:
A batch of FRS radios handed out without setting the channel
Radio failure on an event
A firefighter that didn’t know that his HT would not work underground. Unfortunately this was the city Emergency Operations Center, a vital communication point.
Statistically changing the frequency of a net will result in 50 percent of the operators being lost.
Yelling in to the mic so the audio comes out distorted beyond recognition
Sending messages too fast
Too fast on the PTT. Talking before the radio accesses the repeater or decodes the CTCSS tone.
Trying to communicate with radios operating in different bands
Sending messages without verifying that the person on the other end is listening
A deputy stationed in a location that had no coverage for his two way radio or cell phone.
A large facility such as a stadium where the security center was located underground, with no coverage for law enforcement radios
On most of the ham boards there are questions about what frequency, tone squelch, which antenna, how to get more range, etc.

These are all situations that you don’t want in an emergency.

Preparing for Radio Emergencies: The Bottom Line

In summary, being knowledgeable about radios and their usage in emergency situations is crucial for preppers. However, it is imperative to debunk the myths and understand the realities associated with utilizing radios effectively during emergencies. One of the first things to note is that operating a radio without a license is not advisable. Engaging in such practices can result in confusion and difficulties during critical moments. Obtaining the necessary licenses will not only ensure compliance with legal regulations but also guarantee a smoother communication process when it matters the most. Regularly testing and maintaining radios is another vital aspect that preppers should prioritize. Just like any other piece of equipment, radios require proper care and attention to ensure they are in optimal condition. Conducting routine tests will help identify any potential issues and allow for timely repairs or replacements. It is also essential to establish reliable contacts for communication purposes. Building a network of trusted individuals who are equipped with radios will greatly enhance your ability to coordinate and share crucial information during emergencies. Understanding the technical aspects of radio communications is a fundamental skill for preppers. While it may seem overwhelming at first, familiarizing oneself with the technicalities will prove highly beneficial in the long run. Knowing how to operate radios efficiently, adjust frequencies, and troubleshoot common issues will make a significant difference when it comes to effective communication. Radio compatibility is an important consideration as well. Different radios may operate on varying frequencies or use different communication protocols. It is crucial to ensure that your equipment is compatible with others within your network. This compatibility will enable seamless communication and prevent any hiccups or misunderstandings that could occur due to incompatible devices. Furthermore, it is vital to comply with all legal requirements regarding radio transmissions. Following the established rules and regulations will not only keep you on the right side of the law but also maintain the integrity and efficiency of emergency communication systems. Understanding and adhering to these legal obligations contribute to a safer and more coordinated response during crises. While some preppers claim they will only activate their radios during true emergencies, the temptation to use them for non-essential purposes is often present. It is human nature to be curious and eager to experiment with new tools, and radios are no exception. Therefore, it is essential to acknowledge this reality and emphasize the importance of testing and learning about your equipment. Radio communication is just like any other skill. It requires practice and familiarity to ensure proficiency. Similar to driving a car, reading the manual alone is insufficient; hands-on experience is vital for mastering the craft. In conclusion, being properly prepared for radio emergencies is a crucial aspect of prepping. By understanding the myths and realities associated with radio usage, obtaining the necessary licenses, conducting regular tests, establishing reliable contacts, acquiring technical knowledge, ensuring radio compatibility, complying with legal requirements, and emphasizing the significance of learning and practicing with your equipment, preppers can effectively communicate and navigate emergencies. Remember, thorough preparation and dedication to mastering radio communication will ultimately contribute to a safer and more secure environment during times of crisis.

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