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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 simply not true. In order to use a radio in an emergency, the user must have an understanding of the legal, technical and operational aspects of radio communications. As a ham radio operator, I worked on a drill with a county agency. Their communication plan was to use FRS radios, which were unfortunately handed out without any channel coordination. There are only 22 channels, but the result was everyone spinning the channel knob, looking for the rest of the group, who was also spinning the knob. The result was a communications disaster and the ham operators stepped in to relay the communications.

Prepping Without a License

It is also important to note that prepping without a license is not recommended. In most countries, it is illegal to operate a radio without a license. The concept of waiting until an emergency to get on the air is flawed since the perspective operator won’t have a chance to legally test and learn about the radio. There are many posts on the internet asking “what frequency do I use?”, “how do I connect to a repeater?” or “why can’t anyone hear me?”. These are not questions that you want to be asking in an emergency. Many radios are much more complex than the FRS radios mentioned above, and it takes more than just reading the manual once to understand them. Practice is essential.

The Disadvantage of Untrained Radio Use

The disadvantage of using a radio without the proper training and experience is that it can be difficult, if not impossible, to make contact with other radio users in an emergency. This is because the radio transmissions from an unlicensed user will not be properly identified and may be ignored by other, licensed users. Furthermore, an untrained user may not be able to identify or use the right frequencies to contact others, which can lead to confusion and interference in an emergency.

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 infrastructural 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

Many preppers mistakenly assume that they can simply purchase a radio and leave it to gather dust in a box until an emergency arises. This is not a wise strategy, as radios need to be regularly tested and maintained in order to ensure that they are in good working order when they are needed. Furthermore, regular practice using the radio will help the user become more proficient in its use and increase the likelihood of successfully making contact in an emergency.

Contacts in an emergency – People to talk to

In order to use a radio effectively in an emergency, it is important to have a list of contacts to call in case of an emergency. The contacts should include both family members and other radio users in the vicinity. Furthermore, it is important to make sure that the contacts are aware of the user’s radio frequency in order to facilitate communications. It is likely that in an emergency you will need to talk to more than just your group. You may needs supplies or assistance from the outside.

Experience needed for Radio Use

It is also important for preppers to have an understanding of the technical aspects of radio communications. This includes an understanding of basic radio theory, such as the various types of antennas, frequencies, modulation techniques and how to properly adjust the radio for optimal performance. It may also be important to have a basic understanding of how to troubleshoot and repair antennas, power supplies and radios in case of a malfunction. Experience identifying and coming up with a remedy or work around for a problem is extremely useful. There can also be safety issues with some radios. Many commercial and amateur radios have power levels high enough to cause burns, and the energy from the transmitter can go in unexpected directions if the equipment is not set up properly. High voltage arcs can occur even from equipment powered by 12v supplies.

Radio Communication in Emergencies

In an emergency situation, it is important to remember that radio communications can be unreliable and difficult to establish. Furthermore, the user must be aware of the surrounding environment, as certain conditions such as terrain, atmospheric conditions and man-made structures can impede radio transmission.

Preparing for Emergency communications

When preparing for emergency communications, it is important to have a plan. This plan should include a list of frequencies to use and contacts to call, as well as a checklist of the necessary equipment and supplies. Moreover, it is important to practice using the radio on a regular basis in order to become proficient with its use and ensure that it is in good working order in case of an emergency.

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 for the fun of it.

Setting up Communications is easy

For some people, 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.

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
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 or cell.
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, it is important for preppers to be aware of the myths and realities of using radios in an emergency. Prepping without a license is not advisable and can lead to confusion and difficulty in an emergency. Furthermore, radios must be regularly tested and maintained, contacts must be established and an understanding of the technical aspects of radio communications is essential. Radio compatibility must also be taken into account, and transmissions must comply with all legal requirements. Taking the time and effort to prepare for radio emergencies can ensure that preppers are properly prepared and able to communicate effectively in an emergency. While many say they “won’t key the transmitter unless it is an emergency”, the temptation is there, and few believe that it doesn’t occur. Despite a certain rebel aspect to prepper culture, if you are really preparing for an emergency, testing and learning about your equipment is important. You don’t drive a car by reading the manual, it takes practice to learn to build a fire, and it is a good idea to learn to use your radio properly


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